Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

Doctor Strange (2016)

Not quite sure how it is possible that I watched Doctor Strange when it first came out but have been too busy to get around to the review until now. Luckily, I have a good memory when it comes to movies (terrible memory for everything else).

The latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was considered a risky one because of the relatively unknown character and all the mystical mumbo jumbo the studio feared could turn people off. Further, it’s directed by Scott Derrickson, whose most notable films up to that point were Sinister, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Deliver Us from Evil. And on top of that, some people lost their PC minds and accused Marvel/Disney of whitewashing when Tilda Swinton was cast as the Ancient One.

Of course, all fears were unfounded. This is the Marvel juggernaut we’re talking about! After so many incredibly successful films, Marvel has figured out the winning formula that continues to elude DC. It’s all about fun, excitement, spectacle and giving audiences a great time at the cinema. Doctor Strange is no different.

Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as Dr Stephen Strange, a brilliant neurosurgeon who is, frankly, a bit of a dick at the start of the movie, especially to his colleague and ex, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Following a devastating accident, Strange embarks on a journey of healing and character development through learning the mystic arts in a place called Kamar-Taj from the Ancient One, a beautifully bald Tilda Swinton. It’s very important, because a traitor by the name of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is hell bent on at wreaking havoc on the world.

Doctor Strange is a great example of how to execute a superhero origins story. You get a clear idea of who the character is at the start of the film and follow them on their journey to becoming who they are destined to be. The technical stuff is explained in a simple and understandable way that doesn’t get bogged down in the details. The training sequences are interesting and packed with out action so as to not be too boring, and our hero isn’t too powerful right out of the gate because he needs room to grow. There are good laughs along the way and the action is creative, inventive and spectacularly choreographed.

What sets Doctor Strange apart from the previous Marvel films is the psychedelic, mesmerising visuals and special effects. If you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know there’s all that world-folding and morphing stuff that feels like Inception on steroids. And it’s not merely eye-candy either, as the ever-shifting worlds and parallel universes blend in seamlessly with the action and the storyline.

The cast is easily one of the best in the Marvel franchise, with established names and Oscar nominees galore. As I said already, Benedict Cumberbatch was perfectly cast, exuding the initial arrogance and the later shift in his character wonderfully, without taking himself too seriously or coming across as too goofy. Rachel McAdams redeems herself from Southpaw and really adds to her character, while you can never go wrong with Mads Mikkelsen in any role. His villain is admittedly a little weak, as are most Marvel villains, though he does the best he could with the material he’s been given. Stealing the show are Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One (laying to rest some of the whitewashing complaints) and Benedict Wong as…Wong, a master of the mystic arts who protects their secret books and relics. On the other hand, I personally thought Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor overcooked his performance as fellow mystic warrior Karl Mordo. It’s good to show some emotion, but there wasn’t any need for 12 Years a Slave emotion in a Marvel movie.

On the whole, I really enjoyed Doctor Strange, though I certainly wouldn’t put it near the top of the Marvel films to date. Great cast, solid execution, nice action, and a visual feast at times, but nothing really extraordinary to elevate it to the level of the top solo films of the main Avengers (I’m talking Iron Man, Winter Soldier, Civil War, etc). The final confrontation was also somewhat anti-climatic. I’d put Doctor Strange at around the same level as Ant-Man — ie, a second-tier Marvel film but great popcorn fun nonetheless.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Apparently, Doctor Strange will make an appearance in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.

Zoolander 2 (2016)

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There’s no to sugarcoat this: Zoolander 2 is gaaaaaabage. Of all the sequels that should never have been made, this one’s right near the top of the list.

I’m sure it seemed like a good idea when Ben Stiller had nothing to do one day and decided to bring back his iconic character, the dim-witted supermodel who made “Blue Steel” the look everyone was imitating back in 2001. But like when Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels returned for Dumb and Dumber To 20 years after the original, it’s just as funny after so much time has passed. And sadly, Dumb and Dumber To is the far superior sequel. Minus a bit of nostalgia and a couple of decent laughs on the rare occasion, everything else about Zoolander 2 just feels stale, contrived, lame, and worst of all, unfunny.

