“Star Trek”, created by the late Gene Roddenberry, began as a campy 1960s TV series and grew into a franchise and worldwide phenomenon, cementing itself permanently into the realm of pop culture. After 6 TV series (3 of which are hailed as some of the greatest shows to grace the television screen: the original “Star Trek”, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”), 10 movies (seriously!) and a slew of video games (NONE of which I ever had the luxury of playing), the essence of Star Trek seemed only to exist in its ever-faithful fans, nicknamed the “Trekkies”. But after the valiant efforts of rejuvenating film franchises like the Batman series (i.e. “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” in 2005 and 2008 respectively) and the James Bond series (with “Casino Royale” in 2006) proved rewarding in the box office, it was only a matter of time until the “Star Trek” film franchise got the opportunity to be rebooted for a new generation.
Like over 60% of the world’s population (give or take), I truly enjoyed director/producer/writer J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise back in 2009. Not only was I wowed by the extraordinary special effects, fast-paced action and ‘popcorn movie’ fun that the film delivered, but I was impressed by the excellent casting of its actors, great characterization and the film’s emphasis on alternate timelines which helped connect the events in this reboot with that of the original series. And after four years of patient waiting, Mr. Abrams returns to the director’s chair of the Starship Enterprise to produce and direct the second chapter of the Star Trek reboot: “Star Trek Into Darkness”. But with the surprising success of the first film, was its sequel worth the wait?
Only one way to find out….
OH RIGHT! I almost forgot! I have to talk about “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” first! Awwww maaaaan!
Like over 90% of the world’s population (give or take), I saw the trailer for this film last year and thought to myself: “You have got to be fucking shitting me!”. The words “Hansel & Gretel” and “Witch Hunters” should not be in the same title, I told myself back then. After the releases of “Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” films last year (which technically told the same story, even though the latter took a dark approach to the source material – you can read my review on both films here if you like), it only seemed fitting (I’m being ironic here, folks) to take an already dark fairy tale about two kids being fattened by an evil witch into an action fantasy shoot-em-up (No, I’m not being ironic!). Co-written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (some dude from Norway), and released in glorious, money-sucking, brain cell-frying 3D by Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, MTV Films (the fuck?!!) and Gary Sanchez Productions (founded by comic actors Will Ferrell and Adam McKay)(also – the fuck?!!), the film generally received negative reviews. This was fairly obvious since (a) it was released in January – where the dregs of a full barrel of money-making Hollywood films are disposed into theaters; and (b) the name of the movie IS “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”!
So why am I writing on witch hunters instead of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” (2009)? For one thing, I had intended to review both Star Trek films, but because there were a number of pre-summer blockbuster season films that I wanted to write on initially, I chose instead to focus on one film currently showing in theaters alongside one that I missed out on – or one that I saw, but didn’t get the time to write about it – earlier this year. Secondly, talking about it now saves me the hassle of talking about it – and watching it – later on this year. Thirdly, and quite honestly, you don’t need me to go into lengthy detail as to why the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek film was so great, when all you’re itching to find out is if the second one is worth it or not. And finally, “Hansel & Gretel” appeared online this week on one of my favourite streaming sites. So fuck it, what did I have to lose – apart from 90 minutes of my life? Anyhoo…
“HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS” – “Hansel & Gretel: Witch-Ass Kickers” (not the real title) opens with a young Hansel and Gretel being abandoned by their father in the forest. They come across at a Tim Burtonesque-like gingerbread house, and as you would expect, they go inside – only to be captured by an evil witch who wants to devour them. The siblings outsmart the witch, and they get to stab and incinerate (Daaaaaamn!) their ‘witchy’ captor in the process. 15 years later, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are leather-wearing, gun and crossbow-toting, expletive-spouting badasses who kill witches for a living. They arrive at a town, and learn that a witch named Muriel has kidnapped some kids to sacrifice during a ritual that will take place during the self-explanatory Blood Moon. Muriel, by the way, is none other than Famke “Honestly, all I did in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ was scowl, talk evil and act bitchy” Janseen who played Jean Grey in the first three X-Men films. A mysterious woman accused of witchcraft (Pihla Viitala), a local fanboy knowledgeable in Hansel and Gretel’s exploits in witch hunting (Thomas Mann), and a troll named Edward ….yes, I said it….A TROLL NAMED EDWARD….who works for Muriel the witch, get themselves involved in our heroes’ journey to stop Muriel and save the kids. And that’s the movie – in a nutshell.
“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is every bit as ridiculous as the title suggests. The characters are underdeveloped, the story is unintelligent and the action sequences that the film boasts are uninspired. Yet the film always manages to remain self-aware of how ridiculous it is, making the experience of watching it more of a guilty pleasure than a chore. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play their two-dimensional characters well enough, and Famke Janseen relishes herself in her ‘witchy’ character as she spits cartoonish lines like “We….will be…invincible” and “I go by many names. None of which you are worthy of pronouncing”. Yeeeeeeah. Thomas Mann’s (who starred in last year’s exercise in teenage partying and implied anarchy “Project X”) character isn’t given much to do. The only thoughtful thing he really does is offer a bowl of porridge to an injured Gretel in one scene, followed by his delivery of the film’s most facepalm-inducing line: “Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right”. And here we go…. ONE…TWO….THREE….*FACEPALM!!!*. The action scenes, like I said, are uninspired, with nearly all of them shown in snippet form throughout the film’s trailer and most of them relying on fake-looking blood effects. The final action sequence, which made up for the rest of the seen-that-in-the-trailer-already events of the first and second acts, was easily the best thing about “Hansel & Gretel”. It’s every bit as over-the-top and bad-ass as the entire film should have been. The make-up effects and production design get individual points, and the decision to use an actor in an animatronic suit to play the troll instead of “simpler” computer graphics worked for the film. Ultimately, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is light years FAR from great, but it’s really not that terrible of a movie. I can see this film becoming a cult classic in the next
ten few years or so, with audiences looking past the piss-poor story and lack of characterization and enjoying the one-liners, weird characters and scenes involving Hansel and Gretel chasing witches on foot through the forest (why a witch would RUN away from his captors before jumping on a broom or scaling up a tree to escape danger is anyone’s guess). And in time, the film may find itself ranked among the great cult classics like “Labyrinth” and “Army of Darkness” (their influences do resonate on “Hansel & Gretel”, by the way). But for now, the world won’t end if you skip this film. If, however, you’re still curious about it, I strongly suggest watching it with some popcorn and a bottle of rum nearby. But before you do, accept these words of caution from Gretel herself: “Whatever you do, don’t eat the fucking candy”.
“STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” – Previously on “Star Trek”, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) became the Captain of the USS Enterprise starship, and together with communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), chief medical officer “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Simon Pegg), helsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and everyone’s favourite half-human, half-Vulcan First Officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto), they blow shit up, kick alien ass and not to mention, boldly go where no man has gone before. In this latest outing, Kirk is called to action, following the bombing of a Federation-based building in London, and a vicious attack on the Starfleet Command building in San Francisco. The perpetrator is a former Starfleet agent, and EVIL sonuvabitch, named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). The tragic outcome of the attack on Starfleet Command leaves Kirk with a personal score to settle with John. And so, Kirk leads his crew members on a manhunt for John – a manhunt that will forever change the lives of the crew of the USS Enterprise.
Before I begin this review, let me make this clear: I am NOT a Trekkie! I do remember watching parts of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV series as a child, wondering how in the hell Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton) was capable of seeing through that visor covering his eyes, why the hell Data (Brent Spiner) was so emotionless (I had no idea what an android was back then, folks) and what the FUCK was up with Worf’s (Michael Dorn’s) forehead. Oh, and I was amazed by the voice, sheer awesomeness and bald head of its lead actor, Patrick “Why did they cast me at the last minute for ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine'” Stewart. And no, I haven’t seen all of the Star Trek movies, and as far as I’m concerned, I probably never will. I may not be a Trekkie, but even I know that with the exception of the first film -1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (criticized for its slow pace and over-reliance on special effects) and the 10th film in the franchise – 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis” (i.e. the proverbial final bolt in the franchise’s proverbial coffin which was immediately shot into proverbial orbit as part of a proverbial space burial after its proverbial crash-and-burn in the box office), the even-numbered films are better than the odd-numbered ones. And it’s the even-numbered films (“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” and “Star Trek: First Contact”) that I enjoyed as opposed to “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” that I skipped, “Star Trek Generations” and “Star Trek: Insurrection” that I forgot about, and “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (*COUGH*Worst Star Trek movie ever made*COUGH) and “Star Trek: Nemesis” that I regretted seeing.
With that being said, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is a really, REALLY fucking good movie. Seriously, it is! Similar to its predecessor, “Into Darkness” has a fast-paced story, dazzling visuals (and lens flare – OH MY WORD! the lens flares are in full effect in this film) and spectacular action sequences. The acting is great throughout, with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto (whose potent chemistry – which, at times, bordered on subtle ‘bromance’ – served as the heart of the previous film) stepping up their individual fucking game with two of the film’s best performances. But alas, they’re out-shined by Benedict Cumberbatch who delivers the most memorable performance in the entire movie. Benedict, who, honestly, I never heard of until I saw him play Sherlock Holmes in BBC’s highly-intelligent modern mystery series “Sherlock” (which was recently Americanized into the CBS series “Elementary” – a show I have yet to watch), is cold, brutal and menacing as John Harrison. He truly brings the darkness into a film that chose to call itself “Star Trek Into Darkness” without a fucking colon in-between the words. But despite the action scenes, flashy special effects and stellar acting, the day belongs to J.J. Abrams, who once again, delivers a solid directorial effort with this film. He never allows the action and visuals to overshadow the characters and story, and as such, the main characters are given an amazing level of depth, and the story is much layered than you might expect. There are moments of drama that will keep you enthralled, and moments of emotion that WILL tug at your heartstrings. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself shedding some tears (man-tears if you’re a guy) with this film. Also, there are particular references to the original series and a couple of Star Trek movies (I’ll only give you one clue – they’re EVEN-NUMBERED 😉 ) that should appease the Trekkies out there, and encourage the non-Trekkies (myself included) to actually get themselves involved in the Star Trek franchise already!
Now I know this movie won’t be for everyone: if you truly dislike the Star Trek franchise, or if you’re one of the veteran Trekkies who hated the shit out of J.J. Abrams’ reboot of “Star Trek”, then this film will do little to change your mind. But if you loved the reboot, and you’re looking for a summer blockbuster/sequel that will entertain you mentally and move you emotionally, then “Star Trek Into Darkness” is definitely worth your time and money. And it’s possibly the first “best movie” for 2013 – so you should get on board the USS Enterprise immediately and boldly go where no movie so far this year has gone before! Live long and prosper.
“HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS” – 1 1/2 out of 5 stars (“THAT SHIT CRAY!”)
“STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” – 4 out of 5 stars (“SEE THIS MOVIE”)