Keeping up my tradition from last year, here are some films I'm looking forward to in 2014. This list is not comprehensive and in no particular order, but simply twenty movies coming out this year that I'm interested in right now.
The Lego Movie
I loved playing with Legos as a kid and this movie has been getting rave reviews with an astounding 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. If that isn't enough, The Lego Movie was directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, creators of one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Clone High!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
While I'm looking forward to all future Marvel Studios movies, this is the one I'm most excited about other than Avengers: Age of Ultron. Although the recent films in this series have been getting more fantastical, The Winter Soldier looks like the most grounded Marvel Studios movie since Iron Man. Nick Fury and Black Widow seem to play crucial roles from the trailers and this is looking like what I wanted from The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. Marvel has billed The Winter Soldier as a political thriller so it seems that this comic book movie will bring something new to the genre. I'm also hoping for some WWII flashback scenes as I loved the retro style of Captain America.
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Marvel Studios movies will show their full range this year as Guardians of the Galaxy heads in the opposite direction of The Winter Soldier by showcasing the cosmic aspects of the Marvel universe. I'm guessing that Guardians of the Galaxy will help set up Thanos for Avengers 3. Like the general public, I don't know anything about the comics this movie is based on. However, the trailers make this look like a lot of fun and Marvel Studios hasn't disappointed so far. If Marvel Studios can pull off a talking raccoon and giant tree guy then they can pull off anything, even Ant-Man!
X-Men: Days of Future Past
I don't think that the X-Men films get enough credit for popularizing superhero movies. Sure the first Spider-Man movie made more money (and had a bigger budget), but without the success of X-Men (2000) setting a precedent it's possible that things may have played out differently. It's also important to keep in mind the serious tone of X-Men, which opens with a scene at a concentration camp, just three years after the goofy Batman & Robin. While I haven't seen the X-Men trilogy in a while, I liked them a lot at the time. I also thought X-Men: First Class was very good and made up for the disappointing X-Men: Origins Wolverine. X-Men: Days of Future Past will use time travel to bring the older and younger casts together. I think this is a great idea (though maybe should've been saved for the final movie in this new trilogy) and can't wait to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen together again as Professor X and Magneto.
The Hobbit: There and Back Again
I've read the book and seen the first two Hobbit movies, so of course I want to see the final part of this film trilogy, which will also be Peter Jackson's last adventure in Middle-earth. It will be interesting to see what is added this time as there isn't much material from the book left to cover.
I'm not too familiar with Godzilla but the trailers for this movie look fantastic and don't give away much. I was impressed with the visuals and tone and hope this movie will be as good as advertised. I might miss the 2001: A Space Odyssey music used in the trailers though.
The Raid 2: Berandal
I liked The Raid and am interested in the sequel. It looks like The Raid 2 has a bigger budget, story, and scope so I think this movie has what it takes to be a good sequel.
Muppets Most Wanted
I liked The Muppets and am looking forward to the next one. While The Muppets was a "getting the band back together" movie with a plot reminiscent of The Muppet Movie, its follow-up Muppets Most Wanted seems to be a throwback to The Great Muppet Caper.
Now that I'm done with the franchise movies and sequels, it's time to get to the original films. Interstellar is the next film from director Christopher Nolan and will be released this November. Not much is known about the story other than that it deals with space travel, a topic Nolan hasn't covered yet. Now that we live in a post-Gravity world Nolan will have to step up and deliver a great film about space but I'm sure he's up for the challenge. Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, and of course, Michael Caine.
Christopher Nolan's usual cinematographer, Wally Pfister, will make his directorial debut this year with Transcendence. Although the concept of uploading a human mind to a computer has been done before, it's particularly relevant in today's world with constant advances in technology. Besides Johnny Depp, Transcendence also stars Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy, who Pfister worked with on Christopher Nolan's Batman movies.
No, this is not a movie based on the Hanna-Barbera Birdman cartoon or the Adult Swim show Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. Birdman is a comedy film starring Michael Keaton as an actor best known for playing a superhero as he tries to star in a Broadway play. Keaton is famous for portraying Batman so it'll be interesting to see how Birdman plays off of that.
