Reviews: Sommeren ’92, Finding Dory, The Little Prince

As a change of pace, this week I’d like to offer three shorter reviews of 2016 films I’ve seen but haven’t had the opportunity to talk about yet. It’s sheer coincidence that I haven’t a great deal of enthusiasm for any of them, I assure you.

Sommeren ’92

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Guess how it ends…

Trailer

Kasper Barfoed’s dramatisation of the Denmark’s men’s national football team’s unlikely victory at the 1992 European Championships was a 2015 release in the land of the Vikings, but was only recently made available to stream, via Netflix on the western side of Europe.

As long time readers will know, I’m a sucker for sports movies, provided they stick to the golden rule of the genre: they can’t actually be about the sport. Sommeren ’92 tiptoes on the line in that regard, focusing primarily on coach Richard Moller Neilson, who finds himself leading the national team he has struggled to form into anything cohesive towards a championships they had previously failed to qualify for, only allowed in thanks to the disintegration of Yugoslavia that occured just before the finals began.

But while there is something slightly endearing about Neilson, and how he attempts to turn his home-spun uninspiring attitude into something his players will actually follow, there isn’t much else about Sommeren ’92 to catch the eye. It’s marketed as a comedy, but is never especially funny, which might be a problem with the bog standard translation efforts, which are likely not injecting the Danish language with the right kind of comedic timing. The attempts at humour are undercut severely by occasional jaunts into truly maudlin territory, mostly involving the terminally ill daughter of one of Denmark’s stars.

Neilson, played by Ulrich Thomason, is such a low-volume monotone figure that it’s hard to really make anything of him, and without the right kind of cultural appreciation, it’s nigh impossible to become connected. I can well imagine a Danish blogger saying the same thing about a film focusing on Jack Charlton in 1990: Sommeren ’92 is the kind of film that seems tailor made to appeal to little more than a Danish audience, with the translation requirement and rote nature of the story severely preventing it from attracting viewers from beyond Copenhagen.

I mean, for one thing, the Danish victory at Euro 92, while unlikely, is not quite the miracle it’s made out to be. The Danes were a decent team at the time, with starts like Peter Schmeichel in goal (just sort of there in this film) and Brian Laudrup (given a weirdly underwhelming angle) upfront. The competition only had eight teams back in those days, and only five games to victory. While the Danes struggled at times in that period, they weren’t exactly Leicester City in terms of sporting upsets: a film about Greece in 2004 might be better if you’re going for the true underdog angle.

Shot in a pedestrian manner and severely by the numbers in terms of the usual beats the sports movie goes through, there is really little in Sommeren ’92 to recommend. The devout football fan will be well aware of the Danish story, and will need something with a bit more verve and excitement to captivate their attention. For everyone else, there are far better football movies out there.

Finding Dory

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Finding the same joke over and over again.

Trailer

Pixar appears, on the basis of last years double success with Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur, to have righted a ship that was in serious danger of floundering in the aftermath of the Disney takeover. Que some hand wringing from myself when I discovered that the next project was a sequel, one that screamed “unnecessary” at the top of its lungs (or gills).

It isn’t that there isn’t something to be found in Dory’s search for the parents she lost years ago, or in Marlin and Nemo’s efforts to help her do this. It isn’t that there isn’t something to enjoy with the trip to the American West Coast. It isn’t that there isn’t something to enjoy in having another 90 minutes with a group of characters that so wonderfully captured our hearts back all the way back in 2003. It’s that, as is sadly the case with Pixar’s new sequels – all made under the Disney banner – there is an overwhelming and suffocating sense of sameness to everything,that only occasionally manages to be lifted by the merits of the material.

I think the primary problems, at least for the older viewer, is that Dory’s short-term memory loss, used rather excellently as an recurring joke in Finding Nemo, is now up front and center as the primary avenue of entertainment, and that gets remarkably boring by the time you get to the third act. It’s difficult enough to mine such a debilitating mental condition for jokes, and so much harder when that character is the main focus: Dory jumps back and forth between maudlin and jokey so fast that it can be hard to stay with whatever mood Andrew Stanton and Angus McLane are trying to instill.

Dory is perhaps better enjoyed by focusing your attention on the numerous side characters who pop up, who have a much easier time making you laugh, be they returnees like the laid back turtle convoy, or new arrivals like Ed O’ Neill’s octopus trying to pull a great escape or Idris Elba’s wonderful sea lion, forever defending his little rock from the attentions of dopey rivals. The humor comes rapid fire, be it scripted, visual or just basic yucks: Ty Burrell imitating the sonar noise of a beluga whale is one of the funniest things that Pixar has come up with in a while.

But the film can’t get away from that central problem. Ellen Degeneres is giving it socks, and the combination of Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy are doing decent work as her long-lost parents, but the drama at the heard of Dory is just so much string-tugging that lacks a crucial depth or genuineness to it, that Nemo certainly did have. The film is always a little bit better when Dory, Marlin and Nemo are sharing the screen together: it’s the quieter moments between those three that reach far higher than any of the chicanery that occurs otherwise.

Visually of course, the film is  an impressive achivement, if just a little bit drabber than 2003. But that actually sort of fits: the film is largely an exploration of Dory’s murky past, and the dank surrounding of the quasi-Sea World, in stark contrast to the artificially bright and clean interior, really does stand out. Hank the Octopus is remarkably well created, the production team taking every opportunity to utilize him to the full for acrobatic stunt work or just visual laughs, including a rather extreme sequence at the finale. And Pixar continues to excel musically, with Thomas Newman bringing back many of the common heart-warming themes of Nemo while adding some new stuff to delight to ears.

Dory isn’t a shameless cash grab masquerading as a movie. Pixar and Disney appears to have learned that lesson with Cars 2.  An effort is made here at least, even if the effort is a faltering one. I can appreciate both that, if not Pixar’s upcoming raft of franchise continuations that are on the cards: efforts like the upcoming Coco seem far more likely to became part of Pixar’s iconic roster of animated giants than Cars 3 or even The Incredibles 2.

The Little Prince

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If only the film was as good as it looked.

Trailer

Being woefully ignorant of both Antoine de Saint-Exupéry novel and its surprisingly varied animated adaptations (musicals, anime, even a multi season French TV show), I was able to come at Netflix’s latest original movie with something resembling fresh and unbiased eyes, and what I found really wasn’t as enrapturing or as impressive as the rather well put together trailer made it out to be.

