Movie review: ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ goes back to the basics

beyond1-socialIt’s now three years into the USS Enterprise’s five-year mission, and the crew is beginning to feel a little…strained. They have encountered numerous wonders in their journey through the stars, experienced thrilling adventures, and witnessed the awe-inspiring beauty of deep space. However, they’ve also learned that space can be as cold and lonely as it is fascinating, and when you are venturing this far from home into the uncharted vastness of the universe, it is all too easy to get lost — both literally and figuratively.

The beginning of “Star Trek: Beyond” finds Captain James T. Kirk feeling both lost and lonely. He is now a year older than his father lived to be, and he is questioning his own purpose in Starfleet. His father joined Starfleet because he believed in the mission; Kirk just joined on a dare. He wonders what he is really accomplishing, and if his work really means anything. It takes a dangerous mission that strands the Enterprise crew on a hostile world — and the resurrection of some ghosts from Starfleet’s past — to remind Captain Kirk why it’s important to keep boldly going where no one has gone before.

After the somewhat controversial “Into Darkness,” “Star Trek: Beyond” will be, for many fans, a welcome return to form. It doesn’t really venture into new territory for the franchise, but that’s actually okay. It feels like a jumbo episode from the Original Series, with a great mix of humor and action, plus a chance for the characters we know and love to shine. It’s a worthy addition to the franchise. (Note: This review is mostly spoiler free, and the brief spoiler I did include has been clearly marked, in case those who’ve seen the movie want to discuss that plot point in the comments.) 

I’m actually a fan of both J.J. Abrams Trek reboot films, even though I know some fans did not like “Into Darkness,” which re-imagines the famous Khan storyline. However, I am glad that with “Beyond,” the film makers chose to pursue an original story and introduce some new characters, rather than trying to recreate another storyline from the Original Series. Justin Lin takes over the helm this go-around, and while I admit I was initially a little skeptical about the director from “The Fast and the Furious” franchise taking on Star Trek, he proves to be more than capable of handling the job. It did take me a bit to adjust to his tone, which is a little different from Abrams’ style, but I was impressed by the way he handled the characters and the story. He takes the viewers on a fun ride.

It’s always great to see the Enterprise on the big screen, and although there’s now almost a running joke about how many times the Enterprise gets destroyed in these films, Justin Lin does destroy the ship in spectacular fashion. The film’s primary villain, a mysterious alien named Krall (Idris Elba), commands a fleet of ships the Enterprise crew members nickname “the bees” since they fly in a terrifying, overwhelming swarm. These “bees” dismantle the Enterprise in space and send it crashing towards a planet where more dangers await.

The story is fairly simple and straight-forward, which allows plenty of time for nice character moments. I think sometimes Chris Pine is underappreciated as an actor, and I’ve really enjoyed how he has grown his character throughout this series. Captain Kirk starts out the Trek reboot films as a reckless, womanizing delinquent who’s running from his destiny; in “Into Darkness,” he’s come a long way, but we still get the sense he doesn’t fully appreciate the solemn responsibility of command. Now, in “Beyond,” he’s still brash and tends to leap before he looks, but we can see he has matured as a captain. He has lived up to the sense of promise Christopher Pike saw in him years ago.

These Trek reboot films really have been perfectly cast, and each character gets a special moment in this film. I loved how the film maroons Spock and McCoy (Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban) together on the alien planet, apart from the rest of the crew. We haven’t gotten a chance to see as much of their love-hate relationship in the newer Trek films, so it’s nice to see them get an opportunity to both bicker and deepen their friendship. We also get to see some good moments with Scotty (played by Simon Pegg, who also helped write the film). I enjoyed the introduction of a new female character, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who can more than hold her own in a fight.

