TV Review: ‘The Defenders’ Season 1

At long last, Netflix assembles Marvel’s street-level heroes…

 A note on spoilers : whilst this review doesn’t delve into major plot points there may be some light spoilers.

Starring:  Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Elodie Yung, Jessica Henwick, Rosario Dawson, Scott Glenn, Simone Missick, Sigourney Weaver

Series created by:  Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez

What’s it about?

Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist unite to protect New York from the threat of the ancient order of The Hand…

Season review

Having established their core street-level heroes in their own individual series, Marvel and Netflix reach the culmination of their plans with the much anticipated team-up of Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand/Iron Fist in The Defenders, a highly enjoyable – albeit not completely flawless – eight episode arc.

Like some of the other Marvel/Netflix shows, The Defenders gets off to a relatively slow start that’s somewhat burdened by its reintroduction of the principal characters in a manner that serves to both reacquaint established viewers with our heroes whilst striving to be accessible to those coming in fresh.  In terms of the latter it’s not entirely successful given that so much has happened to the individual characters in their respective series (particularly in the case of Daredevil who has two whole seasons worth of story) which supplies The Defenders with a pretty solid foundation for viewers who have already followed Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  It also presents a few initial narrative problems, the most cumbersome and disappointing being Luke Cage’s all-too quick and all-too convenient release from prison, which on the plus side does facilitate the introduction of Elden Henson’s Foggy Nelson into the story.

The series opener does most of the work of re-establishing the main players and their current status quo – Matt has locked away his billy club in favour of carrying out pro-bono legal work, Jessica is still hitting the bottle but has a weakness for those in need of help, Luke is dead-set on protecting the innocent and Danny, together with Colleen, continue to track and fight The Hand, the central threat of the Marvel/Netflix universe as seen in Daredevil and Iron Fist.  We’re also introduced to the current leader of that organisation – the mysterious ‘Alexandra’, played by screen icon (and Academy Award Nominee) Sigourney Weaver.  The artificially produced earthquake at the climax of “The H Word” provides suitably high stakes and a cause for our heroes to eventually unite against and Weaver is excellent in a role that’s atypical for an actor largely known for her more heroic turn as Lt. Ellen Ripley in the Alien films.  The writers provide Alexandra with a good measure of complexity yet there are moments when the character feels a little weak and never seems to fully develop into as powerful and formidable a foe as initially promised.

Where The Defenders doesn’t disappoint is when it comes to gathering the team itself, which happens organically without being forced or rushed and the dynamics of the group are explored wonderfully in the confines of a Chinese restaurant in “Royal Dragon”.  By having the main protagonists simply sit down at a table together we get to see some great chemistry on display, they’re a dysfunctional group for sure and there’s plenty of conflict in viewpoints but it all feels natural and there’s a sense that they all want to get on the same page and put aside any differences in order to battle against The Hand for the greater good.  “Royal Dragon” really sets things in motion, with the team galvanising as the series progresses and there’s a good dose of wry humour (Krysten Ritter on top form as she delivers Jessica’s sarcastic jibes) and plenty of light hearted put-downs, affording Mike Colter and Finn Jones the opportunity to build the budding friendship between Luke and Danny.

Overall, the focus on each of the principal cast is well-balanced (although Charlie Cox is arguably the standout) and Finn Jones certainly gets a chance to expand his character and placate those critical of Danny Rand’s characterisation in his own series with a definite sense of growth and a stronger positioning of him as the ‘Immortal Iron Fist’ as he finds himself being targeted as part of the enemy’s unfolding plans.

Supporting characters are served fittingly in accordance with the story.  Rosario Dawson’s role as Claire Temple is generally more prominent, which is understandable given here connective appearances in the other shows but there’s still a welcome presence (among some other familiar faces) from Simone Missick as Misty Knight and the superb Scott Glenn as Stick.  Of course, with The Hand presenting the threat in The Defenders and given the events of Daredevil season two we get to see Elektra’s rebirth as ultimate ‘weapon’ the Black Sky and Elodie Yung tackles this rather well, offsetting the brutality of a lethal assassin with emotional nuance as she grapples with her true identity.

The series features, like previous efforts, some slick and decently choreographed martial arts action (including another corridor fight sequence that can’t match those seen in Daredevil but is still a highlight non-the-less).  It does become a bit overly frantic at times and even difficult to follow in some of the darker scenes but for the most part, it delivers.