The Little Prince takes what is not an uncommon approach to filmed adaptations of literature, that of the framing story (one can’t help but think Peter Falk and Fred Savage in The Princess Bride), with Rachel McAdams and Mackenzie Foy as a mother and daughter pair, the mother a workaholic who has her daughters’ entire education and life mapped out to the minute – literally – and the daughter acquiescing, before the chance for something deeper and more meaningful comes along in the form of a cootish next door neighbor, who regales the daughter with his tales of a strange boy he met one day after crash-landing his plane in the desert. The core of the novel compromises only these portions of The Little Prince, little more than brief flashbacks, while the framing story gradually becomes simply the story, with a third act entirely of the production teams invention.

That isn’t an inherently bad thing, but the problem with The Little Prince, in both the “modern day” tale of the little girl and in the flashbacks surrounding the titular character, are so weighted down with allegory and symbolism, that it approaches ridiculousness rather than wonderment, and I believe that the Prince’s adventures with a host of stereotypical characters representing the perils of the modern age is actually a scaled back version of what was in the book. Sure, the appearances from well-regarded actors like Paul Giamatti (rather great as a stern headmaster early on) and comedians I actually dislike personally like Ricky Gervais (playing the same character he seems to always play, the sad sack buffoon) keep you on your toes, and the VA generally is of a very high standard (Paul Rudd a surprisingly great stand-out late-on). But everything here is so dense and packed with double and triple meanings that it can be hard to get engaged: you spend so long trying to figure out what it all represents, rather than enjoying proceedings. The overall message seems to be a rather stinging critique of modern-day capitalism and quest for “essentialness” in the workplace, that I’m sure will appeal to the Bernie Sanders in all of us, without ever being really clever enough to land as well as it ought.

Which is a shame, because there is a lot to enjoy here, not least the visuals and the music. Director Mark Osbournewith cinematographers Adel Abada and Kris Kapp, have clearly been envisioning what to do with this book for a long time, and the result is a really beautiful looking piece, that jumps from modern day CGI for the framing story, and old-school stop-motion for the flashbacks, that imbue their respective sections with just the right kind of ambiance. Osbourne’s vision of The Little Prince is awash with colors and neat moments: the old man’s clapped together aeroplane, the life plan board the mother so carefully configures down to the minute, the planets and moons that the Prince visits, and the often grotesque caricatures that he meets with on them. Accompanying all of that is the score of Hanz Zimmer and the music of Camille. Zimmer is the kind of composer who has long since carved out a legacy for himself, while occasionally not trying too hard with some of his more recent efforts, but he’s on top form here, with a European-esque jaunt in nearly every tune, and some stirring notes when the  moment calls for them. But it wouldn’t be much without the vocal talents of Camille, who is pitch perfect for the kind of story Osbourne is trying to tell, in some imaginative and catchy jingles throughout the picture.

The visual direction and the music are probably worth it alone, and make up for whatever deficiencies that the actual story has. I’m not sure if the purists will appreciate Osbourne’s The Little Prince much, as it appears to cut, change and add plenty, in a manner that would make even the most strident defender of The Hobbit trilogy blush, but there is something in here for everyone, whether you want to appreciate the allegory, the animation or the aural side of things. Beyond anything else, The Little Prince is a unique and interesting project, in an era and in a genre that has gotten too used to the mundane and uninspiring, and I can only hope that Netflix continues to back such projects.

(All images are copyright of Film i Väst, Meta Film, PeaPie Films , Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures and Netflix).

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Ireland’s Wars:Young Irelanders And Great Famines

As discussed last time, Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal Association was an entity divided into factions dominated by moderate and radical thinkers. O’Connell’s decision to cancel his Clontarf monster meeting exacerbated an already evident divide, that had been growing for several years. That divide would eventually lead to the next of the noted rebellion against British rule in Ireland.

The “Young Ireland” movement can be sourced to historical debate meetings held by Trinity College associations, that brought together a number of a new breed of Irish nationalists in 1839. The names included John Blake Dillon, Thomas McNevin and, perhaps most notably, a young poet named Thomas Davis. What would become the Young Irelanders began as a the Dublin Historical Society, of which Davis soon became President.

These men were part and parcel of the Repeal Association from near it’s founding, but always had a slightly different outlook to O’Connell. Indeed, the term “Young Irelanders” may first have been used in a disparaging way by British newspapers for the more radical members of this moment, before the term was taken up as badge of honour. In the early days, the involvement of pro-active and energetic men like Davis in the Repeal Association, despite his differing opinions, was crucial to making it the juggernaut it eventually became.

Many of these radicals recognised the power of the press, first in the Morning Register, where their inflammatory articles and commentary on topics ranging from Protestant history to the tactics of guerilla warfare brought much notice, especially in Dublin. This was a generation growing up in the shadow of the United Irishmen, and were gravitating back towards that revolutionary sentiment.

When the Register became defunct, Davis, Dillon and new contact Charles Gavin Duffy founded a new publication, The Nation, in 1842. This new paper became an intricate part of the burgeoning Young Ireland movement, even as it remained nominally a part of the Repeal Association.

The Nation became a huge success, and was the primary publication for nationalist thinking for the time. It’s spread helped further the message of the Repeal Association, but all the while its editors and chief writers were cultivating their own set of contacts, with aims different to those of O’Connell, who fully recognised the threat, but was in no position to turn down such help, at least not at that time. O’Connell, despite some vague pronouncements during the monsters meetings, held strongly to the aim of a non-violent agitation against the Act of Union, and purposefully introduced resolutions to that effect to the Association’s make-up, a deliberate barb to the voices of The Nation, that were growing ever more linked to that of the idea of violent uprising. The Peace Resolutions were violently denounced by young firebrands like Thomas Francis Meagher, whose famous “Sword Speech” served as a stirring defence of violent action against oppressors.

The Clontarf decision split the Repeal Association, and gave the Young Irelanders the perfect chance to strike out on their own, as the banner-bearers for an uncompromising movement towards Irish liberation. It was they who had attempted to militarise aspects of the monster meetings, and O’Connell’s decision to call off that meeting may also have been influenced by a desire to force a confrontation with the more radical aspect of the Association.

This internal squabble petered on for several years, with the Repeal Association maintaining at least the facade of unity, before events in Ireland, political, social and military, were dramatically overtaken by a much more important issue, a tragedy that would prove more destructive to Ireland than any war or rebellion, before or since.

