Tag Archives: patrick stewart

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager

The Captains - Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager

Captains Picard, Sisko and Janeway

Around the time JJ Abrams semi-reboot of Star Trek was released, back in 2009, I set out on my own ‘on-going mission’ to rewatch (or in some cases watch for the first time) the entirety of the Star Trek TV and film canon.

I’ve already posted reviews of a few of the films (The Wrath of Kahn, First Contact and Insurrection) but here I’m going to focus on what is, for me, the main run of the TV show from the launch of The Next Generation in the mid 80s to the climax of Voyager in the late 90s.

Of course none of these could exist without Gene Roddenberry’s original 1960s show which was certainly groundbreaking in several ways but sadly petered off rather swiftly leading to its cancellation after just three of its five years.

Its success on syndicated repeats though kept the ideas it espoused alive and, following an animated series and the launch of the film series in the late 70s, led to the idea of the series’ first not quite reboot, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek The Next Generation core crew

Star Trek: The Next Generation crew

While the idea is a little clichéd now (and was even then) ‘TNG‘ set its stall as a real development from the off with bigger budgets and bigger ideas permeating its seven seasons.

While the first few seasons are somewhat hobbled by some of Roddenberry’s more 60s ideals; there’s still a strong streak of the originals idea of a strapping Star Fleet officer having his end away with exotic aliens, they do hint at the greater development beyond.

The opening episodes, Encounter At Farpoint, strongly indicate a lot of this with new life form, Q (John De Lancie for the entire run), putting the human race on trial and exploring morality and ethics in a very obvious way that, as it goes on, becomes a slightly more subtly handled linchpin of the ongoing franchise.

While this is a bit of a one-off at first, as the series’ goes on and we get past the rather two-dimensional introduction to new races like the Ferengi, and on wider television we move into the era or Twin Peaks and The X-Files, things start to coalesce with deeper ideas being investigated in the traditional hard sci-if way of finding things in the future setting to reflect the current world and current ideas.

USS Enterprise-D

USS Enterprise-D

Along with this it introduces some characters who have become not just staples of the Star Trek world but, in some cases, have slipped into broader popular culture.

Of course there’s the crew, led by Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard, who’s phrase ‘make it so’ has entered the pop culture sphere as has the actor who would go on to become Professor X for much of the X-Men film franchise. Another notable character who has crossed over a little is the android crewman, Data (Brent Spiner) and, latterly, Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher.

To my mind though the most important thing TNG gave us was one of the new ‘species’ it introduced, The Borg. Playing on particularly timely obsessions with technology, in many ways they prefigure the likes of The Matrix by a good decade and develop as the show goes on into one of TV’s most interesting villains and continue to develop into one of the main antagonists of Voyager.

Borg

An early example of a Borg drone

As TNG goes on it also develops from a standard ‘monster of the week’ style format into a broader storytelling context that grows into a universe building piece.

In its final episodes this allows it all to come full circle, back to elements introduced in the opening Q story making for a generally satisfying climax before the Enterprise-D crew headed onto the silver screen.

What the universe building also led into was the expansion of the franchise into other series, first Deep Space Nine and then Voyager.

In some ways ‘DS9‘ continues in the style of TNG with standalone episodes making the bulk of the first couple of seasons, but even then there are much more obvious overarching themes at play and heading into different directions than TNG dealt with.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine crew

Deep Space Nine crew

This is particularly focussed around the aftermath of war, foreign policy & diplomacy and religion due to its setting in the recently liberated Bajoran system following a lengthy occupation by the Cardassian Empire.

While all of these are dealt with in a way that still suits early evening prime time TV, DS9 does take things a step further than TNG as it goes on and actual war breaks out, taking up the bulk of the last few seasons in a largely ongoing story (with occasional asides).

In this it gets increasingly ‘dark’ (for wont of a better word) with lead characters even dying a long way into the run in very effective fashion and with the aftermath of this dealt with in surprising depth.

It’s during this that the already impressive practical special effects begin to dabble with CGI and, while rudimentary by today’s standards, it opens up the storytelling into more action oriented territory which is something Star Trek as a whole often lacked.

Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine

Thankfully it does this without losing the story or the ideas as has become a problem with over heavy CGI sci-fi since, including, sadly the last couple of Trek films, particularly Star Trek Beyond

While it’s often considered the lesser series, Voyager continues much of this and, in one sense, with the most ambitious concept of all as it launches its crew to the other side of the galaxy and traces their attempts to get home.