Birdman is not the only comedy meta film coming out this year! Killing Hasselhoff is about a down on his luck man whose only chance at fixing his life is to have David Hasselhoff killed in order to win half a million dollars in a celebrity death pool. Hasselhoff stars as himself!
The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch has been all over Hollywood recently and this movie
could deliver his first Oscar nomination. The script for The Imitation Game came
out on top of the Black List (best unproduced screenplays) in 2011 and
quickly ignited a bidding war eventually won by The Weinstein Company
for $7 million. The Imitation Game stars Cumberbatch as Alan
Turing and tells the true story of how he helped break Nazi Germany's Enigma code but was later convicted by his (British) government for
being a homosexual.
Another movie based on real events, Foxcatcher is about Olympic wrestling gold medalist Mark Schultz and how his brother and fellow Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz was killed by Olympic sponsor John Eleuthère du Pont in 1996. It'll be interesting to see how Steve Carell and Channing Tatum will do in dramatic roles.
Jon Favreau rose to prominence after directing the first two Iron Man flicks but his last movie was the lackluster Cowboys & Aliens in 2011. Chef proves to be very different from his recent films as it's about a chef who decides to start a food truck business after losing his restaurant job while also trying to get his family life sorted out. Chef will star Favreau as the lead and also features Sofia Vergara, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, and John Leguizamo.
The other Robert Downey Jr. movie before Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Judge is about a lawyer (Downey) who returns home to attend his mother's funeral. However, while back in his home town he finds out that his father, the town judge played by Robert Duvall, is suspected of murder.
I've been looking forward to Frank since I first saw the above photo from this movie. What I didn't know until recently is that the film is partly inspired by real life musician Chris Sievey. Frank also incorporates on-screen tweets instead of a voice-over. The more I hear about this odd-ball movie, which stars Michael Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal, the more I want to see it.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
I've been meaning to watch a Wes Anderson film but simply haven't gotten around to it yet. The Grand Budapest Hotel may be a good place to start as it has an all-star cast and has been receiving rave reviews.
Tim Burton has almost become a parody of himself in recent years in that
he's been directing the movies everyone would expect him to make.
However, Big Eyes seems to be a far cry from Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland as it's a biographical film about artist Margaret Keane. Big Eyes focuses
on Keane's success as a painter as well as her legal battle with
husband and fellow artist Walter Keane. Burton hasn't done a biopic
since Ed Wood so hopefully this will be a return to form for him.
Under the Skin
Although the basic plot for this movie sounds like Species (an alien takes the form of a beautiful woman to seduce men who are later killed), Under the Skin is actually based upon the novel of the same name by Michel Faber. Despite my comparison to Species, it seems that Under the Skin
goes in a different direction and is more serious. Parts of this movie
were unscripted and feature non-actors so it'll be interesting to see
how that experiment works. Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johansson as the main character, a sexy alien.
Bonus 2015 movies:
Avengers: Age of Ultron
It's the sequel to The Avengers and the first Marvel Studios movie of 2015. 'Nuff said!
Mad Max: Fury Road
Last year I put the fourth Mad Max film in my bonus movies for 2014 section. However, Mad Max: Fury Road got pushed back again and is currently looking at a May 2015 release. The various delays are worrisome but I trust director George Miller. Hopefully a trailer will come out later this year and we'll get our first look at Tom Hardy in the title role.
2015 is gearing up the be the "year of the franchise" even with the Batman vs. Superman movie being pushed back to 2016. However, there will still be plenty of original movies coming out next year. Crimson Peak, described as a "gothic horror story," is the next film from director Guillermo del Toro and will star Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, and Mia Wasikowska.