The story is also set about 15 years after the original, with Zoolander and his former sidekick Hansel (Owen Wilson) living very different lives after another stupid tragedy. A new character, an Interpol agent played by Penelope Cruz, gets the ball rolling when celebrities are being killed all around the world. And of course, Will Ferrell returns as villain Mugatu.

So yeah, there’s essentially no story, just a bunch of idiots doing idiotic things. That’s not to say idiocy can’t be funny, because obviously enough people thought it was hilarious in the first film. But it’s simply just not funny here. I’d say a good 95-99% of gags fell entirely flat. It’s not even the delivery — the jokes themselves just had no wit, creativity or element of surprise. After a while, it will make you start to wonder whether you may have been overrating the first Zoolander for all these years. Personally, I started zoning out a little.

It’s unfortunate because the film starts with so much promise. The Justin Bieber gag that kicks off the show is pretty satisfying, though of course it would have been much funnier had the punchline not been tossed entirely into the trailer. In fact, almost all the good jokes have been spoiled by the trailer, which is sad considering the trailer is only about 2 minutes long.

As for the other 100 minutes…well, at least there’s a lot of celebrity cameos for people into those sorts of things. The list is far too long to even bother trying to name them (apparently there’s 39), though those who have seen the trailers won’t be surprised to see the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch or Kiefer Sutherland. Most play caricatures of themselves, and it makes you wonder whether they were just doing Ben Stiller a  favour or if they genuinely thought it was a good idea.

Back in 2001, Zoolander was a sharp satire on the fashion industry. In 2016 — though I’m sure it was made with the best of intensions, — Zoolander 2 feels like nothing more than a stale, feeble cash-grab when the ideas well has run completely dry.

1,5 stars out of 5

Black Mass (2015)

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I was a little sceptical about Black Mass in the beginning because Johnny Depp has lost a lot of credibility in recent years due to his odd character choices. The first thing you notice about the poster is the makeover Depp undergoes for the role of Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, with the balding head, patchy grey hair and fake wrinkles — it looked good enough but also jarring, much like Leo DiCaprio in J. Edgar.

But then I saw the rest of the ridiculous cast — Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Dakota Johnson, Peter Saarsgard and Jesse “Meth Damon” Plemons from Breaking Bad — and I knew my fears were likely misplaced.

Black Mass is much more than just a return to form for Depp — it’s a fantastic crime drama that gripped me from the very first scene and continued to tighten its hold as Bulger grew in both status and ruthlessness.

Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, Black Mass follows Bulger’s rise from small-time mobster to one of the most notorious organised crime bosses in America during the 70s and 80s. How he gets there is what this film is all about; it’s a dark and sordid journey full of underhanded deals, double-crossing, and above all, loyalty. There are a lot of blurred lines in this world, one of which involves Whitey’s brother Billy (Cumberbatch), a member of the Massachusetts senate, with the other revolving around John Conolly (Edgerton), an FBI agent who grew up worshipping the badass Whitey back when they were kids.

In some ways, Black Mass is quite a conventional crime drama in that it focuses on a turbulent world and the characters that inhabit it, with plenty of brutality and violence to keep audiences at the edge of their seats. There’s no shortage of death or cursing, and there’s no black and white, only shades of grey.

The film’s director, Scott Cooper, who last helmed Out of the Furnace with Christian Bale, brings his gritty sensibilities to Black Mass. As with that film, the tone is dark, the mood grim, and the atmosphere intense. Despite there not being any major ups and downs or particularly climatic encounters, especially action-wise, Cooper nonetheless found a way to maintain my attention, and even as the film ends after a solid 122 minutes, I felt as though I could have easily watched another hour of that world and those characters.