Since it’s introduction to the country in the 16th century, the Irish lower classes had become increasingly dependent on the potato to survive. Th potato, despite its perceived unreliability, offered high yields in its crop and decent nutrition, the perfect combination for a lower class that, in the best of times, was never too far away from subsistence farming in order to keep going. The more recent economic changes in Ireland had only increased the potato’s popularity, moving it from a food source that had been supplementary in nature, to the primary part of many Irish Catholics’ daily diet. Combined with the lack of diversity in the breeds of potato – the vast majority of Ireland growing a single type, the “Irish lumper” – the Irish dependence on the potato was a disaster waiting to happen. Indeed, it had already happened, with numerous famines of various size recorded from 1728 up to 1845, with one, that I mentioned briefly before, devastating large parts of the country between 1740 and 1741.

Phytophthora infestan, a virulent potato blight that has been sourced to Mexico, arrived in Europe in 1844, and landed in Ireland in 1845, first reported in September of that year. The blight destroyed potato plants in the ground, leaving only a rotten, useless vegetable when harvest time came: somewhere in the region of a third of the Irish harvest that year was lost, by all descriptions a crisis, yet not one that was unusual in Ireland. It was only in 1846 that events turned catastrophic, as well over half the usual harvest was lost, and a nationwide famine arrived. In “Black ’47”, the lack of seed potatoes left after two years of hardship resulted in further and irrevocable disaster.

What we call the Great Famine today, “an Gorta Mor”, is generally said to have lasted from 1845 to 1852. In that time, it is quite likely that over a million Irish men, women and children died, either from starvation, or from diseases connected to a lack of nutrition. Combined with immigration, no stranger to Ireland but skyrocketing under the circumstances, the population of the country plummeted.

Government efforts to deal with the crisis have long been criticised. The infamous image of the packed workhouse, or civil construction projects amounting to roads to nowhere, have become seared into the Irish consciousness, and while there has been a certain exaggeration in depicting the British government as an uncaring monster, it is quite true that, even at the worst moments, food was still being exported from Ireland. Many identify the British policy at the time as genocide, though I personally do not adhere to that view, believing strongly in Hanlon’s razor: never ascribe to evil, that which can be explained by stupidity. And there was stupidity, callousness and a lack of care aplenty of Sir Robert Peel John Russell’ss administrations during the time, which only fully grasped the scale of the disaster when it was far too late to do anything about it, and remained caught in partisan bickering over how to deal with this most fraught of Irish questions.

As you would expect, Irish politics was dominated by the issue. O’Connell, tying the crisis into the Repeal movement, insisted that an Irish legislature would be better able to deal with the famine, suggesting that such an entity would have the power to close Irish exports and allow imports only, and furthur criticised the contemporary state of tenant rights as exacerbating the problem. Members of the Young Ireland movement were similarly inclined, but now were even better inspired to take more active action to stem the tide of suffering. The British government had continually talked big about Ireland’s part of the union, and how it was in a better place because of it, yet now it all seemed like so much bluster and empty declarations.

In January of 1848, the split in the Repeal Association became concretely manifest, with the founding of the Irish Confederation, a new entity compromising those radicals now openly seceding from O’Connell’s Association, and declaring their aim to be the independence of Ireland, though as of yet they did not officially outline their preferred means of achieving this. With their desire for Irish freedom growing, while the Irish population struggled to survive, the discontentment and rancour made the situation ideal for an uprising.

Or, at least, so the Young Irelanders though.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Serenity: The Unification War

It was while reading “The Shepherd’s Tale” that I began to think a bit more about the Unification War, that defining event in the history of the ‘verse that so looms over everything that unfolds in Firefly and Serenity. It’s the conflict that left the Alliance in their position of unassailable power and it’s the battle that made Malcolm Reynolds who he is.

But it’s remarkable how little the existing canon tells us about the Unification War, outside of the very obvious. We know that it was a war between the Union of Allied Planets and the “Independents”, we know it was fought on many planets and we know that the war ended with a near-total Alliance victory over the Browncoats. But what else do we really know?

Let’s consider what we actually see of the Unification War, on screen and in print. Obviously, the show itself opens with what appears to be the dying moments of the war, with the infamous Battle of Serenity Valley. As previously discussed, this fight bears more similarity to Appomattox Court House than Gettysburg when it comes to comparisons to real world conflicts, but beyond that, the basic pattern of how the Unification War is depicted can be seen: outnumbered, outgunned Browncoats try to stick it out against overwhelming Alliance forces, gaining small victories here and there, before inevitable defeat. The Browncoats at Serenity Valley have no reinforcements, no tanks, no vehicles, some very dodgy officers, and crucially, no air support: the Alliance has those things, and that makes the difference.

The next time we see the war, during the flashback section of “The Message”, it’s what you would assume to be an earlier battle in the war, in a place called Du Khang. This is an urban landscape, with the surrounds and the name calling to mind images of the Fall of Saigon or the Tet offensive, probably deliberate. Despite the change of scenery, much of the pattern that was established in “Serenity” is the same here: the Independents are still outnumbered, hunkered down where they can find cover, still trying to use their own guile and determination to overcome the advanced forces arraigned again them, whether it be “seeker” missiles, or “rollers”. The Browncoats aren’t even supplied properly: Tracey’s tin of bins considered such a prize that Mal brings it up unannounced as something he plans to take once Tracey’s dead (and he’s probably only half joking). Another bad case of leadership surfaces in the case of an officer freezing up in the horrid conditions. Like in the pilot, both scenes end with the Browncoats in a bad place.

Aside from that, there’s just Mal and Zoe’s recollection of events on a place called New Kashmir, where they were engaged in bitter trench warfare with the Alliance, in a situation where neither side had much in the way of anything: ammunition, supplies or even orders. In something that seems akin to the Christmas Truce of 1914, the two sides get to talking, but any sign of true comradery gets lost in what appears to be little less than an Alliance war crime, hiding small bombs inside apples to bait the starving Browncoats with. This image of the Unification War is a bit different to the others, but still carries similar hallmarks just the same.

In “Those Left Behind”, Mal and Zoe briefly discuss the “Battle of Sturges”, a conflict that appears to have been a truly epic struggle, with theatres on land and in space. Planetside, we get an horrific depiction of Mal using his own dead soldiers to form cover as he blasts away at advancing Alliance forces, while in the black, we get a vision of broken, tangled ships, all that remains of two large fleets that Badger claims were battling over a gigantic amount of cash (which appears to either be a lie later, or false information Badger was sold on). Sturges, and the ghosts of it, provide a mere backdrop to the more immediate action of “Those Left Behind”, but still gives us some idea of how the war was fought.