Structurally, there was always the fear that eight episodes would end up being too short a run.  Despite some occasional pacing issues, it actually works out just about right – in fact it’s also evidence that Marvel’s other Netflix series could benefit from slightly shorter episode counts, which really would have benefitted Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  Things slow down a little in the penultimate episode but The Defenders reaches an increasingly tense and satisfying climax in its finale (aptly titled “The Defenders”), with an epilogue that helps tie up loose ends whilst setting up the future course of Marvel’s Netflix universe.

The bottom line:  The Defenders is a reasonably enjoyable team-up event that successfully unites the street-level heroes of Marvel’s Netflix shows.

All 8 episodes of The Defenders season 1 are available to stream now via Netflix.

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Taking it to The Hand: Marvel’s street-level heroes assemble to save New York in ‘The Defenders’.

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Film Review: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (2017)

An empty shell or a captivating experience? 

Spoiler-free review 

Starring:  Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Danusa Samal

Directed by: Rupert Sanders / Written by: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler & Ehren Kruger / 107 minutes

What’s it about?

In a future where technology has advanced to incredible heights, a cyber security operative known as ‘Major’ – a cyborg marrying a human brain with an artificial body – investigates a wave of hackings by a mysterious terrorist named Kuze…

In review

Based on Shirow Masamune’s iconic manga “The Ghost in the Shell” and owing far more to director Mamoru Oshii’s classic 1995 anime, the live action version of Ghost in the Shell received a lukewarm reception, amidst controversies of ‘whitewashing’, upon its theatrical release earlier this year.  Now that the dust has settled, is Ghost in the Shell a worthy adaptation of the popular Japanese property?

Firstly, there’s no doubt that Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell is visually stunning, the vast, futuristic cityscapes juxtaposed against the grimy, seedy backstreets creating an immersive ‘cyberpunk’ Blade Runner-esque environment, complemented by the film’s deftly executed action sequences and production design that are extremely faithful to the original source material and the subsequent anime.  Therein lies part of the problem though, Ghost in the Shell is constructed with so much reverence to, most specifically Oshii’s anime (through which most will no doubt be familiar with the franchise) that it fails to emerge from the shadows and form an identity of its own.  It certainly doesn’t help that the script is a little drab and predictable with long stretches of almost purposeless ponderousness that at points can make you feel every minute of the – compared to most modern blockbusters – relatively slight running time.  It tries hard to evoke the mesmerising qualities, mystery and atmospherics of the beloved anime but just doesn’t have the same effect and the recreation of several iconic scenes, whilst laudable (and the opening birthing or ‘shelling’ sequence is certainly beautifully realised) are too numerous and will likely leave fans wanting to turn to the anime instead.

It’s well known that Ghost in the Shell’s reception was blighted by criticisms of whitewashing in its casting, which is a little unfair as a more multicultural troupe of actors is evident.  As ‘Major’ (fans will note the lack of ‘the’), Scarlett Johansson is a reasonably effective, if uninspired choice for the lead role, her slightly robotic movements and mechanical delivery injected with just the right amount of subtle humanity to carry it all off.  She’s mostly supported by Pilou Asbaek’s Batou but also shares a decent amount of screen time with ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano as the cantankerous chief, Aramaki and gets to flesh out some character in her exchanges with Dr. Ouelet, played by Juliette Binoche.  To be perfectly honest, partly due to the lightweight script, the cast as a whole rarely rise above being functional and subservient to the striking visuals, sure the character of ‘Major’ (that lack of ‘the’ sounding clumsy and awkward) is intentionally detached and cipher-like but those familiar with Oshii’s adaptation (and indeed the amazing Stand Alone Complex series) will be disappointed at how small an impact Asbaek’s Batou makes and that the rest of the characters are so unmemorable in comparison to their animated versions – whether that be voiced by their original Japanese cast or the English dub performers.

When it comes down to it, Ghost in the Shell does have its moments – mainly during its action sequences, but even then it still comes off as being a little too generic and maybe even a little pretentious and far too derivative and reverential for its own good.