Monday, March 31, 2014
Thursday, March 6, 2014
I would've liked to have done a post on this year's Oscar nominations back when they were announced but had to focus on getting caught up instead. It also doesn't help that, yet again, I didn't see a ton of movies that came out in 2013. One year I'd like to see all the Best Picture nominations before the awards. The 86th Academy Awards took place on March 2, 2014. This was a week later than usual due to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
I missed most of the last two award shows so the last one I watched in full was the 83rd Academy Awards on February 27th 2011 which was hosted by Anne Hathaway and James Franco. I'm not familiar with Ellen DeGeneres outside of knowing who she is, but I thought she was fine and certainly performed better than Hathaway and Franco did. I think Ellen was a safe pick but it worked out as her show had a better reception than Seth MacFarlane's hosting duties last year.
While a pizza delivery and the 'selfie' seen around the world may have been surprises, the awards pretty much lined up to what I thought would win. I didn't expect Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, 20 Feet from Stardom, or Her to win their awards but predicted everything else.
I only saw eight 2013 films so I'm going to do a brief run down of what I saw and how they did at the Oscars. Gravity, which I felt the best film of what I saw last year, took home the most awards with seven out of ten total nominations. A technical masterwork, Gravity certainly deserved the attention of the Academy, winning such awards as Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron) and Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki). I'm glad Lubezki finally won his first Oscar since he was previously nominated five times and always came up empty. Despite receiving the most awards, Gravity was unable to win the big one, Best Picture, which went to 12 Years a Slave. American Hustle matched the ten nominations of Gravity but didn't win a single award. Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence have recently won Oscars and with the stiff competition I wasn't surprised American Hustle was left out in the cold. That said, I still thought it would win something due to its sheer number of nominations. Given the circumstances I wouldn't say the film was snubbed, but I felt American Hustle was certainly deserving of some wins.
Besides Gravity and American Hustle the rest of the most I saw didn't get many nominations, though this was to be expected. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug received three nominations for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing but lost out to Gravity in each category. The Desolation of Smaug did a great job in all of those areas, but had no chance against Gravity. Gravity not only had revolutionary visual effects but also looked amazing on a relatively low budget ($100 million) given the film's huge scope.
I would've liked to have seen The Desolation of Smaug get a nomination for Best Production Design but it was a very tough category this year. I don't understand why the film didn't get nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling as there were only three nominations, two of which were The Lone Ranger and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. The previous Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, had nominations in both these categories but like its sequel was unable to win anything.
Iron Man 3 got a nomination for Best Visual Effects. Like The Desolation of Smaug it was deserved but no contest when compared to Gravity. Star Trek Into Darkness also received a nomination in this category. I thought the movie had good special effects but they didn't blow me away. I was disappointed that Star Trek Into Darkness and The Lone Ranger (which to be fair I'm judging only by the trailers) were recognized here but Pacific Rim (which also had top notch production design) was unable to score a nomination. Thor: The Dark World (which had better visuals and production design than I was expecting) and Man of Steel didn't get any Oscar nominations which was no surprise. Still, they would've be decent choices in the Visual Effects category since Star Trek Into Darkness and The Lone Ranger did get nominations there.
It wouldn't be an Academy Awards post without discussing the Razzie awards! The winners of the 34th Golden Raspberry Awards were announced the day before the Oscars. Grown Ups 2 received the most nominations with nine but got shutout. The dubious prize of Worst Picture went to the sketch comedy Movie 43 which tied M. Night Shyamalan and Will Smith's After Earth with three award wins. I'd still like to see a version of the Razzies that includes non-Hollywood movies so stuff like The Room or Birdemic would have a shot!
Fun fact: Now that Matthew McConaughey has won an Oscar, the two leads of Reign of Fire (the other being Christian Bale) are now Academy Award winners. Does this mean Gerard Butler has an Oscar win in his future?!
Sunday, March 2, 2014
My favorite movie released in 2013 is Gravity. I only saw eight theatrically released films in 2013 but was lucky to see two Best Picture nominations (the other being American Hustle).
Gravity is an amazing cinematic experience. I'm sure it will look good on Blu-ray but see it in IMAX 3D if you still can. The IMAX 3D experience is immersive and will make you feel like you left Earth. It's also stressful to watch at times, especially on a first viewing!