The film doesn’t depict the war directly, with the prologue only hinting at the devastation that it brought – the shadow falling on the rim settlement could just as easily be a Reaver ship than an Alliance craft – and talking more directly about the aftermath. The war is almost a distant memory by the time Serenity comes around, even if people like Mal can’t ever forget it. The film eschews any closer looks in favour of focusing directly on what the war birthed: an government system so drunk on its own sense of power that it lost any last shreds of moral guidance in once had.

Lastly, there is “The Shepherd’s Tale”. We see a few different facets of Alliance/Independent conflict in the story of Book’s origin: simmering resentment of Alliance control, a small-scale insurgency of Browncoats, subterfuge operations and the incident surrounding the IAV Alexander, a massive six-planet wide invasion designed as a means of ending the whole conflict in a single day, but which, betrayed by the very man that orchestrated it, turns into an Alliance debacle, with thousands dead across multiple worlds. It’s the only time in the official canon that the Browncoats are depicted as actually getting one over on the Purplebellies.

So, what can we glean as a common threads looking at these examples:

-The war began as a small-scale insurgency that ramped up into something bigger due to increasing Alliance reach in the ‘verse, though when the Independents became an organised regular entity – with a uniform, a flag and the ability to field units in multiple planets – remains a mystery.

-While we know that the war was fought in many different parts of the ‘verse and involved many casualties, it is unclear how large it did eventually get, or how many worlds were visited by it.

-The Alliance was numerically and technologically superior to the Independents at nearly every stage, advantages that told significantly in many battles, with air power alone providing the key difference in the war’s climactic encounter.

-Independent deficiencies in supplies, weaponry and support vehicles could not be made up by the individual bravery or commitment of its infantry.

-The Independent officer corps wasn’t up to the task, and frequently had to rest authority, formally, or informally, on NCO’s like Sgt Malcolm Reynolds.

-Alliance willingness to use their technological advantage to create deadly weapons like “seekers” and the apple bombs marked them out as an entity committed to a more ruthless and cut-throat conflict than the Browncoats.

-Even the most remarkable Browncoat successes, be it something as big as the IAV Alexander or something as small as Mal shooting down the skiff at Serenity Valley, were simply delays that slowed the Alliance’s progress to victory.

The picture then is less the American Civil War, and something more one-sided, unless the depictions take place almost uniformly in the later stages. In the end, the Unification War does not seem to have been something that Whedon and company were truly interested in fleshing out, not in the brief time that they had anyway: they were much more interested in what the war did to both the people and the entities that fought it.

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Review: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad

Trailer

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Here’s a fun game: pick out who’s a character, and who’s a cardboard cut-out.

You know, I don’t think there has been a superhero film I’ve known what to make of less before seeing it than Suicide Squad. The initial announcements had me very interested: a director whose work I admired, and a cast full of really top names, including an interesting roll of the dice for the Joker. And the premise itself is just interesting, and promised to be a unique experience, something sorely lacking in the larger genre.

But then, but then, but then. Poor trailers with an inconsistent tone, reshoots, director troubles, seeing Will Smith and Margot Robbie with an alarming lack of chemistry in another film…suffice to say that Suicide Squad has had a troubled jump from production to the big screen, and at a time when WB/DC are presumably desperate to get their shared universe going properly after the poor reception and iffy financial success of Batman V Superman. I went into Suicide Squad with some trepidation but some hope: was it all it could be, or every inch the mess I feared?

In the aftermath of Superman’s death, intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a task force of various criminals to act as disposable agents in high-risk missions. Expert assassin Deadshot (Smith), crazed former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Robbie), pyrokinetic gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), crude Australian bankrobber Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), deformed cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and sword wielding Katana (Karen Fukahara) are commanded by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and soon face a dangerous task: to advance into Midway City and stop the demi-god Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) from destroying the world. All the while, the deranged Joker (Leto) plans to rescue Quinn.

If there is one word that I have been reading over and over again in appraisals of Suicide Squad, it’s “mess”, usually proceeded by other words like “incoherent” and much more rarely by “interesting”. And, while I don’t mean to simply parrot the consensus, that is exactly what Suicide Squad is. From start to finish, it’s a film so obviously ripped to pieces by multiple edits and studio interference, that what was put back together seems like three different creative directions masquerading as one entity, and poorly at that.

And it really is obvious right from the start, when a prison montage to “House of the Rising Sun” melds into another montage scene to “Sympathy For The Devil” without pause, giving the suddenly created ambience absolutely no time to breathe, giving the audience no time to let it sink in, before some other thing is trying to ram it down our throats (and never mind that the film’s actual soundtrack, with interesting new songs like twenty one pilots’ “Heathens” gets relegated to the credits. It feels off, and that’s what so much of Suicide Squad is: off.

No worse victim than the general pacing, with the films first hour crawling towards the main point with all the verve and excitement of someone who has never actually read a comic book making a comic book movie (or at least editing one). The film stumbles through rapid-fire introductions of its key cast and key villains, repeats the same points multiple times (Amanda Waller outlines the film’s basic premise twice in consecutive scenes for some reason) and just takes so long to get to the fun stuff.

And the fun stuff is there. No, really. There are moments, brief moments, when Suicide Squad comes together and showcases the kind of fun, inventive, inverted trip it could have been, as a group of desperate bad guys try to muddle through a bad situation. But there’s too much crammed in here overshadowing everything else, as Suicide Squad struggles to have consistent script work and tone.

With such an overload of characters – the brief plot description above doesn’t even cover the entirety of the Squad, some of whom are introduced and dispatched with alarming speed – there isn’t enough time for anyone. The truly key character relationship, that between Flagg and Moone, which is actually driving everything forward whether some characters know it or not, is so quickly and poorly developed – getting little more than a throwaway line from the Waller character – that everything else just sags. The villain herself is an uninspiring and uninteresting one, a basic evil witch with freaky powers, and very little else, so stuck for time that we barely get a sense of her or what she wants before the conclusion. Waller is actually better – a lot better – but isn’t in the right position to serve as the primary antagonist.

And then there is Jared Leto, an abysmal failure as the Clown Prince of Crime. I’ve never seen a version of the Joker, in print, animation or live-action, that was so uninteresting, or so superfluous to the story being told. Leto’s Joker is just sort of there, for flashbacks and a weirdly inserted scene before the third act, at no point actually making a firm impact on the story. More Marilyn Manson than manic, he doesn’t even tell a joke at any point, walking around, as a friend put it, like he’s living his life in a music video, floating through the plot and acting weird and creepy. Leto and Ayers just didn’t seem to get the Joker at all, or what people find him so fascinating. He’s more than the look and being a weirdo to people, he’s a deeper character than that. In comparison to the recently watched The Killing Joke, the difference between the two interpretations couldn’t be more stark.