Across its seven seasons Voyager does have its wobbles and maybe a few too many moments of apparent luck and coincidentally bumping into past characters that doesn’t fit the epic trek of the ongoing story but, in between it has some of the more interesting stand alone stories as the conceit removes much of the galactic baggage that had built up across TNG and DS9.

Star Trek Voyager crew

Voyager crew

Of course it would be remiss to not also mention that it gives the Trek universe its first female lead in the form of Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) who grows and develops into probably at least an equal to DS9‘s Captian Sisko (Avery Brooks) – I’ll be honest no one is going to best Kirk or Picard.

The last few seasons again provide the highlights as The Borg loom larger and again CGI is used to create things more inventive than a parade of humans with forehead prosthetics (though there are still plenty of them), like Species 8472 who for TV at the time are quite a feat of animation.

What possibly hampers Voyager somewhat is that many of the ideas it explores are just retreads of what we’ve seen before, with new aspects in most cases but it still has a little too much of a hint of repetition, particularly with first the holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) then former Borg Seven Of Nine’s (Jeri Ryan) explorations of humanity more than echoing TNG’s Data.

Voyager

Voyager

The other thing that feels a shame is that the series ends rather abruptly and, while it satisfies part of the main story, it feels there was more to tell and wrap up before coming to an end.

While it’s obvious that TNG is the superior of the three series in many ways they all have their share of merits and, on my personal ‘trek’ it was the concluding part of DS9 and much of Voyager that provided many highlights, possibly because I had seen them less than TNG.

Along with this though they stand as some of the foundations of the TV renaissance of recent years (along with The X-Files, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and others) that has led to the likes of Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones and the Marvel Netflix shows with wider concepts and ongoing stories becoming the main focus of TV rather than the more easily disposable medium it had previously been.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek Insurrection posterThere is a famous theory about Star Trek movies that if it is an even-numbered ‘episode’ it will be good and if it is odd-numbered it will be less so, to an extent The Wrath of Kahn, The Search For SpockThe Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country and First Contact demonstrate this as being true.

Approaching Star Trek: Insurrection, the ninth instalment in the cinematic series, then my hopes were not high, based on the rule and my vague memories from seeing it in the cinema back in 1998. This was not aided by the opening credits stating that this one was directed by Jonathan Frakes, aka Commander William Riker.

The story of the film concerns two opposing alien races and what appears to be a kind of ‘fountain of youth’ type maguffin and the crew of the Enterprise have to sort things out. This is a fairly standard sounding plot for Star Trek, and it feels like it; though normally this would be one of the more disposable weekly 45 minute episodes rather than an hour and forty minutes of film time.

To try to make it seem bigger a few extra twists are thrown into the tale which largely just serve to over complicate the story in a totally unsatisfactory way so any revelations simply fall flat at best or at worst just make no sense at all.

Star Trek insurrection - Picard

Captain Picard (Stewart) has a ‘humourous’ encounter

Away from the story, which incidentally is entirely self-contained and strangely distant from the ongoing Dominion War raging in the then ongoing TV series Deep Space Nine, the entire production of the film just feels a little off.

The script is riddled with moments that appear to be adding a lighthearted air to proceedings but sit entirely at odds with the rest of the story while also being totally out of character for these very well established parts and the apparent internal explanation never quite rings true.

Added to this is the fact that Frakes direction makes the whole thing feel just like a bad episode of a TV show. At the time when Deep Space Nine was starting the development of the television series into the sort of thing it has become now with the likes of Game Of Thrones, this film feels more like a relative of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, just without being an intentional spoof.

Star Trek Insurrection - F Murray Abraham as Ru'Afo

F Murray Abraham as the forgettable villain Ru’Afo

It also seems Frakes and the writers felt the need to include a clumsily handled side plot about Riker’s beard which is simply surplus to any requirements, while another romantic entanglement for Picard just feels like repetition of several similar threads from the past – neither have the weird presence of William Shatner to pull off these sub-Kirk shenanigans.

To their credit it looks like the actors are having a good time doing something a bit more lighthearted than their previous cinematic efforts but with the script failing them so badly even the usually reliable Patrick Stewart is left with little and so hams it up a treat and little else.

Meanwhile the usually reliably Brent Spiner as Data is also left floundering with little that really fits his character and it seems the recently bereaved Worf (Michael Dorn) has just been crowbarred in and reset to his role at the end of The Next Generation TV series with barely a mention of his ongoing exploits.

