Thursday, July 21, 2016

Best of the 'Star Trek' films: 'The Next Generation' and well, beyond

Permission to come aboard granted!

Cary's Comics Craze continues boldly diving into the "Star Trek" film universe by reviewing each and every one of the movies! (The nerve **pinch** of some Trekkies! Sorry, I couldn't resist that pun. ...)

In the first installment of this three-part series-within-a-series, I selected and reviewed the greatest films starring the original cast members.

Now, it's onto "The Next Generation" and yup, both installments from the Kelvin timeline (better known as the rebooted Abramverse). Come back to CCC for my reviews on the rest of the "Star Trek" franchise — and of course, my take on "Star Trek Beyond."

“Star Trek: First Contact” (1996) 

Taking a cue from the success of “Wrath of Khan,” this film brings the best villain from “The Next Generation” TV series — if not all of “Star Trek” — for Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Lt. Data to deal with unsettled personal issues in the final battle against the seemingly unstoppable Borg. There's never been a "Trek" villain more suited for the big screen than the Borg.

The opening sequence and finale are as breathtaking and tense as any in the franchise. Fantastic cinematography!

And what "Star Trek: TNG" fan doesn't dig seeing Picard, Commander William Riker, Data and Worf opening a serious can of whoop-ass on the Borgs!

Thanks to including writers from the TV series and Jonathan Frakes (Riker) being in the director's chair, it's no wonder "First Contact" deftly handles the cast and delivers everything that the greatest "TNG" episodes did well. Cameos by Robert Picardo's holographic doctor from "Star Trek: Voyager" and Dwight Schultz's Lt. Barclay are nice touches.

The writers and casting directors made the brilliant decision to have Alison Krige play the Borg Queen as a mysterious yet seductive and irresistible creature that oozes charm and sexuality with every line she delivers and every move she makes! Just as the tag line says, it's no wonder "resistance is futile."

"First Contact" doesn't just deliver action; there's plenty of suspense which is balanced by fun. You can tell that each cast member is enjoying themselves. (I have to believe Frakes was a big part of putting the cast at ease, not mention getting great performances from each actor and actress!)

Actor James Cromwell's hard drinkin' Zefram Cochran is an unlikely candidate to be the pioneer who creates warp speed.

Cochran indeed is a resistant hero, yet it's Cromwell's exuberant, larger-than-life personality he gives the character that makes him relatable. His glee at breaking warp speed and gawking at the wonders of seeing outer space for the first time reflect our own. Such a distinctly "human" person — foibles and all — is the perfect one to make first contact with Earth's first alien visitors and introduce Vulcans to life on our planet.

“Star Trek” (2009) 

This is the way to do an origin film/franchise reboot: Strictly honor the previous material (which makes the longtime fans happy) while taking it out for a fresh spin (which brings in a new audience). 

This "Star Trek" cast is dynamic.
Look who's in the captain's chair! Director J.J. Abrams with the cast of the
new "Star Trek"
Photo courtesy of spyhollywood.com

First off, the new spin on Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin, who recently was taken from us much too soon) is refreshing. He's a teenage genius — not just a mop-top Beatles lookalike (included in the cast to garner younger viewers) who pronounces his Vs as Ws, as he was in the original series.

Aside from the daring decision to destroy the planet Vulcan, the most intriguing change is the Kirk-Spock dynamic.

These two genuinely don't like each other when they first meet each other in Starfleet Academy, so it's especially exciting to see the pair finally learn to work with each other.

Chris Pine's Kirk is the excessively emotional and shoot-from-the-hip foil to Zachary Qinto's spot-on, even-keeled Spock; Pine and Quinto play off each other just as well as Shatner and Nimoy.

Who knew it would take Kirk provoking Spock into choking him and getting the first officer to realize he's "emotionally compromised" over Vulcan's destruction to build a trusting work relationship? Trekkies also witness Spock being bullied by young Vulcan boys for having a human mother.

Captain Christopher Pike's fatherly relationship with Kirk is another relationship that drives the story, especially since Kirk grow up without his dad. The pair have an intriguing ying-and-yang, with Pike pushing Kirk to become the man — not to mention the starship officer — he knows the brash young man can be. Kirk, being the arrogant and feisty S.O.B. he is, takes Pike's prediction at "having your own ship in eight (years)" as something of a dare.

It's Pike's unorthodox decision as the original captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise in promoting Kirk to first officer that ultimately puts Kirk in the captain's chair (which is the subject of its own ongoing schtick in the Abramverse, excuse me, the Kelvin timeline).