The performance of Johnny Depp as Bulger has been highly touted and rightly so. It’s almost strange seeing him not being some sort of fantastical weirdo, but he pulls off the brooding, vicious villain so well that you soon forget about all the make up and prosthetics. Though he doesn’t show much emotion, Depp’s Bulger is genuinely terrifying and unpredictable. Most of the film’s tension comes directly from him.

While Depp may very well receive an Oscar nomination for his performance, another guy who probably deserves it just as much is Joel Edgerton. His portrayal of FBI agent Connolly is brilliant, and in many ways he is the true lead of the movie because Bulger doesn’t have much character development to work with. First Edgerton gives us The Gift, and now he rewards us with this performance. The talented dude is just a legend who continues to make all Aussies proud.

On the whole, Black Mass is a riveting true story fueled by a star-studded cast and outstanding performances all round, especially from Depp and Edgerton. It has all the elements of a great crime drama, and while it’s not on the level of the classics like The Godfather, Goodfellas, Heat, and so forth, it’s still an engrossing and captivating experience in its own right.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Imitation Game (2014)

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You know what’s awesome? Watching a movie you expect to be very good, and then having those expectations shattered because it’s even better than you thought it would be. That’s essentially what happened when I watched The Imitation Game, the amazing true story about how British prodigy Alan Turing cracked the Nazi’s “unbreakable” Enigma code during the Second World War.

I had heard mostly rave reviews about the film, especially after it received eight nominations at next month’s Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Benedict Cumberbatch. Usually when a film is overhyped, the ensuing viewing experience will inevitably turn into (at least) a mild disappointment. Case in point: 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, another British flick that received overwhelming praise but put me into one of the best sleeps I’ve had in years.

And so I was shocked that discover that The Imitation Game is the real deal. The film had it all — a riveting “true story” premise, a fascinating central character, stylish execution, wonderful performances and plenty of excitement and thrills. And to top it off it wasn’t “too British” at all.

The story is clearly and cleverly told through three time periods — in 1951, when police start probing into Turing’s life after an alleged break-in at his house; in the early 1940s, when Turing is hired by the British government to crack the Enigma code used by Nazis to encrypt their messages; and during Turing’s school years, when we learn how his genius is also his curse. I was really impressed by how each time period served a distinct purpose, both in terms of plot and characterisation, and how everything would come together for viewers in the end like solving a giant puzzle, much like how Turing cracks the code in the film.

I had fears that the movie would be flat despite its premise because, let’s face it, watching people sit around trying to crack a code on screen could be kinda boring. This was one of the fatal flaws of one of Cumberbatch’s other “true story” films, 2013’s The Fifth Estate. Cumberbatch was great as Julian Assange, but none of the films’ digital wizardry could make typing on keyboards and online chats feel exciting.

The masterful script by Graham Moore and the crafty delivery by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum avoid such pitfalls by explaining just enough for audiences to understand the task at hand but without losing them through over-complicating things. They fill the movie with constant sources of tension, from Turing’s tenuous relationships with his colleagues and his superiors in the British government to the moral quandaries of war and hiding his deep dark secret. There’s even a Russian spy in there to keep things interesting, and it also helps that there is actually a big physical machine with gears and the whole shebang that churns through the code combinations as we wait with eager anticipation.

Cumberbatch deserves the acclaim for his portrayal of Turing, and I would not be at all upset if he takes home the Best Actor gong next month. Thanks to Cumberbatch’s performance, The Imitation Game is as much a biographical character study of Turing as it is a film about breaking a Nazi code. Not very many actors could have done what he did, and that’s to make audiences not just sympathise with the tragic character, but root for an arrogant, socially inept loner who challenged the Enigma code more for ego than to save lives. And yet Cumberbatch manages to win us over very early on with his charm and witty delivery.

Kiera Knightley, who earned a Best Supporting Actress nod as Turing’s colleague Joan Clarke, is also very good, as is the rest of a quality ensemble cast featuring the likes of Matthew Goode, Mark Strong and Tywin Lannister himself, Charles Dance.