The bottom line:  A disappointing adaptation of the much loved manga, Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell fails to match the brilliance of the 1995 anime and to become a compelling endeavour of its own, it may be worth a look if only out of curiosity and for an appreciation of some commendable visuals.

Ghost in the Shell is available to own and to rent via home video and on demand formats now.

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Scarlett Johansson bursts into action in ‘Ghost in the Shell’.

Film Review: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’

Matt Reeves and Andy Serkis prove that apes together are still strong…

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Amiah Miller

Directed by:  Matt Reeves / Written by:  Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves / 142 minutes

What’s it about?

Under attack by a ruthless colonel and his army, Ape leader Caesar embarks on a journey to bring an end to the bloodshed once and for all…

In review

20th Century Fox’s rebooted Planet of the Apes series (which began with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Rupert Wyatt) continues confidently with its latest chapter, War for the Planet of the Apes.  Quickly proving as captivating as 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it’s quite simply what every summer blockbuster should be – visually astonishing, smart and emotionally engaging with a strong emphasis on character and story.

Picking up two years after the close of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, war with humankind has driven Ape leader Caesar into hiding as he attempts to protect and ensure the future of his fellow apes against the brutal attacks of a rogue army platoon lead by the unsavoury Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), a particularly devastating battle pitting the two leaders against one another as Caesar sets out in pursuit of his enemy in a journey that will see him once again forced to fight for the freedom of his people.

There are further leaps in CGI here that further blurs the line between the real and artificial yet it’s the efforts of the performance-capture artists and returning Dawn director/co-writer (with Mark Bomback) Matt Reeves that really sells it, allowing the audience to become invested and care about the simian society and their struggle for survival.  As Caesar, Andy Serkis brings the experience of his craft fully to bear that, coupled with ground-breaking technology and Reeve’s intricate direction, delivers a powerful and emotive performance that drives the heart and soul of War for the Planet of the Apes.

Serkis is brilliantly supported by returning performance-capture co-stars Terry Notary (as Rocket), Karin Konoval (as Maurice) and Michael Adamthwaite (as Luca) but it’s the addition of new simian character ‘Bad Ape’ that’s a true highlight with Steve Zahn bringing a sympathetic edge to the kooky comic relief that’s a real joy to watch.  There’s also a wonderful dose of heart provided by Amiah Miller, who plays a young mute human girl befriended by Maurice and who Caesar reluctantly allows to join his quest against McCullough.  Along with Bad Ape, she becomes integral to the group and another great addition to the line-up of strong, well-written characters.  As the main antagonist, Woody Harrelson is a real coup bringing a steely eyed quality and cruel malevolence to the role of the Colonel, a character not without his own personal tragedy that helps to paint an unhinged but complex man of war.

As with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Matt Reeves (who has been tasked to take on The Batman) demonstrates an incredible talent for world-building, effortlessly marrying epic landscapes with thrilling action sequences and quieter character-centric moments that draws the viewer into a world that feels far more real than the average franchise blockbuster.  It’s all bolstered by a screenplay that’s layered and constructed with intelligence, accentuating the war film elements with shades of Apocalypse Now and The Great Escape and replete with callbacks to the original Apes series that will further please fans of the classic science-fiction saga.

The bottom line:  A stirring and visually impressive blockbuster with brains, War for the Planet of the Apes is another fine entry in the series.

War for the Planet of the Apes is in cinemas now.

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Weathering the storm: Caesar (Andy Serkis) continues the fight for survival in ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’, from 20th Century Fox.

Film Review: ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’

Tom Holland swings back into action to grapple with great power

and great responsibility… 

Spoiler-free review 

Starring:  Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalan, Laura Harrier

Directed by:  Jon Watts / Written by:  Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers / 133 minutes

What’s it about?

Having fought alongside the Avengers as Spider-Man, Peter Parker yearns to be the indispensable hero but finds he has much to learn when the appearance of the villainous Vulture threatens to destroy all that he loves…

In review

After making an impressive debut in Captain: America Civil War, Tom Holland returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as high school student Peter Parker – aka Marvel’s much-loved wall-crawling web-head, Spider-Man.  The sixth solo big screen outing for the character, Spider-Man: Homecoming benefits greatly from the co-production deal between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios with its connections to the wider Marvel screen universe more of an embellishment than a hindrance.