Gravity had a $100 million budget which for this type of movie isn't as much as you would expect. They certainly got their money's worth as Gravity is an incredible piece of filmmaking with fantastic visual effects.
The excellent cinematography is from Emmanuel Lubezki, who finally won his first Oscar this year for Gravity. I was impressed with Lubezki's work on The Tree of Life and he knocked another one out of the park here. Lubezki frequently works with Terrence Malick and Alfonso Cuarón and has also been the director of photography for Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow) and the Cohen Brothers (Burn After Reading). Somehow he worked on The Cat in the Hat so I guess the cinematography was the least of that movie's problems!
Gravity is the second movie I've seen from director Cuarón, the first being Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I know that I saw A Little Princess as a kid but don't really remember it. I still need to get around to seeing Children of Men at some point.
Both leads, Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone and George Clooney as veteran astronaut Kowalski, do a good job. Clooney is likeable and witty while Bullock does a nice job portraying a vulnerable scientist trying to survive her first space mission.
Stone's backstory of having a daughter who died didn't work for me. I think this could've been replaced with something that would have enhanced the themes of isolation and survival in a better way or perhaps simply been cut altogether.
Gravity is not really science fiction as there are no aliens or advanced technology. The film is still in the realm of speculative fiction but more of a thriller set in space.
If you want to know my thoughts on how Gravity did at the Oscars then read my post on the 86th Academy Awards.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
American Hustle (2013)
This is the first movie I've seen from director David O. Russell and the final 2013 film I watched in a theater. American Hustle begins with the disclaimer "some of these things happened." I thought this was a good idea since it allows the film to use the true events (Abscam) as a starting point and tell the story in the most interesting way possible. I don't have a problem with films based on historical events doing this, as long as they state it up front like American Hustle. Most films based on true stories make changes anyway so it was nice to see a film, about con men no less, be honest about it. Plus this encourages people to find out more about the real people and events, which is always a good thing.
The acting was great all around from the four leads to the supporting cast. Comedian Louis C.K. only has a minor role but steals every scene he is in. There's a fantastic surprise cameo which I didn't know about coming into the movie. I won't spoil it so you'll have to watch the film to find out who it is! There are a good amount of main characters but I thought they were all handled well, not just in regard to acting but also with the writing and their roles in the story. Jeremy Renner was fantastic as Mayor Carmine Polito and deserved an Oscar nomination even though he didn't get as much screen time as Christan Bale or Bradley Cooper. American Hustle became only the 15th film to score Oscar nominations in all four acting categories. Check out my post on the 86th Academy Awards for my thoughts on how American Hustle fared at the Oscars.
When I first saw the trailer for American Hustle I was very interested in the film but thought it looked like the characters were playing 1970s dress-up. While the clothes and hairstyles of the main characters are over the top, even for the period, it's there to hammer home the themes of the film. These con artists are affiliated with government agents in exchange for their freedom, but still must make use of fakery and deception, often on multiple levels and in several different ways.
I was talking to somebody about the film and they mentioned "the villain." I stopped to think for a moment then asked who they thought the villain was because I didn't think this movie had one. The person viewed Bradley Cooper's character, Richie DiMaso, as the bad guy but I didn't see it that way. DiMaso is a government agent who doesn't have a great life and tries to turn nabbing a pair of con artists (Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams respectively) into improving his career and living a glamorous life. DiMaso is blinded by the pursuit of these goals as he is willing to stoop to entrapment to bust politicians, even honest ones. DiMaso's work with the con men is a form of escapism as he gets to leave his world (he lives with his shrill mother and has a fiancée only to make her happy) to work with the con artists. We see how eager DiMaso is when he keeps trying to skip to the climax of his boss's ice fishing story and therefore never gets to hear how it ends. DiMaso thinks he can hang with the big boys and take down anyone, con man, politician, or gangster. However, DiMaso may not have the amount of control he thinks he has over these convicted con artists and finds himself way out of his league. Since Irving and Sydney are our protagonists I guess DiMaso could be considered an antagonist, but he is on their side for most of the film.