The team itself, beyond those all too brief moments where they connect properly as characters, suffer the same fate. Smith and Robbie’s interactions are head and shoulders above Focus, but there are only so many. Hernandez really comes into the El Diablo character late on, but the sudden appearance of a sense of family was unearned and hammy. Croc and Boomerang are just one note additions with nothing to them beyond throwing things and eating people. Katana literally just shows up as the action is set to start with a two-line introduction. The film wastes its first hour in lop-sided exposition and stalling, and then jumps from character to character, and scene to scene, so fast that nothing is allowed to truly blossom. You feel like, instead of one big mission taking up the second half being the lone thing, the film could have used a montage of earlier missions to make the sense of a team coming together stick, to paper over some of the cracks. Where Guardians Of The Galaxy and The Avengers managed to do a passable job with a lot of characters, Suicide Squad just stutters at a constant rate, schizophrenic in its focus.

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His mom is gonna freak.

One of the things that’s a concern in a film like this is that the characters, all self-admitted bad guys, will be too unlikeable for the audience to get behind, but Ayers actually manages to avoid this. Deadshot might be a killer, but he’s a Dad trying to do right as well. Quinn might be murdering psychopath, but it wasn’t entirely her fault she ended up that way. El Diablo lashed out once and paid a heavy price, and is trying to change. I can get behind these people, especially when they get behind each other, espousing that trite but useful “honour among thieves” sentiment the film needs to thrive on: a late bar scene manages to get the type of comradery, though unearned, just right.

And at least the cast is giving it a good go. Smith is fun as Deadshot, clearly enjoying playing a not so nice character, even as his typical good guy chops come into play later on. Robbie makes the Quinn role her own, capturing a nice bit of demented insanity that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. Hernandez sort of steals the show at times with the surprisingly deep El Diablo. Even Kinnaman takes the grunting Flagg and makes something heartfelt out of him. And Davis is probably the best of the lot, really imbuing Waller with that ice cold sense of detachment. Everyone else, from Courtney to Fukahara, doesn’t have the time to make a true impact. And let’s not waste any more words over Leto.

Ayer’s script is not a bad one per say, it’s just so jumbled in the final cut that it ceases to make any coherent sense. When the various colourful characters get the chance to talk to each other without having to give out reams of exposition or curse, they actually have a flow and direction in their conversation, and I can’t fault the films attempts at humour, which is similar to Guardians Of The Galaxy in the snarkiness, just with additional crassness and sexual angles, which does sort of fit.

But where Suicide Squad is trying to be Guardians of The Galaxy so much in the way that everyone interacts and comes together – it even uses a song that James Gunn’s film did – it just can’t make it all work, the glibness and the trash talk not merging at all with the visuals and the dark direction that everything appears to take. Without the right kind of narrative to bind the characters together – the third act uniting comes out of left field and is so unearned it’s like robbery – and without the right sense of tone, the laughs don’t have the power they should have and the serious stuff seems goofy (Amanda Waller’s “I threw away the hole” explanation for her supervillain prison might be the worse line in the history of the genre).

The visual direction is important here, and is as messed up as the other elements of Suicide Squad. Ayers and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov can’t set on a tone, jumping from Snyder-esque grimdark to this strange neon tint. The neon works better with the characters, and I imagine that’s what Ayer wanted to do, but it is, if you’ll pardon the pun, overshadowed as we move into the crux of the plot, where the enemies are all dark coloured blobs being fought in darkness, making the PG-13 action scenes – and that’s another significant problem, considering the premise – a little hard to follow.

This film is populated by colourful, unique characters, and needed the kind of visual direction to go with that. And take that from someone who has defended the grimdark look of Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman quite vocally before now: Suicide Squad is a film that needed to brighten things more consistently, even if it was just with that garish neon. In the end, I fear that Ayers’ lack of experience with spectacle films of this nature was a serious deficit: Suicide Squad is yet another film that falls back on blue beams of light shooting up into the sky to demonstrate the power of the MacGuffin, and seems positively in love with the dingy surrounds of the prison complex that so much of the narrative regrettably takes place in.

This could have been great. Cut back on your Squad members to just five – say, Flagg, Deadshot, Quinn, Katana and El Diablo, the ones with the best potential for decent story – lose the Joker and use the extra time to flesh out the villain a bit more. Brighten things up a bit, even if it’s with garish neon. Risk some more violence. Go for the jokier tone to things. Make it a bit demented. That would have been something interesting. Something unique. Something cool. I mean, the premise is that the government wants someone like Harley Quinn to take on the next Zod: it’s so goofy that you have to have some fun with it.

But the fun is diluted by everything else about the production that is lacking. Even taking the scant bits of other Suicide Squad media – like the appearances of the group in episodes of Arrow, or Justice League Unlimited’s great “Task Force X” – you can see better approaches that had a firmer idea of the characters and the tone. Ayers’ version doesn’t have that. It’s more Fantastic Four than Guardians Of The Galaxy, with its studio interference difficulties, inconsistent vibe and narrative that doesn’t seem to go anywhere for so long. It’s the kind of film that should serve as an abject lesson to moviemakers everywhere. For that, it has a bare partial recommendation from me.

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Not even Queen could save this one.

(All images are copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures).

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Ireland’s Wars: The Monster Meetings

Having succeeded in his quest for Catholic emancipation, and having played a crucial role in the struggle over tithes, Daniel O’Connell stood as the pre-eminent Irish Catholic politician of his day. While his support base had been greatly eroded in an electoral sense, with the loss of the “40 shilling freeholders”, his mass appeal was undaunted, and this was demonstrated vividly in the early years of the 1840’s, to the extent that O’Connell began to be viewed as a threat by British authorities.

O’Connell’s new target was one he had long thought on: the union between Ireland and Britain itself. The Irish Parliament had ceased to exist all the way back in 1801, dissolving itself in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion. O’Connell, and many others, saw this moment as the crucial one, far more than any failed rebellion before or after: the loss of a national Parliament had ceded too much control to a London legislature that Irish MP’s simply did not have enough influence in. Having allied himself to the Liberal faction in Westminster, O’Connell an his like-minded MP’s were left adrift when the Robert Peel led Conservatives won power in 1842.