I can’t think of anything negative to say about this movie. Award bait or not, The Imitation Game is an instant classic that tells an important story about a forgotten hero but doesn’t forget to educate us, excite us and captivate us along the way. Hands down one of the best movies of 2014.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Fifth Estate (2013)

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I finally got around to watching The Fifth Estate, the dramatization of the whole Wikileaks saga starring the marvellous Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange. The film is directed by Bill Condon, probably best known for the final two instalments of the Twilight Saga, and like those films, it was released to mixed reviews.

The Fifth Estate is more or less a more “grown up” attempt to replicate the tension and drama of The Social Network (you know, the one about the founding of Facebook). Like Mark Zuckerberg, Aussie Julian Assange is a brilliant but douchey loner who invents something that will change the world. It brings him fame (though in this case not fortune) and the notoriety he craves, but his growing ego also leads to a falling out with a close friend, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (the Eduardo Saverin of this story). The other major difference to The Social Network is that the stakes are much higher — it’s about lives rather than just money.

The film is based on Domscheit-Berg’s side of the story, and Assange publicly bashed the film without having seen it (he said he read the screenplay), calling it a “serious propaganda attack on WikiLeaks and the integrity of its staff” and a  “lie built upon a lie.” He even implored Cumberbatch not to take the role, though he apparently tried to get his ghostwriter Andrew O’Hagan to split the fee for the latter to act as a consultant on the film. None of this is surprising if the version of Assange depicted in the film is anything close to the real deal — ie, an megalomaniac, a weirdo and a dickhead.

Some critics such as Mark Kermode said they found the handling of the film “too even-handed,” though I felt it was just right. Wikileaks is depicted as both a positive and a negative, which it is, but also as a dangerous tool that can cause real risk to innocent lives if put in reckless hands. As for the depiction of Assange, he is shown as a flawed character, to put it nicely. I don’t think they were trying to hold back on what they thought of him.

The performances are what really drive the film. Cumberbatch doesn’t look much like Assange, even with the white hair, but he nailed the voice and the Aussie accent. Assange said it was “grating” to hear someone who isn’t Australian do an Australian accent and an impersonation of his voice, but if that’s the case then he must find it grating listening to himself, because Assange was close to perfection.

I became a fan of Daniel Bruhl after seeing him in the underrated Rush, and he was also very good here as Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Cumberbatch outshone him because he is Assange, but Bruhl held his own as protagonist audiences can relate to. The rest of the supporting cast, which includes Anthony Mackie, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney and David Thewlis as Nick Davies from The Guardian,  was also solid.

Given that most of the stuff in the story happens on computers, which is very boring, The Fifth Estate tries to spice things up by building a frenetic pace through tense chatrooms, busy newsrooms and a sense of paranoia from being spied on or even chased by authorities. It’s well-intentioned, but unlike The Social Network, it doesn’t have Aaron Sorkin penning the script and thus misses a certain snappiness to the drama and in particular the dialogue. That’s perhaps its biggest downfall, though I still think it’s a worthwhile film to watch if you have an interest in Wikileaks and/or the truth vs security debate.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave (2013)

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Of all the 2013 films I have watched and will watch, I doubt there is one that will leave a greater lasting impression than 12 Years a Slave, the remarkable, and apparently very accurate true story of a free black man kidnapped into slavery (no prizes for guessing how long). It’s one of the most brutal and uncomfortable movies I’ve ever had to sit through, but thanks to the brilliant direction of Steve McQueen (Shame), I don’t feel as though I’ve been manipulated at all. 12 Years a Slave is simply an unflinchingly honest, harrowing, raw and emotional motion picture about one of the darkest eras of American history — and it’s interesting that it took a British director to make a defining film about it.

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a free black man during the 1840s making a living as a musician with his wife and two children. Following a horrible stroke of misfortune he ends up being renamed to Platt and is shipped off to New Orleans where he sold by a slave trader to a plantation owner. There is a lot more to the story, but I will just keep it at that to prevent divulging any potential spoilers.