Russell's directing is very good and there is also some nice cinematography, such as the dry cleaning scenes. While watching American Hustle I could definitely see the influences of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. I could also hear the influences since like many Scorsese and Tarantino films, American Hustle has an awesome soundtrack! If there was an Oscar for best soundtrack made of up previously recorded songs American Hustle would easily win that category with its mix of great 70s songs from different genres such as pop, rock, R&B, and disco.
Just before the movie began I looked around the theater and noticed the audience was a full house and made up mostly of senior citizens. American Hustle had already been out about a month so the packed house was a bit of a surprise, though to be fair this was around the time the Oscar nominations were announced. I expected the audience to be older, especially with a late afternoon showing, but not mostly made up of people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Most of these people were older than I am now back when this movie takes place!
American Hustle has a running time of 138 minutes and while watching the film it felt even longer. I mean this in a good way though since I was never bored and always interested in what would happen to the characters. American Hustle seems like it would hold up on multiple viewings and I look forward to watching it again.
Before American Hustle, the last film to receive Oscar nominations in all four categories was David O. Russell's movie from the previous year, Silver Linings Playbook. But before Silver Linings Playbook this hadn't happened since Reds (1981). Besides American Hustle, the only films to have been nominated in all Oscar categories but not win any are Sunset Boulevard (1950) and My Man Godfrey (1936). None of these films won Best Picture either, with My Man Godfrey not even being nominated in that category.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
I wrote about my background on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in my post on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey so I'm just going to jump right into this one and keep things fairly short. I found The Desolation of Smaug to be an improvement over the first. However, this is mostly because the characters and story are now set up and more fun by this point.Unlike the first Hobbit movie, I watched The Desolation of Smaug in the theater in IMAX 3D with the 48 frames per second frame rate. Overall I thought it was a great, immersive experience. I can see why some people didn't like the look of the 48 fps as it does kinda have a shot on video feel and exposes the makeup a bit. I don't think that 48 fps will ever catch on for all movies as it simply isn't meant for that. There is no reason a Will Ferrell movie needs the high frame rate! However, for a film like this one on a big scope with a lot of outside landscape shots the 48 fps generally looks magnificent and the pros outweigh the cons.
The film's action and visual effects are excellent. My favorite scene was the barrel sequence which besides looking great flowed well and had nice choreography.
Other than the barrel scene, another standout moment for the special effects is Smaug the dragon. Smaug is brought to life by Benedict Cumberbatch who did a nice job not only voicing the character but also performing the motion capture for the role.
If you still can't get past the fact that Peter Jackson's Hobbit films are more prequels to his LOTR movies than an adaptation of the book, The Desolation of Smaug won't win you over. There is a love story added for the movie which involved one of the dwarves and a female elf. Although this subplot is unnecessary and could've been cut, I actually thought it worked well and fit naturally with the story. It also helped tie in the elves to this movie more which makes sense given the stronger connection to LOTR the Hobbit movies have when compared to the books.
The decision to make three movies out of The Hobbit is still a stretch but the pacing is better here. That said, The Desolation of Smaug leaves the story off near the end of the book. I guess this means we'll see a lot more of the final battles and there will be more added material in the next one. The final part of this film trilogy, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, comes out in December 2014.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
As I wrote in my Iron Man 3 review I am a fan of the Marvel Studios movies. My least favorite movie of the series was Thor so I wasn't too excited about this one. I held out hope that Thor: The Dark World would be an improvement over the original but found it to be a lateral move. Director Alan Taylor has mostly done TV work but I guess his Game of Thrones credits helped get him this job. The only other thing I've seen from Taylor was the pilot for the TV show The Playboy Club. I didn't care for it but thought the premise could've made for a good movie. Taylor's next film will be Terminator: Genesis.