While Pike essentially is glossed over in the original TV series, this version means something to the "Star Trek" universe. Pike is a man of vision and conviction. And Bruce Greenwood brings the right level of intensity to the seasoned starship captain.

Uhura dating Spock is a much less important relationship and seems to be introduced just to mix up the dynamics of the characters.

My good buddy, Josh Lee, a lifelong Trekkie, — not of fan of the Spock-Uhura coupling! — has grumbled that the world of "Star Trek" isn't an action-oriented shoot-em-up. However, I'd argue that more action adds an exciting element — and actually is one that has been a part of the film franchise with each and every ship-vs.-ship battle. Not mention to Shatner's Kirk got into fist-fights in nearly every episode of the original series.

Besides, seeing Pine's Kirk mix it up in a bar fight early in this movie and witnessing him about to be punished by Starfleet for sabotaging Spock's winless Koboyashi Maru simulation makes it clear that the rebooted Kirk isn't much different than the Shat's.

One of the brilliant storytelling decisions is making this version of "Star Trek" possible via circumstances from the original continuity — thanks to none other than the original Spock. While the time-travel explanation is a bit confusing, it's more important to run with it and enjoy the ride.

Leonard Nimoy's Spock Prime (as he's known in this timeline) is a sweet homage to, and continuation of, what the character was doing when he appeared in "Star Trek: TNG," attempting to reconcile the Vulcans and Romulans as an ambassador. Nimoy's scenes with Pine and Quinto are well handled.

Ultimately, the original Spock reveals he's learned quite a bit from Shatner's Kirk about playing outside the expected norm or roles. He encourages the younger Spock to "put aside logic (and) do what feels right." Well played, Spock, well played indeed!

For the original CCC review of "Star Trek," go here.

"Star Trek Into Darkness" (2013)

Talk about going "Wrath of Khan" with a sequel!

But, as I say in my "Into Darkness" review, it's unfair to say this film is a direct remake of the second "Star Trek" film starring the original cast. It's more appropriate to say there are important plot points that parallel the 1982 movie.

The sequel starts off in the middle of the action, with Kirk and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (the delightful Karl Urban, who honestly has been underused in this series) running for their lives from a tribe. As the Enterprise gets off the primitive planet, Kirk's life-saving rescue of Spock means he violated Starfleet's Prime Directive. And that leads to Pike giving Kirk another stern talking-to, which is one of the finest character moments in the film.

Kirk and Co. then get the highly unusual assignment to assassinate the terrorist John Harrison (an always intense Benedict Cumberbatch), who later reveals himself to be Khan, a genetically enhanced super-being — basically a weapon of war. The situation escalates and gets complicated from there and "Into Darkness" is a thrill ride to match.

The charismatic Pine is up to the task of each of Kirk's scenes with Cumberbatch's Khan. As Spock, Quinto has settled into a nice onscreen groove with Pine, who nails Kirk's frustration of being friends with a man who tries to avoid embracing his human, emotional side.

"Into Darkness" gives the cast more to do — at least most of them. Again, I want to see Urban's Bones be a pivotal part of the "Star Trek Big Three," which shouldn't be Kirk, Spock and Uhura!

Regardless, all of the following situations are a delight to watch: Spock and Uhura in a lover's spat ("What is that even like?," Kirk says to his communications officer — one of many great lines); Zoe Saldana shows she's not just a pretty face as Uhura goes toe-to-toe during aggressive negotiations with Klingons; Sulu shows he doesn't take any crap when given the captain's chair temporarily  …

GIF courtesy of rebloggy.com
Who knew a story in the rebooted "Star Trek" continuity about Starfleet's new proton torpedoes which vamps on the Khan legacy could be so thrilling?

Like any great "Trek" story, the Enterprise crew pulls a costly victory out of the jaws of defeat. Seeing those ramifications addressed in "Star Trek Beyond" would be a great way to continue the compelling adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Fun fact: Did you know there are two "Star Trek Into Darkness" cast members who voiced animated versions of Batman? 

Greenwood (Captain Pike) voiced the Caped Crusader in the "Batman: Under the Red Hood" film and throughout the regularly intriguing "Young Justice" series. 

Peter Weller (who plays Admiral Marcus, but is best known for his iconic "Robocop" performance) nails the gritty and grim hero with his guttural voice in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns." (Just as it was released originally on DVD and Blu-ray in October 2012 and January 2013, I reviewed "Returns" in two parts: Part 1 is here and go here for the conclusion.) Greenwood and Weller do a fabulous job and their animated movies are some of the best ones featuring Batman. 

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