Star Trek Insurrection - Riker and Troi

Riker (Frakes) loses his trademark beard thanks to Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis)

In the end of course all is sorted out and the status quo remains after a less than exhilarating battle both in space and on planet making Star Trek: Insurrection undeniably continuing proof of the evens and odds rule for the series and, while it may not be as bad as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, it is probably a close second for worst Trek movie.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Logan

Logan Movie PosterIt seems like much of the recent success of comic book and superhero movies can be traced back to Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men films which laid the groundwork, not only for their own ongoing and expanded franchise, but the Avengers series, and most other films in that genre as well.

In 2016 this initial foundation was expanded (with mixed results) by Deadpool, adding an ‘R-rated’ flavour to the now Sony/Marvel X-Men universe, and now James Mangold’s Logan has grabbed that more adult notion by the throat and, well, driven three claws through its head.

Despite being the X-Men film series’ most compelling character the previous pair of standalone films based on Wolverine (X-Men Origins and The Wolverine) had, to a greater or lesser extent, not quite the hit mark; either for the character’s long time fans or more casual moviegoers. Here then it was refreshing that from the start this Wolverine, again played by Hugh Jackman, felt far more true to the essence of the character established but never really seen previously.

Hugh Jackman in Logan

Jackman as Logan/Howlett/Wolverine

Opening on a shot of an ageing Logan (aka Wolverine, aka James Howlett) waking up in the back seat of a limousine and then swiftly and brutally dealing with a gang of thugs trying to steal his hubcaps, it’s clear that Jackman, Mangold and co are using all of their R rating (15 in the UK) allowance of profanity and violence.

The story centres on the now somewhat less superpowered Logan and his efforts to care for a frail and elderly Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and a young mutant named Laura (aka X-23, played by Dafne Keen). While the film has its fair share of action, mostly in a close up more personal style than the now common city-destruction of other comic book movies, the majority of the film focuses on these three leads.

Jackman puts in not only his best performance as the character to date, but one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from him, as he carries the weight of the film with a surprisingly nuanced delivery, capturing the essence of faded glory and un-graceful ageing excellently, while also delivering hugely in the action set pieces while keeping the now developed character intact.

Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman in Logan

Stewart as Xavier and Jackman

Stewart reveals new sides of Xavier, and seems to have a lot of infectious fun doing it, as he balances a streak of humour that clearly comes naturally to him with the emotional heft necessary for his position in the film and with the same weighty presence he’s always had in the role.

Keen meanwhile is a revelation as the intense Laura. Largely silent, her movements and facial expressions capture and transmit everything you need to know about this feral child and grow as the films goes on to a massively satisfying climax beyond I think anything seen elsewhere in the comic book movie canon. To be honest the same can be said of both Jackman and Stewart’s parts too and even Steven Merchant as Caliban puts in a good showing.

As well as tremendous acting, helped by a story and script rooted in more down to earth feelings, Logan comes with more of a sense of consequences than other superhero films.

Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23

Keen as Laura/X-23

Here you really feel like what is taking place matters and that there are real stakes for those involved, unlike the Avengers movies where we ultimately know the outcome from the start for a number of reasons.

So every action set piece, and there are a fair few, comes with a sense of genuinely not knowing what could happen – both Wolverine and Laura are vulnerable enough to not come across as instant winners in every fight and this is exploited in variously clever ways as the film goes on.

Rather than climaxing on a moment of light relief like comic book movies are wont to do, Logan cuts to black at an emotional peak leaving the audience satisfied and with the sense that this was a complete story but (crucially I guess for the studios) with avenues open for more to come, but in far less obvious ways than most other franchise films manage these days.

Hugh Jackman in Logan

Logan takes comic book action to the next level

In the end Logan may well not only have eclipsed X2 or Days of Future Past as the best of the X-Men series but taken its place at the top of the mainstream comic book movie pile by daring to be different in ways that almost remove it from that canon, if it weren’t for the super powered mutants leading the story.

And the Johnny Cash track that kicks off the credits is the cherry on top of an already exceedingly good cake.

And here’s that Johnny Cash song, just because…

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek First Contact posterBack when JJ Abrams and Paramount Studios partially rebooted the Star Trek franchise in 2009 I embarked on my own now considerably more than five-year mission to rewatch the entirety of Trek.