Realising that their lack of influence in London would mean any chance to change Ireland would be lost, O’Connell and others fixated on re-establishing the Irish Parliament. To that end, they founded the Repeal Association, to mobilise mass support in Ireland for the destruction of the union. This was not a revolutionary society set on independence, merely a return to the state of affairs that had been the case in Ireland in the 17th century.

O’Connell and the Repeal Association, endorsed by the Catholic Church, became incredibly popular incredibly fast, raising enormous funds that O’Connell aimed to use to put ever increasing pressure on the British authorities. But beyond anything else, this Repeal agitation is famous for O’Connell’s so called “monster meetings”.

From 1842 to 1843, O’Connell organised huge meetings of supporters, at sites up down and the country, but most notably in places of extreme historical significance, such as Tara Hill. The crowds that would assemble at these meetings, where speeches would be given, ceremonies enacted and monies raised, were truly enormous for the day, considering the rudimentary transport options and unreliable weather. While it is important to always take contemporarily reported figures with a grain of salt, the impact of the meetings show clearly that something remarkable occurred: in line with Ireland’s population at the time, over 8 million, the figures of over 800’000 for the Tara meeting in August 1843, may not be all that far-fetched. The “smaller” ones were still reported to attract numbers in excess of 100’000.

These meeting were more than just a method of propagating the Repeal Association. In line with other events of the previous decades, like the rise of Ribbonism, Catholic Emancipation, and the solidarity shown during the Tithe War, the monster meetings were another potent demonstration of Catholic Ireland’s awakening to their true power, to pressure politically and organise effectively. O’Connell’s whole aim was to impress on London that the tide was overwhelming and unrelenting: to demonstrate that it would be easier to give into the building pressure than force the issue by refusal. That is not to say that O’Connell was prepared to turn the popular support into violent action – quite the opposite – but he was an experienced enough politician that he must have known the implied threat of such a thing could be a useful tool in influencing those in positions of power. To make clear that point, one of the meetings, held in Clare, included a large banner emblazoned with the words “ The Liberator of Ireland Will Cut Asunder The Chains of Slavery We Labour Under”, hardly the words of a passive movement. At another, O’Connell uttered the famous phrase: “Gentlemen, you may soon have the alternative to live as slaves or die as free men”.

O’Connell, a master of utilising symbols and playing to crowds, made sure that he covered as much of Ireland as he could, consistently showcasing imagery associated with Irish freedom and the old parliament structure. Comparisons were made to the recent abolition of slavery in contrast to Ireland, with O’Connell encouraged to free the Irish “slave” just as he has helped free Africans.

Such meetings, politicising such huge parts of the Irish population, could not go unresponded to by the authorities for long, and it was in the latter half of 1843 that Prime Minister Robert Peel did finally do something. The impetus was a newly announced meeting, called in early September, to be held at Clontarf, north of Dublin City itself, at the site of the battle where Brian Boru had been killed. O’Connell promised to bring more people than he had brought to any meeting yet, predicting a million attendees.

While the monster meetings had been almost uniformly peaceful – something that prevented a large-scale crackdown earlier in their history – this was a step too far for increasingly worried authorities. Peel ordered arms confiscated in Ireland and began removing magistrates with repeal tendencies. Additional army personnel were posted to Dublin. And on the night of the 7th of October, the day before the Clontarf meeting was due to take place, Dublin Castle issued a proclamation banning the meeting outright.

The final straw appears to have been an encouragement from the more radial elements of the repeal association – the “Young Irelanders” who I will get to in time – for mounted cavalry to be included as part of the procession in Clontarf. While we’ll never know if O’Connell would have allowed this, it was enough for the authorities to believe a militarisation, or at least the beginnings of one, was taking place within the repeal movement. Peel’s message on the topic was unequivocal, calling the meeting “an attempt to overthrow the constitution of the British Empire as by law established”.

O’Connell was faced with a choice. He could have gone through with the meeting and faced up to whatever counter-response Dublin Castle was willing to implement, which could have been as much as military intervention. Thousands of armed soldiers bearing down on the massed crowds was not an image that appealed to O’Connell, who had always insisted, despite the brushes with a slightly different message from time to time, that the movement was a non-violent one.

So, O’Connell made the fateful decision to call off the meetings, posting messages to that effect around the city, turning assembling crowds away and dismantling the stand he was to speak from. The effect was immediate, with a split occurring in the Repeal movements, between those who backed O’Connell’s stance and those who felt that he had made a humiliating climbdown from a position of power. Unfortunately for O’Connell and the Repeal Association, that moment essentially destroyed the movement. With the association riven with discord and Protestant circles crowing in triumph, no more monster meetings would take place.

A few days later O’Connell was arrested and charged with conspiracy. Convicted, O’Connell served three months of a year sentence before the House of Lords overturned the result on the grounds of a shoddily run trial. But the damage was done. No longer a young man, O’Connell’s health deteriorated in the aftermath, and he was unable to rescue anything from the mess that the Repeal Association had become, and that was before much larger and more tragic events overtook the political scene in Ireland.

O’Connell died in 1847, in Genoa while on a pilgrimage to Rome. He was 71. His political career included some immense achievements, and he would be a major inspiration for hordes of others, Irish and non-Irish, for many years to come. His work at achieving Catholic emancipation arguably did more for Irish Catholics than several centuries of fruitless rebellion, and his movements brought a greater politicisation to Ireland than ever before, a politicisation that would be utilised to the utmost by many who would follow him. But the Repeal movement was a failure, and one that heralded future failures: such entities, organised around the personal charisma and persuasive power of one man, would fall when that leader fell.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Serenity: Book In “The Shepherd’s Tale”

“The Shepherd’s Tale”, written by Zack Whedon from an outline by Joss Whedon, was a much delayed and much anticipated addition to the Firefly/Serenity canon, helping to fill in the gaps left so obviously gaping by the shortness of the series and Book’s death in the film. It’s an interesting story, with a unique inverted narrative, starting at the end and then moving backwards bit by bit, showing the crucial moments in “Book’s” life at every turn, from his death defending Haven from the Operative’s attack all the way back to his decision as a child to run away from his broken down home and abusive father.

The various episodes tell us a lot about Book and inform us more of the kind of man that he is in the TV series. The knowledge of the criminal underworld and how it operates comes from his younger life. The knowledge of weaponry and fighting comes from his time in the Independence movement. The hidden brutality and ruthlessness comes from his clandestine service with the Alliance as a double agent. His “religiousity” comes from a unique moment of personal revelation that occurred at his lowest point.