The best part of Thor: The Dark World, like the first Thor movie, is Loki. Tom Hiddleston puts in yet another dynamic performance as Loki and does a great job drawing from his background as a Shakespearean actor. It's kinda funny that Loki is a more interesting and nuanced character than Thor, who is supposed to be our main character. But since Loki has been portrayed so well I can't really complain about this. I'm also not sure if there was much more to the Thor character in the comics as I have never read them. While Chris Hemsworth has a nice presence as Thor, he's not the greatest actor. However, he has a good chemistry with Hiddleston and their scenes together are not just the best in the movies of some of highlights of the entire franchise. Thor's companions, the Warriors Three along with Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Sif (Jaimie Alexander), get a bit more screen time in The Dark World. I particularly liked the scenes where they plan to break Loki out of prison and how each one kept telling Loki not to betray Thor, or else! I thought the humor worked in Thor and it's just as good this time around. Another strong point of the film are the stunning visuals ranging from the Aether to alien planets and even creative portal battles.
The Dark World has Loki and great production values but there are several flaws. The weakest part of the movie is the bad guy, the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Malekith's motivations aren't strong. He once battled Thor's grandfather, Bor, over a powerful weapon called the Aether. Bor defeated Malekith, gained the Aether, and hid it in safe place, but Malekith is able to escape into suspended animation. Malekith wakes up due to the release of the Aether and wants it back. Malekith doesn't even get that much screen time which is odd since he is supposed to be the main villain. We should've gotten to know this character and his motivations much better as it would've made the conflict and final battle more meaningful.
The relationship between Thor and the human Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is phoned in again. It doesn't help that Portman is one of the least convincing scientists I've ever seen in a movie. While Loki is trying to discover who he is and what his place is in the universe, Thor's biggest decision is whether his love interest should be Jane or Sif. This brings in some conflict but is basically dropped as the story progresses to include Loki more.
Also like in the original Thor movie, the scenes on Earth aren't as good as the Asgard and cosmic scenes. While it made sense for Thor to be on Earth a lot in the first movie, this time there is too much time spent on Earth that could've been used to play up the fantasy elements.
Some people found Darcy (Kat Dennings) annoying in Thor but I thought she was fine as the comic relief and at the very least had more of a persona than Jane. This time I just didn't find her schtick funny except for one joke that was a callback to the first movie and the fact that she has her own intern despite being an intern herself.
The Dark World brings us a little more into the cosmic aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but not much is set up for Phase 2 outside of the after credits scene. I've been watching the TV show Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and there was an episode, "The Well," which followed up on the events of The Dark World. I would've liked a stronger tie-in to the movie such as a cameo appearance but the Asgardian Beserker staff made for a cool MacGuffin.
I don't need another Thor movie (honestly I'd rather have a solo Loki movie or give a new Marvel character a chance) but Thor 3 was recently announced thanks to the success of the first two as well as the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Next up for Marvel Studios is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which will be released in April 2014.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
As a Star Trek fan I was cautiously optimistic about Star Trek Into Darkness. I liked the 2009 Star Trek reboot a lot when I first it in theaters but watched it a couple more times and enjoyed it less and less each time. I'm glad '09 Trek brought back the joyful optimism and fun of the original series but just wished it had more substance to it. I was hoping that the sequel would fix this problem now that the crew has been introduced but we still don't get much social commentary or philosophy here. I'm not asking for a dissertation, just something to think about while leaving the theater.
I didn't like the clunky title since it was first announced. I guess they wanted to avoid using numbers or the one word subtitles of the Next Generation movies but is this really the best they could come up with? It also doesn't help that the acronym is close to both STD (sexually transmitted disease) and STI (sexually transmitted infection)!