Whilst it fails to match the heights of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, Homecoming is a fun, witty and heartfelt comic book adventure, wearing its high school teen comedy and coming of age story elements with pride and exuberance.  In this respect, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a more youthful affair in the vein of John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, focusing on its characters first and foremost, offset by the (generally) more street-level heroics of Peter Parker’s friendly neighbourhood alter-ego rather than being a slave to it.

Tom Holland once again tackles the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man with enthusiasm and glee, with the wit, intelligence and vulnerability that reminds us of the appeals and relatability of the character – the well-intentioned, nerdy underdog with everyday problems that everyone loves to root for.  In an age where to be a geek is somewhat cooler than in the 1960s, Homecoming treats Parker as less of an outsider and has a more balanced approach to its laudably diverse, multicultural cast of characters with some contemporary twists on familiar faces.  As the object of Peter’s affections, Liz (Laura Harrier) is more of a peer than the totally out-of-reach popular ‘cool’ girl but there’s still a good dose of angst as Peter tries to balance his school life and the callings of a superhero.

This being a Spider-Man film, there’s a natural wealth of humour (largely facilitated by Peter’s best friend, Ned – played wonderfully by Jacob Batalan) that, like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man fits neatly into the world of Peter Parker and never feels out of place or forced in at the wrong moment (Doctor Strange, ahem).  There are also numerous references and connections to the MCU (including the return of Tony Stark’s cantankerous driver, ‘Happy’ Hogan – with Iron Man/Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau reprising his role) but are all slotted in tidily without burdening the story – this is still very much Spider-Man’s film.

As the central villain, Michael Keaton brings experience and gravitas to the role of Adrian Toomes/Vulture and despite having less screen time than it would initially seem he is well-served by some decent writing which paints a more interesting antagonist with identifiable motivations.  Far less a mere marketing gimmick, Robert Downey Jr’s part as Tony Stark/Iron Man feels integral to the narrative as he plays an important role as a father/mentor figure, there to guide Peter’s course and help him correct the errors of his ways – Stan Lee’s classic moral principal concerning great power and great responsibility a driving theme throughout.  It’s the support from Stark and Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) that help keep our struggling hero centred and inspired to do better and be greater.

Although Spider-Man: Homecoming is mostly concerned with its characters, and the high school focused portions do tend to drag out the pace at times, there’s still plenty of popcorn action and spectacle to be had.  Despite the bulk of the action being bound to the streets of New York, there are a few larger set-pieces with ferry rescue and endangered aircraft sequences amongst the highlights.  It’s all staged competently by director Jon Watts and though lacking a little of the overall heft and excitement of the previous efforts by Sam Raimi and Marc Webb, it delivers enough to keep the audience engaged and thrilled.

Whilst the coming of age story and teenage relationship scenarios might be more appealing to a younger demographic, more seasoned Spider-Man fans will appreciate that this is where Peter Parker’s story begins, the formative experiences of his earlier years an important part of the character’s makeup and just like in the comics we can only look forward to seeing the character learn and grow into adulthood…the amazing and spectacular Spider-Man is here to stay and it’ll be exciting to share his cinematic journey in the years to come.

The bottom line:  A highly enjoyable romp, Spider-Man: Homecoming sets the iconic web-slinger on course for greater adventures to come as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is in cinemas now.

Spidey Homecoming

Does whatever a spider can: Tom Holland stars in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ from Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios.

Comic Review: ‘Dark Days: The Forge’ #1

DC lift the veil on Rebirth’s next big mystery…

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV / pencils by:  Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr

What’s it about?

Batman is suspected of hiding a dark secret that could spell disaster for all…

In review

Not long after Tom King and Joshua Williamson delved briefly into the mysteries of DC’s Rebirth in “The Button” readers are thrust into another enigma as Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV present us with Dark Days: The Forge #1, the first of two one-shot titles serving as a prelude to the forthcoming Dark Nights: Metal event which will see Snyder reunited with his Batman collaborator, artist Greg Capullo.

Dark Days: The Forge #1 may be billed as a prelude to Metal but this one-shot could very easily have been a ‘zero’ issue as it really does feel like the opening chapter of something grand, setting the stage with epic scope and hints of looming threats that are more than adequate in whetting the appetite.  Framed by the narration of Carter Hall – aka Hawkman – Snyder and Tynion IV weave an intriguing tale that draws connections between the earliest ages of the DC Universe, Snyder’s New 52 Batman run and beyond.