Let’s look at it all a bit closer. Henry Evans, as a teenager, is trapped in a rundown home on a rundown planet with a monstrous father. This is a street-smart and ambitious kid, clearly, too good for the ramshackle surroundings, and his decision to leave, to strike out on his own, reflects that. This person has no problem with making a fateful, and maybe painful, separations, just as he does later in leaving Serenity.

Later, as a slightly older yet still young man, Evans is heavily involved with various criminal enterprises, essentially a hoodlum, albeit one with a remarkable will, staring down police with impunity and escaping the authorities with ease. But the restlessness, and the unhappiness is clear: someone with this much potential needs something to utilise it for, something beyond stick-ups and other petty crimes.

The opportunity to get off-world, and join the growing Independence movement, provides that cause, but even then Evans seems nonchalant and uncommitted, political affiliations clearly not to his liking as much as it might initially have appeared to be. As this loner figure who only occasionally bothers to turn up to meetings of his Browncoat cell, Evans appears to be someone who has transferred his dislike of authority to the military command structure he now finds himself part of: his volunteering for a long-term subterfuge might seem odd in this context, but I took it to be a sign of a certain recklessness in Evans’ nature, a desire to do something, anything, to make his life have meaning, even if it runs contrary to his own sense of self-preservation.

As an Alliance officer, first in the police force he once hated, and later in the military, “Book” excels. His drive and determination make him a committed double agent, and allows him to wear a facade that an entity like the Alliance just can’t resist. Indeed, it become easy to imagine Book falling hard into such a role, to the point where the lines between what is pretending to be and what he really is become blurred. His beating of the Browncoat prisoner is a just a little bit too brutal to be a well-played stage-show for the benefit of his superiors.

But the subterfuge still comes to its inevitable conclusion, with Book orchestrating what must be one of the most spectacular Browncoat successes of the war, though he does seem to harbour serious regrets by the conclusion. Poor Book loses everything in the process: the Alliance casts him out, the Independents either abandon him or are defeated soon after, and Book himself winds up homeless, a vagrant sucking down alcohol as often as he can get, a gutter rat not all that far off from where he started.

The moment of revelation that follows initially seems less a religious experience than some kind of strange metaphysical philosophising, that bears many similarities to the themes expounded upon in the episode “Objects In Space”, which I assume was a deliberate choice. Book doesn;t just turn to the Bible and God at a low moment, finding strength in prayer: he places God in his head as constant force arranging the galaxy as he/she sees fit, producing something stable and coherent out of forces of disorder. Book, a man whose entire life to that point has been one of endless change, violence and wandering, is clearly going to see something attractive in this idea, and turning to the Church is a turning from darkness to light.

So, while Book appears to be every inch the Shepherd, we can infer that he isn’t quite as traditional a seminarian as others would be, even with the later depictions of a monastic life and prayer. The history of violence, military service and loss remains with him, and his revelation about God doesn’t exactly suit the message he propagates later. But still, for someone who has spent his life seeking something to base that life around, the faith is a better choice than many others.

The man who spent that time on Serenity – witnessing sin, and aiding in it at times – is a bundle of contradictions, someone who has spent years studying the faith and is now struggling to put it into practise. Becoming a Shepherd must have been a withdrawn process, cutting Book off from the universe for a time, and coming back into it has its painful moments. In this story, Book witnesses yet more criminal behaviour from Mal – now engaged in arms dealing, briefly – and must yet again question what he us doing on Serenity.

Lastly, we have the man who lays down his life for the people of Haven as they come under attack, fearlessly attempting to get them to safety while he himself runs towards the danger. His last act is to “kill the ship that killed us” and he does so without regrets. It is a strange confluence of the events that have made Book who he is: his faith leading him to protect the weak, his military background helping identify weakpoints in the attack ship, his general recklessness leading him headlong into the fight, and ultimately that detached sense of being just one tiny cog in God’s overall vision helping him to dace into death without terror.

Book was under-utilised in Firefly, and had only a small role to play in Serenity. He had no episode of his own. “The Shepherd’s Tale” is that episode, more or less, and it’s tantalising to imagine how Whedon would have turned it into a visual medium: something akin to “Out Of Gas” with its array of flashbacks, I would imagine. We’ll never know. As it is, this book serves as a great way to give us the background on Book, fully fleshing out one of the series’ most interesting characters.

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Review: Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond

Trailer

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Boldly going, once more.

Now with 100% less underwear shots. For women anyway.

JJ Abrams’ successful rebooting of the Star Trek franchise, left so adrift on the big screen after the lackadaisical Nemesis, and on the small screen after the middling Enterprise, was a serious achievement, even if his 2009 movie wasn’t really all that Star Trek, having little in common with the original vision of Gene Roddenberry or the subsequent evolution in other TV shows. It was an action sci-fi movie, a very enjoyable one, but something that came with some reservations. That ballooned into focus with the disappointing follow-up Into Darkness, which ruined a serviceable plot with a ghastly third act, an unnecessary aping of The Wrath Of Khan and a limp performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.

Then Abrams left to take the reins on Star Wars, and Justin Lin, having conquered the box office in furious fashion, has been brought in to keep the Trek train going. The trailers for Beyond have been the focus of much mockery for their inclusion of the Beastie Boys and motorbikes, but what about the finished product? Was Star Trek Beyond a redemption for a new franchise that so tripped up last time out, or a firmer sign that this new Star Trek is rapidly becoming unsavable?

Three years into a five year deep space mission, the crew of the USS Enterprise stop at the gargantuan Yorktown Station for some R&R, where James Kirk (Chris Pine) wistfully ponders retirement from the captains chair, while Spock (Zachary Quinto) considers leaving Starfleet to aid in the recovery of his species. But such things must be put to the side when the Enterprise is targeted by brutal alien warlord Kraal (Idris Elba) and his advanced fleet of drone ships: Left stranded on a hostile world, Kirk and his crew must both try to survive and save the Federation from a threat centuries in the making.

Beyond manages to salvage something from the dross of Into Darkness, and breathes new life into the franchise. And it does it be going backwards a bit, and attempting to embody some of the things that make the larger Star Trek canon great, while leaving plenty of room for the kind of sci-fi action that a summer blockbuster of this type is required to have. The end product still isn’t quite Star Trek enough to leave the purists satisfied, but it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

I mean, somewhere, in among all the references, both obvious and subtle, to past TV shows and movies, you begin to get the feeling that the people handling the franchise now – Lin, and perhaps more importantly, screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung – get it a bit better. When we see Kirk sharing a morose birthday drink with Bones, it’s from The Wrath Of Khan, but far more appropriate and endearing than the facsimile that took place in Into Darkness. When we see the crew forced to survive without advanced technology on a desolate alien world, it’s like Voyager’s “Basics”, just with a higher budget. When we see the USS Franklin rise from the ashes of four centuries past, it’s the designs of Star Trek: Enterprise in our minds. And these are references, homages and nods that I can live with.

