Review: Star Trek (2009)

Director: JJ Abrams


Realistically, there should be something embarrassing about any studio’s attempt to relaunch a tired franchise. In recent years, they’ve had a chequered history; for every Batman Begins, there’s a Superman Returns. Star Trek should really fall into the latter category; based on a campy ‘60s TV show, which was followed by films of ever diminishing quality. Insurrection? Nemesis? No, thought not. However, director JJ Abrams and screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci do a tremendous job of reducing the various stories and history of the Star Trek franchise down to an exciting and heartfelt origin story, accessible to both die-hard Trekkies and complete newcomers.

When a Federation starship is attacked by a vengeful Romulan warrior (Eric Bana), the captain’s pregnant wife is evacuated at the cost of her husband. 25 years later, the child grows up to be James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine, cocky), who is a rebel in his rural Iowan home. Federation Commander Pike (Bruce Greenwood, dignified) then comes to persuade Kirk to train to become a member of the Federation. If this doesn’t reek of standard origin story by now, it will by the time Kirk meets the classmates who will eventually become his crew on board the Starship Enterprise, such as Uhura (Zoe Saldana, short shorts), Bones (Karl Urban, goofy) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), the Vulcan who bases all decisions on logic and seems to lack emotion.

As you can probably guess, the first hour or so of the film is setup for the rest of the film and the prospective franchise. However, that’s not altogether a bad thing. There are clichés, there are obvious character arcs and relationships and build-up to an inevitable mano-a-mano between hero and villain. However, there is also a tremendous amount of energy and verve here. Indeed, there is one element that is alack in many origin tales, and sets this film apart from the likes of Batman Begins: fun. Star Trek is fully aware of its campy origins and nonsensical premise, and embraces them. The characters are drawn quickly, but Pine and co. give them enough depth to make them distinct and likeable. In particular, Quinto is eerily reminiscent of Leonard Nimoy, capturing the essential dignity of Spock. Even smaller roles, such as John Cho’s Zulu, Anton Yelchin’s Chekov and Nimoy himself as a future representation of Spock (it makes more sense when you watch it) are excellently handled; only Simon Pegg disappoints as a loud (that is to say, annoying) Scotty. Beam him up, indeed.

Humour comes thick and fast, with one-liners bandied back and forth, and the action is on the grandest scale CG can provide. It’s a zippy two hours, and should leave any action hound sated. It’s clearly got an eye on starting a franchise, and is unrepentant in the sheer silliness of the whole endeavour. However, if the next Star Trek is as purely entertaining as this one, we should be willing to embrace our sillier side.


Review: Hanna (2011)

Director: Joe Wright


Many reviews of Hanna will doubtlessly make reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s dictum that all that’s needed to make a movie is a girl and a gun. Hanna boasts a girl with a gun, bow and arrow, great physical strength, reflexes and killer instincts. Kudos to director Joe Wright; you can’t accuse him of doing things by halves.

The Atonement director extends his range with this tale of a teenage girl (Saoirse Ronan), who has been raised by her father (Eric Bana) in rural Finland to be a perfect assassin. Being such a dangerous little tyke, the CIA (in the form of Cate Blanchett’s hard-ass agent Marissa) want to track Hanna down and capture her. Oddly enough, they do catch her, and haul her into their secret Moroccan base. This globetrotting tale gives Wright to work with a colourful and exciting palette. From the snowy Scandinavian wastes to the orange rock of the Moroccan desert, bright colour wraps around every frame. An attempted interrogation goes badly wrong, and Hanna escapes as the camera spins wildly whilst the score by the Chemical Brothers offers pounding beats. Atonement is undeniably elegant, but it almost feels anaemic compared to Hanna; it exudes unpredictability and energy. The same could be said of Ronan, who has to balance cold-bloodedness with innocence, as Hanna has little-to-no exposure to the outside world, and she does so wonderfully. It’s not every assassin you want to give a hug and some reassurance, but then she’s not unlike most 16-year-old girls: confused, and desperate to find her place in the world. The only difference is she’s plagued by hitmen instead of acne.

Once she’s escaped, Hanna has to find her father at a pre-arranged point in Germany. On the way, she learns more about her father, her late mother and the circumstances of her birth than she bargained for. Between this and the family of dippy hippies she hitches a lift with (led by Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams), Hanna boasts more parental issues than a Spielberg marathon. With such bad parents, is it any wonder Hanna and her new hippy friend Sophie (Jessica Barden) have such skewed views of the world? Seth Lochhead and David Farr’s script is packed full of irreverence and whimsy; arguably, given the nature of the material, it may be too much whimsy. Some blackly comedic moments punctuate the tension, but then the guns start firing and people are running off again. It’s a balancing act between childlike wonder and adult thriller, and Wright pulls it off with lapsing too far into parody. That said, Blanchett seems a little rigid in her role, and the sight of a blonde Tom Hollander (playing an assassin pal of Marissa’s) in a tight gymsuit is just wrong. Then again, they may just be further layers of irreverence on top of a bizarre slice of Euro-flavoured thrills. Hanna, both character and film, are torn between giddiness and maturity, are both possibly too removed from reality from their own good, but are both utterly unique.