Star Trek Into Darkness was actually better than I expected and I liked it more than '09 Trek. The villain of this movie is much better than the over the top Eric "Fire everything!" Bana as Nero. I also liked how each main character had more to do this time around. I understand that this was partially because '09 Trek had to set up the characters but it was still nice to have Scotty do more than simply be comic relief. The opening scene felt like classic Trek to me and I would've liked to have seen more of it. I enjoyed this cast the first time around and thought they did a good job with the roles again. I particularly liked the addition of Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus, the father of Kirk's love interest, Carol Marcus. The Klingons are re-introduced and while I was glad to see them back instead of the Romulans yet again, I was not a fan of the re-design. It looked too CGI to me and if it ain't broke don't fix it. The planet Vulcan was destroyed in '09 Trek which I thought was interesting as it opened up a lot of new story telling possibilities. However, the idea is never followed up in this film other than a line from Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy does make a brief cameo, probably so his last movie didn't have to be Transformers 3!) about helping Vulcan survivors. I have a bad feeling that the destruction of Vulcan was not done as a commentary on attempted genocide or displaced persons but just because Alderaan blew up in Star Wars and to show that anything can happen in this new timeline.
Now it's time to get to the elephant in the room. By this point anybody who is a Star Trek fan and hasn't seen Star Trek Into Darkness yet probably knows that the villain of the movie is Khan from the original series episode "Space Seed" and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, one of my all-time favorite films. Unlike a lot of Star Trek fans, I had no problem with Khan being used in a reboot. In fact, I actually thought it could be a good idea as long as it was handled in a "what if" way. For instance, Khan could be discovered by a different Federation ship and then start to build up a new empire. This could shake things up in various ways by for example, causing a split in the Federation or making peace with the Klingons or starting a war with the Romulans. Into Darkness certainly does things different such as how Khan and Kirk interact as well as the lack of the Genesis device subplot. However, simply using Khan at all forces an unfair comparison. This isn't like when a comic book movie uses a well-known villain since Khan only has two canonical appearances while a character such as Joker for instance has had many incarnations over the years.
It also doesn't help that Khan is played by a white man when the character is supposed to Indian. Ricardo Montalban was not Indian either but first played the role in the 1960s when actors like him played a wide range of ethnic characters so it's understandable in that context. I don't think the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch was racist since the character is never referred to as Indian and really is a new character merely inspired by Khan. It seems to me that Cumberbatch was cast more for his marketability than fitting the role, even though he is a fine actor and does a good job here. Still, I don't know why somebody like Faran Tahir couldn't have played the part. Besides fitting the ethnicity of Khan, he is not unknown to audiences as was in Iron Man and even very briefly at the beginning of '09 Trek. I doubt that most viewers would've remembered him from the last film, and casting the same actor in different subsequent roles is nothing new for Star Trek. But what I really don't understand is why the marketing and movie go out of their way to make the reveal of Khan (who is referred to as "John Harrison" for half the film) a surprise. Maybe they were afraid of the fanboy backlash but if that was the case then why do it at all? I think this is just J.J. Abrams' mystery box at play but after all the buildup whatever is in the "box" will seem underwhelming no matter what.
I felt that Into Darkness was an improvement over the last one and had fun with it. But like '09 Trek it wasn't as memorable as other Star Trek movies, partially because it plays off of Wrath of Khan more than it tells a brand new story. I didn't have a problem with the callbacks as they usually changed things up from Wrath of Khan or other episodes/movies, but would've rather had something completely different than anything done before. I'm surprised that many Star Trek fans hated Into Darkness yet had no problems with '09 Trek as the tone, style, and characters aren't much different. If you couldn't accept Star Trek as a popcorn movie the first time around then Into Darkness won't win you over. However, if you liked '09 Trek I think you will enjoy this one as well. I liked Into Darkness as a sci-fi action blockbuster. But as a Star Trek movie, like '09 Trek, it still misses the mark.
While there have been some very good Star Trek movies it really works best as a TV show and I hope to see it return to that medium at some point. In the meantime I just hope that the next Star Trek movie more evenly balances ideas and exploration with the action and villains. Many recent movies have tried to copy how The Dark Knight accomplished this but in the wrong ways ("dark" in the title, focus on the villain, etc.) instead of doing so in a unique and organic fashion like TDK did.
Fun Fact: Two actors in this movie have voiced Batman (Bruce Greenwood and Peter Weller). We also have Robocop (Peter Weller), and Judge Dredd (Karl Urban).