More importantly, Beyond actually gets these characters a lot better than Abrams, Kurtzmann and Orci did. Gone is the brash, arrogant, womanising James T. Kirk and back is the more level-headed, intelligent and altogether likeable Captain, who values his crew and the ideals for which they stand for, aided by Pine’s bets turn in the role. Here is a Spock caught once again between the logical and illogical sides of his very being, but framed in a way more interesting that the romantic relationship with Uhuru (Zoe Saldana) that has long since served its purpose. Here is a Doctor McCoy more than just the occasional insult and witty rejoinder to Spock, but a man capable of having an actual relationship with the Vulcan. Lin, in a way that I did not expect, was able to craft decent character arcs for what is otherwise a classic Boys Own-esque sci-fi action romp: I cared about Kirk’s self-doubt and haunting memories of a father he never knew, I cared about Spock’s conflicted desire for both a Starfleet career and the propagation of his species, I cared about new character Jaylah’s efforts to get off the horrible planet she was stranded on, far more than I ever cared about these people before. Lin has priors in this – the Furious franchise has never been the brainless blockbuster series it is easily painted as – and he uses that ability to balance action with basic, but effective, characterisation.

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Elba’s villain is the film’s biggest problem.

And it’s all backed up by a decent story, that feels a little bit like a two-parter from one of the TV shows, just with the financial acumen to make it all look amazing. But you know what, that’s fine: for the majority of Beyond it’s just the Enterprise crew trying to survive, and while it turns into yet another “Let’s save the universe” exercise before the end, it still felt natural: Pegg, Jung and Lin all did a stellar job in crafting a narrative space for their characters to have both fun and growth in.

Much praise must also be given to the female characters that do make an appearance. We run the gambit here: we have stern military types in Shohreh Aghdashloo brief cameo as a Starfleet admiral, Saldano’s workmanlike and essential Uhuru, treacherous villains, timid crewmembers and Jaylah, a cool looking alien who gives the film some much needed omph and variety when it really needs it, in a character both tough and vulnerable, that reminded me much of Charlize Thereon’s Furiosa. And not a bra or panty shot in sight: the disgraceful way that Abrams ogled Alice Eve last time out (that screenwriter Damien Lindeloff apologised for), and Saldano the first time, are distant memories.

But of course, it can;t be all good. Much like, say, The Avengers and Civil War, Beyond is so overloaded with cast members that plenty of nominally important people get shafted: focusing primarily on Kirk, Spock and Jaylah for the deep stuff, Lin is left with just individual moments of badassery for the rest in lieu of actual arcs, an inevitability in a film of this cast length and running time. John Cho’s Sulu, Anton Yelchin’s Chekov (suitably memorialised) even Simon Pegg’s Scotty don;t have all that much to do: Lin’s solution of trying to pair up the non-essentials with the essentials in a series of meandering sub-plots only partially succeeds, an exercise in occasionally witty dialogue, best exemplified by the wonderful back and forth between Quinto and Urban, Bones having the best run of this trilogy here.

But then there is the villain. Poor Idris Elba is way too good for this kind of role, and I chalk those up as the second big sci-fi offering that has failed to make the best use of him, after his utterly pedestrian stroll through Pacific Rim. Here, buried under what must be several hours worth of make-up and with a guttural accent that seemed rather unnecessary, it is impossible for Elba to actually give an example of the kind of actor he truly is.

In combination with that, Krall himself is all kinds of weak: a vaguely defined bad guy out for revenge, whose entire backstory and motivation is info-dumped on the audience, roughly five minutes before the final resolution of the plot. It is often the case, I have found recently, that films with an overload of characters struggle with their villain especially – Age Of Ultron, Batman V Superman, Civil War, Guardians Of The Galaxy, the first two Trek movies of this new trilogy – and Beyond is no exception, not even a rather interesting swerve late-on enough to save the character.

Visually, it’s a real treat, and for the first time in this new franchise I actually was wowed by what the future is depicted as, largely because of Yorktown Station, a critical set-piece that incorporates non-linear gravity ideas to produce an inwardly curving space station metropolis. It’s look went beyond pretty, it was interesting: the exact kind of future glimpse that Star Trek films should have. And beyond that, the film works well visually on nearly every level and in nearly every scene: Krall’s “Bees” that prove themselves such a capable and terrifying enemy (even if a Voyager episode did the idea first); the quiet and appropriately solemn shot of a very small Quinto standing next to the blackness of space, having been informed of the death of“Spock Prime”; a sliding shoot-out down the outside of a wrecked Enterprise; even the much mocked motorbike stunt sequence is frenetic and enjoyable, incorporating sci-fi elements to offset the inherent ridiculousness.

If there’s a flaw in the production side of things, it can only be with the music. Michael Giacchino’s score is fine, if rather familiar at this point: rather, it’s the songs, namely “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys. It’s use in the trailer rubbed a lot up the wrong way, but it’s use in the film, as a pivotal plot device late on, was beyond the pale for me. It was something I could only wince at when it emerged on screen, easily one of the stupidest moments in Star Trek history.

Beyond moves the franchise forward, even as it appears to keep things rigidly in place. Suffice to say that those expecting or hoping for some kind of major status quo change will be left disappointed, as disappointed as I was with the lack of balls when it came to killing off Kirk in Into Darkness. But it doesn’t matter. Beyond is a Trek film that re-emphasises character over spectacle, while retaining more than enough space for spectacle; that gives women important things to do in roles big and small; and that manages to imbue once more the classic Trek themes into a franchise that seemed to be rejecting them whole sale before. The wonders, value and morality of exploration, the Federation’s strength in unity, the loyalty and common bond between members of a crew facing into the last great unknown, all of these things are present in Beyond.

And long may they continue to be found in Star Trek, be it in an inevitable sequel or in the upcoming TV continuation, two things I now look forward to with more hope than I had before seeing Beyond. A film with a good plot, great characters, enjoyable action and spectacular visuals, it comes highly recommended from me.

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Listen all of ya’ll, it’s a sabotage, listen all of ya’ll it’s a sabotage, listen all of ya’ll it’s a sabotage, LISTEN ALL OF YA’LL IT’S A SABOTAGE

(All images are copyright of Paramount Pictures).

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