The script is rich with atmospheric mystery, crazy action and drama with reliably strong characterisation as the story moves between the pairings of Batman and Mister Terrific, Batman and Superman (teasing the return of a long absent DC hero) and Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Batman protégé Duke Thomas, the latter matchup providing some particularly fun moments with Thomas befuddled at Jordan’s ability to miraculously combat the colour yellow and Jordan’s retorts at Thomas’s current lack of a name for his ‘not Robin’ superhero persona.  Both Snyder and Tynion IV are veterans when it comes to the Dark Knight but in these moments demonstrate their ability to write characters in general, whether they are long-established DC heroes or more contemporary ones.

In the end it’s the apparent ties between Metal and Snyder’s Batman arcs that are the most satisfying elements of the story, the relationship between Thanagarian Nth Metal and the Court of Owls being the most tantalising…but the biggest punch of The Forge is rightfully reserved for its denouement as the truth behind Hal Jordan’s mission to the Batcave is revealed, setting up potentially hefty stakes for the second part of this prologue in next month’s Dark Days: The Casting.  Despite all these connections though, Dark Days: The Forge #1 is accessible enough that it can be enjoyed without the need to be overly knowledgeable of DC Comics lore and past storylines – it merely sweetens the deal for those readers who are.

Art duties are divided between Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr, with inks by Danny Miki, Klaus Janson and Scott Williams and colours by Alex Sinclair and Jeremiah Skipper.  It’s a little problematic as there’s no clear narrative break in the change between the three pencillers, leading to some slight visual inconsistency.  The transition isn’t quite as jarring as it could have been (mainly thanks to the cohesion between inks and colours) but it’s a shame that Jim Lee couldn’t have pencilled the entire issue on his own or at the very least with backup from Andy Kubert as John Romita Jr’s style doesn’t quite fit with theirs, his more cartoonish and blocky figure work at odds with the powerful characters and detailed environments Jim Lee excels at.

The bottom line:  A tantalising introduction to DC’s next big mystery, despite some slight issues with the art Dark Days: The Forge is a decent and enjoyable prologue to the larger event to come.

Dark Days: The Forge #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Dark Days the Forge

DC Comics teases forthcoming event “Metal” with ‘Dark Days: The Forge’ #1.

Film Review: ‘Wonder Woman’

DC’s iconic female superhero bursts onto the big screen in her first solo feature…

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nelson, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Ewen Bremner, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Eugene Brave Rock

Directed by:  Patty Jenkins / Written by: Allan Heinberg (Story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg & Jason Fuchs) / 141 minutes

What’s it about?

Rescuing crashed pilot Steve Trevor, Diana, princess of the Amazons, leaves her homeland to bring an end to the Great War which is ravaging humanity…

In review

Despite the relative financial success of the DC Extended Universe thus far, there’s no escaping the divisive opinions from various fans and critics that loom over Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad.  Could Wonder Woman turn the negative critical tide and foster some much needed appreciation for the Warner Bros’ DC Comics films?  Thankfully, Wonder Woman is a resounding success on various levels.  It retains a layer of gritty seriousness that will please those that actually enjoyed the previous DCEU entries and deftly marries it with a vision of hope and optimism in dark times and a heartening message that although humanity has it’s ugly side, good will ultimately prevail over evil…all it needs is a hero to lead us into to the light.

An origin story told via flashback, Wonder Woman opens on Themyscira, an island paradise populated by the Amazons – a female society of immortal warriors lead by the wise Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson).  It’s here that the Hippolyta’s daughter, Diana grows to adulthood and trains under the guidance of Antiope (Robin Wright – House of Cards).  When Diana rescues American pilot Steve Trevor after his crashes off the shores of her homeland, she learns of a great conflict raging across the outside world – one that she believes is being orchestrated by the god of war, Ares.  After German soldiers storm the beeches of Themyscira, Diana, in defiance of her mother’s wishes, decides to pursue the callings of a hero and accompany Trevor back to the war-torn theatres of the First World War and bring an end to the bloodshed and needless suffering of the innocent.