That’s taken me to peaks (Start Trek II: The a Wrath of Kahn, the climax of Star Trek: The Next Generation) and troughs (Season 3 of The Original Series, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) but now I’ve reached probably the highlight of my cinematic Trek viewing (I was too young for Kahn first time round), Star Trek: First Contact.

As this movie was something of a highlight of my teenage cinema going I’m pleased to report it stands up pretty well, enjoyment-wise. Taking the most popular villainous alien race from The Next Generation TV series, The Borg, and reuniting the cast last seen together in Star Trek: Generations it contains many of the standard tropes of Trek with much talking and debate, time travel and moral dilemmas aplenty.

In this it manages to be one of the most action packed of the original run of the Star Trek films with a spectacular space battle in the first act that sees a decimated Federation fleet going up against a single Borg cube and kick starting the story of the Enterprise crew heading back in time to save the future.

Picard, Data and some less fortunate crew members

Picard, Data and some less fortunate crew members

While it’s all very enjoyable for a Trek fan like myself, it’s hard to avoid the fact that, once the main story really kicks in, the movie does revert into feeling a bit too much like a longer, bigger budget, version of a TV episode.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what causes this but part of it is the way director Jonathan Frakes (also Cdr. William Riker) has the film shot.

I get the feeling much of this was to try to create a claustrophobic feeling on board the invaded ship, but it serves to make it look far cheaper and smaller in scale than it could be.

Along with this the scenes in the mountains of Montana on Earth come with very few establishing shots or cinematically impressive views of the bunker complex which continue the TV budget feel and Frakes doesn’t really come with a great pedigree in cinema before or since.

Thankfully many of the performances keep it enjoyable and lively.

Borg cube battle

The battle with the Borg

Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard does exactly what he does best throughout while the continuing story of Commander Data’s ‘becoming more human’ gives Brent Spiner the chance to continue his always mesmerisingly eccentric turn as the android officer.

Beyond that the guest stars feel like they’re going through the motions with James Cromwell’s Zephram Cochrane being rather one-dimensional, but fun, and Alice Krige’s Borg Queen doing little but giving a physical form to an antagonist previously notable for its lack of individual physical form, so somewhat spoiling the effect.

All this, if I’m totally honest, makes for a bit of a rough ride of a movie in many ways as it’s probably a bit too self-referencing, but comes with a certain extra joie de vivre often missing from Star Trek that makes it an entertaining couple of hours, even if it does feel like it could have been a TV special rather than a full-blown movie.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

X-Men

x-men movie poster16 years ago, in the wake of Blade, the first bona-fide Marvel comics based blockbuster movie hit the screens in the form of director Bryan Singer’s version of X-Men. Since then the franchise has gone on to become a long series of sequels (some good; X-Men 2, First Class, Days of Future Past, Deadpool – some less so; X3: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine – some a bit average; The Wolverine), but what was its origin like?

The film traces the story of what seems to be the X-Men’s first clash with The Brotherhood of Mutants and their leader, Magneto (Ian McKellen), through the eyes of new recruit Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and young mutant Rogue (Anna Paquin). This structure cleverly offers an audience potentially unfamiliar with the comics an easy way into this already established world on two levels, though both with the sense of the outsider.

This outsider nature is one that Singer laces heavily throughout, making it into something of a motif from the opening prologue showing us the origin of Magneto in the Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War, to the introductions of Wolverine and Rogue to the whole notion of Xavier’s School for Gifted Children.

Anna Paquin as Rogue

Anna Paquin as Rogue

Echoing the comic books’ 1960s origins that, supposedly, dealt with issues surrounding the civil rights movement, Singer incorporates a broader version of this theme more suited to a millennial audience, showing the two sides of the divide on the argument of integration and isolation/hostility that is still relevant now.

At barely an hour and 40 minutes Singer doesn’t deeply explore these issues but they are evident, what he does do in that time though is create a fast paced action movie. Unfortunately the short run time (something of a blessing compared to some of the over long movies that now populate this genre) means the large number of characters are, for the most part, underdeveloped; Wolverine, Magneto and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) get a decent amount of time to become slightly more than 2D but really the rest of the pack are fairly weakly painted hero or villain types.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

A highlight scene comes early on that sets the ground for Magneto and Professor X as they attend a debate on mutant rights and meet afterwards outside the meeting hall. Here the chemistry between McKellen and Stewart that has become the stuff of legend sparks and they certainly provide the most convincing aspect of the film and are amazing to watch just talking – though McKellen does go on to ham it up a bit too much later.