This is a confronting film, a grotesquely violent film; a film that tears at your heart. The excellent adapted screenplay by John Ridley (Three Kings) does not hold back in showing us what slavery was like back in those days, and neither does the direction of McQueen. The cruelty, the frightening beatings, the habitual physical and mental abuse, and the helplessness and depression — it’s all inescapably there. And according to scholars and experts who have seen the film, it is the most accurate on-screen depiction of slavery they’ve ever seen.

The thing that impressed me most about 12 Years a Slave, however, is how McQueen just tells Northup’s story the way it is. This is not some Hollywood story of triumph or some warm fluff touting the beauty of the human spirit. It’s just a man who loses everything trying to survive under extremely trying circumstances. It could have been so easy for this film to spiral into an exploitative, manipulative, melodramatic mess, but the approach is subtle yet direct, presenting audiences the story as is, and giving us the room to interpret the hints and emotions for ourselves. I felt the injustice and outrage as designed by McQueen, but I didn’t feel like any of it was being shoved in my face, even when I was watching the torture taking place right in front of me. That’s what I call masterful filmmaking.

Chiwetel Ejiofor deserves an Oscar for the defining performance of his career as the stoic Northup. It’s such a difficult role, not just because of the physical aspects of it, but because of the layers required to play an educated man pretending to be an uneducated slave. He is no saint. He didn’t care about the plight of the slaves before he became one, and once he did, he did what he could to survive, putting himself first as most people would. Ejiofor’s ability to capture every side of his character is what allows us to feel his fear, his desperation, his pain. And it’s not like he’s running around gunning people down like Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained or giving out motivational speeches like Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln — everything we get from the character comes from Ejiofor’s understated expressions, the restraint in his voice, the sorrow in his eyes.

The supporting cast features a list of well known names, from Paul Giamatti as a slave trader to Paul Dano’s racist carpenter and Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender (third collaboration with McQueen after Hunger and Shame) as Northup’s two very different masters. Fassbender, in particular, steals the show somewhat as a religious nut and the primary antagonist in the film, though Cumberbatch’s more reserved performance as a fairly decent but complicated man provides a nice contrast while also reminding us that not all slave owners were sadistic.

I thought the appearance of Brad Pitt towards the end of the film was a little jarring, but apart from that I though they all made their characters three-dimensional and memorable in their own way. However, the lesser-known supporting cast also deserve a lot of praise, in particular Lupita Nyong’o, which has been nominated for best supporting actress as a tormented slave lusted after by Fassbender, and American Horror Story’s Sarah Paulson as Fassbender’s icy psycho wife.

There are other aspects of the film which I usually don’t talk about but feel like I should point out here. I really liked the visual style McQueen employed for the movie, with a gritty documentary-esque look and a colour scheme that accentuated the realism and brought out the heat down in New Orleans. The music score by Hans Zimmer was also fitting for the period and helped add another dimension to the on screen drama.

12 Years a Slave is not easy viewing, nor is it intended to be. But it is a rare motion picture, the kind that doesn’t come around very often, where the story is compelling and the direction, script and acting are all top notch. And when all is said and done, it could end up being the movie that resonates more than any other released in 2013. Having said all that, it’s hard to give 5 stars to a film that’s almost impossible to enjoy.

4.5 stars out of 5.

PS: 12 Years a Slave is not without critics. There are some who say the film was made just to make white people feel bad about what happened. There are others who criticised the decision to focus on an educated man, someone who wasn’t a real slave, rather than one of the millions born into slavery and never knew any better, just so audiences can connect with the protagonist. None of these are valid criticisms. First of all, everyone, regardless of who you are, should feel bad watching human beings abusing other human beings. Secondly, no one makes a movie just to make people feel bad about themselves. Thirdly, why not pick a protagonist who can connect with audiences? This is a great story, a true story that deserves to be told — why shouldn’t it be?