After making a memorable debut as DC’s iconic Amazonian princess (created by William Moulton Marston and first appearing in All Star Comics #8 in 1941) and champion of justice in Batman v Superman, Gal Gadot delivers a pleasingly nuanced performance as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in a turn that conveys equal measures of strength (both physical and emotional), compassion and heart with a touch of innocence and naivety as she embarks on her hero’s journey.  Despite her relative inexperience as an actor, Gadot is actually quite wonderful in her first solo DC outing, demonstrating a clear affection for the character and embodying the values and spirit of an important and enduring pop culture icon with reverence and conviction.  Star Trek Beyond’s Chris Pine is the perfect co-star, infusing his portrayal of Captain Steve Trevor with charm, humility and a dose of earnest humanity.  He also shares great chemistry with Gadot, a key component to the film’s rich and often touching emotional core.

There’s some well implemented comic relief from Lucy Davis as Trevor’s plucky secretary, Etta as well as drunken marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and fellow comrade Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) that along with participation from Gadot and Pine provides dashes of levity that feels natural and fitting without compromising the film’s more dramatic moments.  Although underdeveloped, Danny Huston and Elena Anaya provide adequate enough villainy as devilish German General Lundendorff and the deranged Dr. Maru respectively, their plot to unleash a deadly new gas creating reasonably high stakes for Diana, Trevor and their group (which also includes “The Chief”, played by Eugene Brave Rock) to grapple with.  Ultimately, it’s the characters and themes, bolstered by a solid script that really makes Wonder Woman work.

Director Patty Jenkins (at one time in the frame to helm Marvel’s first Thor sequel) draws fine performances from her cast that lift the overall package whilst proving skilful in presenting grand visuals (enhanced by the finely tuned eye of cinematographer Matthew Jensen) and staging some thrilling and slickly executed action sequences (with composer Rupert Gregson-Williams adding to the excitement as he incorporates Hanz Zimmer/Junkie XL’s WW theme from BvS).  Some viewers may feel fatigued by the bombastic CGI-laden finale, yes, we’ve seen it in numerous superhero films by now, but it’s arguably necessary to close the film on an epic high and it’s executed with some satisfying emotional beats.  Yet there’s no denying that Wonder Woman’s finest and most effective set piece comes from earlier in the film as Diana, frustrated by the horrors and injustices of war, emerges from the trenches as she heroically pushes her way across the battlefield, plunging through the barrages of the German war machine.

It’d be all too easy to cynically write-off Wonder Woman as a mere symbol of feminism, but peel away the layers and she’s so much more, with all that’s wrong in the world these days heroes are needed and though a work of fiction, blended with popcorn entertainment and comic book fantasy, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is an inspiring tale and one filled with plenty of heart.

The bottom line:  A triumph for the DCEU, Wonder Woman is an exciting and epic story of a hero’s origin that’s enhanced by strong characterisation, dynamic action and great chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine.

Wonder Woman is in cinemas now.

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Ready for action: Gal Gadot stars in ‘Wonder Woman’ from Warner Bros.

Flashback: ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’

The original Star Trek cast bow out as they face a battle for peace… 

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‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’: a satisfying conclusion to the voyages of the original crew.

Year:  1991

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Kim Cattrall

Directed by:  Nicholas Meyer / Written by:  Nicholas Meyer & Denny Martin Flinn (Story by Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal)

What’s it about?

When the Klingon Chancellor is assassinated enroute to peace talks on Earth, Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy are accused of the crime leaving Spock and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to uncover the true culprits…

Retrospective

With the lukewarm reception of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (read the retrospective here), Star Trek’s future on the big screen seemed to be in doubt.  Yet, with the franchise’s 25th anniversary approaching, Paramount Pictures decided that the original cast deserved one more adventure before relinquishing the silver screen to their younger (and by this point, less costly) successors on the increasingly popular spin-off series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Determined to deliver a classic and rewarding finale for the original crew (albeit William Shatner, James Doohan and Walter Koenig would cameo in Star Trek Generations) and one that would be equally redeeming for the audience, Paramount enlisted Leonard Nimoy and Nicholas Meyer to help shape Star Trek VI, both having been involved in the more successful and more popular entries in the series – Nimoy as director of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Meyer as director (and uncredited writer) of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and co-writer of The Voyage Home.  With Harve Bennett feeling jaded by the troubled production of Star Trek V and disagreements with Paramount over the direction of Star Trek VI (the concept for a prequel featuring a new cast as younger versions of Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al being rejected by the studio) he would decide to depart the franchise leaving Ralph Winter in place as the film’s head producer.