The action across the movie feels like a hybrid of what had come before, with a particularly physical feel often in the vein of an 80s action movie (prior to these things becoming almost entirely computer generated spectacles) and what was to come later with hints of the CG smash-fests of more recent movies. This gives it a split feel that isn’t entirely effective, but serves its purpose and we get great signature moments from all the main heroes and villains even if these do feel a little gimmicky.

The film’s climax, based around the Statue of Liberty, lacks a certain weight within the story which is something that marks the whole of this first X-Men film giving it the feeling of being at best the start of something, at worst a hyper-extended trailer for the franchise. That said, its enjoyable enough on its own merits and certainly at the time was successful enough to warrant the superior sequel that really allowed the characters and story more room to breathe than they had here.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

X-Men: Days Of Future Past

X-Men Days of Future Past-Movie posterI will admit that, in the past, some of my straight from the cinema reviews of comic book movies haven’t lived up to scrutiny in the cold light of day, once the whiz-bang has all died down (see Avengers and to a lesser extent Man of Steel and Iron Man 3). Recently I have also become somewhat disillusioned with comic book movies in general and Marvel based fare in particular, thanks to the likes of Thor: The Dark World.

So, it was with some trepidation (but hope) that I headed in to see the latest installment of the extended X-Men franchise, Days Of Future Past.

Inspired by the comic story of the same name the film deals with a dystopian future where mutants (and most of humanity it seems) have been all but destroyed by The Sentinels – big robots designed to hunt and kill mutants and sympathisers – and one of the X-Men being sent back into the past to try to save the future.

James McAvoy

James McAvoy

While this may sound a bit like its going to hit logical snags it deals with it fairly elegantly by not really even trying to explain things and just putting it down to mutant powers, in this case those of Kitty Pryde. From there most of the movie takes place in the early 1970s with the First Class cast along with the ever-present Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Peter Dinklage on fine form as primary antagonist, Bolivar Trask.

This is something of a masterstroke as (with a bit of retconning) it manages to link both franchises, while making it clear that the main team is now the one led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s Professor X and Magneto, rather than Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender

It is their performances that really anchor the movie. While Jackman does what he has been doing for the best part of 20 years McAvoy and Fassbender’s performances are where the heart lies. McAvoy in particular stands out bringing (a very toned down version of) what he did in Filth to a much broader movie and still making it clearly the Charles Xavier Patrick Stewart portrays.

Really it’s the performances that stood out for me as, while there was plenty of spectacle on offer, at no point did it feel like the characters and story were being ignored while CGI people got thrown through buildings and the like.

Some have bemoaned the fact that a lot of the characters from the previous films are somewhat glossed over here, particularly the likes of Storm, Iceman and Colossus, and that newcomer Bishop is under used.

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

For me though, I liked the fact these characters were there (and played by the same actors as in the past) as it showed this was the same universe but without having to extend the film with needless sub-plots just to serve, in this case, superfluous characters.

All of this is backed up by, returning director, Bryan Singer’s vision for the movies that he laid out in X-Men and X2 as he uses the mutants’ story as an allegory for various issues relating to human rights, much like the comics have done throughout their history, while never becoming bogged down in the issues and still making a fun action-adventure.

I know it’s probably a bit old-hat now but I’m still relatively new (and a bit skeptical) about 3D, so I was pleasantly surprised as to some of its uses here. While most of the 3D remained somewhat superfluous, there were a few moments where it seemed Singer was using it to highlight things, particularly in regard to Charles’ chessboard, which has been an ongoing motif between both sets of characters.

By the time a franchise reaches its seventh instalment it would normally be expected that any freshness would be gone and things would have become painfully repetitive. With X-Men: Days Of Future Past though this feels like a franchise fully rejuvenated and ready for more, and with a post credits sting that certainly hints at much more to come.

Quicksilver

Quicksilver

I just hope Zack Snyder and co over on Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice were taking notes from Singer, Vaughan and the X-Men team…

Also, new mutant Quicksilver was really only a cameo, but an excellently done one that also hinted at the bigger universe of the X-Men with a couple of subtle (by comic book movie standards) nods and winks.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ted

The man behind Family Guy debuts on the big screen with a generally entertaining, if not totally satisfying, comedy, in his own unique style.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,