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (2D)

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I was one of a few people who thought the first film in The Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, was pretty good. For all the boredom of the first half, the riveting second half was as exciting as the best parts of The Lord of the Rings.

And so it was with slightly heightened expectations that I saw the second instalment, The Desolation of Smaug, which by all accounts is better than the first one. For the most part I agree, though it is still far too long at 161 minutes (8 minutes shorter than Unexpected Journey), rendering the final instalment, There and Back Again (due end of the year) in very real danger of “hobbiting” everyone out.

I mean, as much as I love the world JRR Tolkien created and Peter Jackson interpreted, there has to come a point when it all becomes too much for people – apart from the die hard fanboys – to take. I felt that at times in Desolation of Smaug; there was a feeling that I had seen it all before, and the sense of wonder and magic that made LOTR so remarkable had begun to wane.

Still, there are a lot of things to like about Desolation of Smaug. For starters, no more boring tea parties. The film gets into the action a lot quicker and is better at sustaining it. There are still some slow bits but on the whole the excitement was much better distributed, with a few creative and amusing action sequences that bring freshness to the franchise. Secondly, Martin Freeman seems much more at ease this time as the protagonist, Bilbo Baggins. There were at times in Unexpected Journey when he appeared out of place, but this time there were no such concerns. Thirdly, even though he’s not in the books at all, Orlando Bloom returns as everyone’s favourite elf, Legolas, and he actually has a pretty meaty role as well. Joining him is Lost star Evangeline Lilly, who plays a female elf and one of the only women in the whole movie. A lot of Tolkien fans derided the decision to create her character (she’s not in the book), but I think it adds to the film and was the right decision in the end.

And last, but not least, the titular dragon himself, Smaug, voiced by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch, the man with the best voice in Hollywood. I was sceptical at first because I thought a talking dragon with humanistic emotions would come across as silly on screen, but I could not have been more wrong. Smaug, in all his CGI glory, received a lot more screen time than I had expected, and he was not only an awesome sight but also a great character. I saw the film in ordinary 2D but I hear that in IMAX, and especially in 3D and at the 48 frame rate, the visual experience is unbelievable.

As a piece of visually stunning entertainment, Desolation of Smaug definitely delivers, but problems with it as a trilogy film remain. While LOTR was three lengthy films made from three very long books, The Hobbit is three equally lengthy films made from one short book. While Jackson adds a lot of other material from Tolkien’s works into it, the film still feels like it was trying too hard to “build” itself into an alternate LOTR. But The Hobbit and LOTR are so different (the plethora of dwarves, for starters), and should be different when adapted to the screen. This is why I still think The Hobbit would have been much better off had Guillermo del Toro stayed on as director and the series shortened to just one or even two films.

Instead, Peter Jackson, as great as he is, has arguably stretched the material too thin. It’s obvious he loves his work too much to cut it down, and he wants his audience to be as immersed in Middle Earth as he is. The result is that The Hobbit films, at least the first two, come across as director’s cuts of a diluted version of LOTR, which is potentially a dream come true for some but also overkill for others.

So while I will admit I enjoyed Desolation of Smaug more than Unexpected Journey and thought it was an excellent, well-crafted and fun film with shades of the best stuff LOTR had to offer, I will also confess a bit of “hobbit fatigue” creeping in. Yes there was explosive action, incredible visual effects and lovable characters, but all of that was enveloped in an increasingly numbing familiarity that prevented me from feeling the same level of exhilaration and wonder I experienced in LOTR.

All I can say is that I hope it doesn’t affect my experience of the concluding chapter, There and Back Again, in December.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) (2D)

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I’ve allowed a few weeks for Star Trek Into Darkness to sink in, but my opinion of it remains the same.

It’s a very good film that is extremely entertaining and features excellent action sequences, special effects and a brilliant villain, but it ultimately lacks the wow factor of its predecessor and somehow ends up feeling like a glorified big screen season finale of a TV series.