The creative matchup of Nimoy (receiving executive producer and story credits) and Meyer would prove to be a strong and vital component to Star Trek VI, both looking to do what they felt the franchise did best – tell a compelling story that explores the human condition and discusses the issues of the day in an entertaining and engaging manner.  With the social and political climate of the 1990s being shaped by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the climax of the Cold War, Nimoy felt that this would make for a suitable and relevant topic of discussion for a good Star Trek story, one that would once again feature the original crew’s greatest adversaries: the Klingons.  Given that the Klingons were conceived by Star Trek writer/producer Gene L. Coon as a stand-in for the Russians and to provide conflict allegorical of Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, their role in the story would be a natural and logical fit.  From this central concept, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (a title lifted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet) was born.  Working from Nimoy’s premise, Meyer would craft the film’s screenplay with co-writer Denny Martin Flinn, providing a dark, yet ultimately optimistic tale infused with all the fun, humour and excitement audiences had come to expect from a Star Trek film.

Star Trek VI opens with the destruction of the Klingon moon Praxis, the Klingon Empire’s key source of energy (an event likened by Nimoy as a galactic version of the Chernobyl incident), leading to a call for peace with the United Federation of Planets.  Three months from retirement, Kirk and his crew are ordered to rendezvous with the Klingon Chancellor’s delegation and escort them to Earth to open negotiations, but when the Chancellor is assassinated, Kirk and McCoy are put on trial for plotting Gorkon’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  What follows is a thrilling ‘whodunit’ which sees Spock and the crew of the Enterprise in a race against time to uncover the perpetrators and rescue their comrades before peace talks falter and all-out war becomes certain.

Heading up the guest cast are David Warner (who had appeared as St. John Talbot in The Final Frontier and as a time-travelling Jack the Ripper in Nicholas Meyer’s directorial debut, Time After Time) as the “Lincoln-esque” Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon, Christopher Plummer as his villainous chief of staff, the Shakespeare-spouting General Chang, Rosana Desoto as Gorkon’s daughter (and successor) Azetbur and a post-Mannequin, pre-Sex in the City Kim Catrall as the Enterprise’s new Vulcan helmsman, Valeris.  Reprising their roles from The Voyage Home are Brock Peters as Admiral Cartwright, John Schuck as the Klingon Ambassador and Mark Lenard as Vulcan Ambassador and Spock’s father, Sarek.

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Christopher Plummer as General Chang.

With a screenplay laced with strong dialogue and characterisation, Nicholas Meyer draws out fine performances from the principal and guest actors alike ensuring that each of the core Star Trek characters get their moment in the spotlight, especially George Takei who relishes the advancement of the loyal Mr. Sulu to Captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior.  Christopher Plummer makes for a great villain, excessive and passionate quotations of Shakespeare only adding to his increasing malevolence.  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley are once again on top form with Shatner and Kelley in particular sharing some memorable scenes together during their trial and subsequent sentence to the penal mining asteroid, Rura Penthe.

It’s reported that Gene Roddenberry (whose health was in serious decline) had concerns about The Undiscovered Country, specifically the prejudice and bigotry displayed by the Enterprise crew and the more militaristic approach to Starfleet, conflicting with the more altruistic vision he had for Star Trek and its characters.  These are certainly valid points but can largely be forgiven when taken in the context of the film’s story and the history of the conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire and those aforementioned parallels to America and Russia.

Climaxing with a tense and exciting finale featuring an explosive space battle between the Enterprise, Excelsior and a prototype Klingon vessel and a desperate race to prevent the assassination of the Federation President (played by Robocop’s Kurtwood Smith), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a fitting conclusion to the original cast’s tenure and a satisfying celebration of the franchise that remains one of its most enjoyable big screen instalments.

Geek fact!

Star Trek VI includes a cameo from one of Hollywood’s hottest rising stars of the 1990s – and Star Trek fan – Christian Slater.

What are your memories of Star Trek VI? Share your thoughts below!

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Once more unto the breach: the original cast of ‘Star Trek’ assembled for their final adventure…