The 2009 reboot, Star Trek, also directed by JJ Abrams (who will now also take over the Star Wars franchise, yikes) was phenomenal. It was a film non-Trekkies such as myself could enjoy but it also had something for the die hard fans (or so I have been told). Apart from a slightly disappointing villain (not Eric Bana’s fault — more a problem with the character itself), it was a film that had it all — action, drama and romance; and enough space fantasies to make fan boys spray their shorts and casual fans become fan boys.

Four years later, we have the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, which hits the ground running with a spectacular opening sequence featuring the crew of the USS Enterprise headed by captain James T Kirk (Chris Pine) and first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto).

Naturally, Kirk’s maverick decision-making lands him in hot water and at odds with Spock, but then disaster strikes courtesy of a brand new villain played by the man with the best name and arguably best voice in Hollywood, Benedict Cumberbatch. It is then up to the regrouped Enterprise crew to track him down and avenge their losses.

Into Darkness has a lot going for it. The cast, of course, is fantastic. Apart from the aforementioned Pine, Quinto and Cumberbatch, there’s the old gang of John Cho (ie, Harold), Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban (who provides the dry humour), Simon Pegg (who provides the Simon Pegg humour), Anton Yelchin and Bruce Greenwood. Another newcomer is Alice Eve, who provides the obligatory eye candy. All of them have key roles to play and don’t just blend into the background, which is a reflection of Abrams’ mastery of character and character development. At its core, however, the film is still driven by the love/hate/trust/loyalty relationship between Kirk and Spock, which takes another big step forward in this sequel (it’s getting to that bizarre bromance, bizarre sexual tension level). As for Cumberbatch, all I can say is that this dude rocks. He’s terrifying, he arouses sympathy; he’s just an electrifying and magnetic screen presence. I think I love this man.

Given how fantastic Star Trek was as a reboot of a legendary franchise, it was always going to be difficult for the sequel to match it. You have to strike a balance between reintroducing the characters and not rehashing too much; you have to take the action and relationships to new heights; you have to make the faithfuls happy with references to the original series; you have to try and do something different, be it the storyline, the action or even the jokes.

For the most part, Into Darkness achieves all of these. For the Trekkies in particular, there are some special treats, especially if you have stayed away from the trailers and the gossip. As a non-Trekkie, even I had an inkling that some of the revelations in this film were HUGE. It sets things up nicely if they decide to extend the franchise, which they almost definitely will.

I have few complaints. The pace of the film moves so quickly that you rarely have time to stop and think about how illogical or improbable the things happening on screen are, which is a sign of good filmmaking. I was sort of expecting more despair given that the title of the film is, after all, Into Darkness. I thought there would be more “darkness”, more hopelessness for Kirk and the gang to crawl out of, but it wasn’t that bad, all things considered. (Speaking of which, it seems Hollywood has been using the exact same formula for these big action blockbusters for quite some time now. Hero gets defeated — absolutely smashed, really — by a seemingly unstoppable villain. Hero rises from the dead and goes on a journey of recovery. Hero returns and triumphs against all odds. Celebration!)

The more troubling thing for me was that the film, or maybe the script, didn’t feel like it was depicting an extraordinary event too big for the small screen. It’s difficult to describe the feeling, but at times it felt like I was watching an epic season finale on a big screen rather than a blockbuster made especially for the big screen. It’s a strange thing to say considering the scale of the film, the star power and the special effects were all more than sufficient, but that was just the way I felt.

Does that mean Into Darkness is an unworthy sequel? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s one of the better executed sequels in recent years. It didn’t blow me away like the first film, but it still provides 133 minutes of solid entertainment that everyone from old Trekkies, new-Trekkies and non-Trekkies to casual science-fiction and blockbuster fans can thoroughly enjoy.

4 stars out of 5

PS: You don’t need me to tell you again. Ignore the 3D version. Please. I beg you. Don’t waste your time and money.