The film’s main weakness is actually shared by many summer blockbusters: not *quite* enough development for the villain. Idris Elba is a fine actor, and I liked how he played the character Krall. I also appreciated the twist at the end involving his character. ***Spoiler alert!*** Krall is actually an officer from the beginning of Starfleet who has mutated and unnaturally prolonged his life. He wasn’t able to adapt to Starfleet’s new mandate to pursue peace with its former enemies, and he’s been waiting a long time to seek revenge. It’s an interesting concept for a villain and seems very relevant considering the violence our world has been experiencing of late. It’s not always easy to forgive what’s happened in the past and choose peace instead of revenge, but it’s always the better path. I think the film could have done just a little more to flesh out that theme, and the character. ***End spoiler!***

Overall, “Star Trek: Beyond” is a fun action film that leaves plenty of time for character development, and I believe most Star Trek fans will be very pleased. I’m excited to hear Paramount is already planning a fourth film, although it is a somewhat bittersweet announcement. “Beyond” does address the passing of Leonard Nimoy, and it also marks the final outing for Anton Yelchin, who plays the young Chekov and passed away earlier this summer due to a tragic accident. I understand his role will not be recast in the next movie, and I think that’s a nice gesture. It would be great if the film would reference Chekov being promoted to first officer on another starship; I like the thought of his character still out there, exploring the stars.

“Star Trek: Beyond” gets a big thumb’s up from me, and I hope the franchise continues to go boldly into the future.

 

Summer Star Trek Blog-a-Thon: ‘First Contact’

1457364666-Star_Trek_Generation_Star_Trek_First_Contact_tickets_3To wrap up my summer Star Trek blog-a-thon, before “Star Trek: Beyond” hits theaters this weekend, I decided to watch my first Next Generation movie, titled — appropriately enough — “First Contact.” I’ve watched a few Next Generation episodes before but hadn’t ever delved into the movies featuring that cast. Although the Original Series crew will always be my favorite, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) is one of my favorite Enterprise captains.

“First Contact” appears to be generally regarded as the best Next Generation film, bringing back popular Next Gen baddies “the Borg” and mixing in elements of time travel. In the film, Captain Picard and his crew arrive to defend Earth from a Borg attack, only to find that the technology-loving Borg plan to travel back in time and “assimilate” all humans, turning them in Borg as well. They seek to prevent a key event in Earth history known as “first contact” — the day humans meet their first alien race, the Vulcans. Naturally, Picard and his crew aren’t about to let that happen. They fight to make sure first contact still occurs while also saving the Enterprise from a Borg infestation.

Although this film was released in 1996, now 20 years ago, I was impressed by how well its special effects have held up over time. The Enterprise looks great, and I liked the contrasting style of the Borg ship, which is basically just a giant cube floating through space. I also liked the make-up/costumes of the Borg characters; they are made up of both organic material and technology, with complicated electronic modifications on their bodies. Their quest to “assimilate” lifeforms involves them stripping individuality and personal choice from their subjects, turning them into drones that function as part of a hive mind.

Star Trek has always been about exploring interesting themes through the platform of science fiction, and “First Contact” is no exception. One of those themes is the concept of revenge and how we should never let the desire for it consume us. Captain Picard’s judgement in this movie is sometimes clouded by his desire to get revenge on the Borg, especially after they attempted to assimilate him in a previous storyline. He refuses to blow up the Enterprise in order to destroy the Borg, because he feels that blowing up the ship would compromise his victory. He wants to stay and fight until the bitter end. He doesn’t see the light until he hears a comparison of himself to Captain Ahab from “Moby-Dick,” and then he realizes stopping the threat of the Borg is more important than proving he is a superior strategist.

I also liked how the film touched on the fact that sometimes the people who do great things aren’t always great themselves. In the future, Zefram Cochrane, the man who creates the warp drive and flies the ship that makes first contact, is lauded as a heroic visionary. However, when some of the Enterprise crew members actually meet him, they find he is actually a cowardly drunk. It made me wonder if some of the visionaries we look up to from history were maybe not as great as we like to remember them. Without digging too deeply, you can probably find quite a bit of dirt on famous historical figures. Still, this also goes to show that we shouldn’t look past someone just because they don’t seem heroic. Sometimes all they need is a little push (or, in Cochrane’s case, a really BIG push) to do something great.

I enjoyed my first Next Generation film, and it made me want to watch more episodes of the TV series. I didn’t enjoy this movie *quite* as much as my favorite Original Series films, “The Wrath of Khan” and J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot, but like I said before, I have a definite bias towards the Original Series crew.😉

Well, I guess that wraps up my summer Star Trek blog-a-thon — thanks to everyone who followed along! I’m very excited to see “Star Trek: Beyond” this weekend, especially since the reviews seem very positive so far.

Movie review: Does the new ‘Ghostbusters’ live up to the original?

ghostbusters-full-new-imgThe original 1984 “Ghostbusters” has become a comedy classic, thanks to its quirky plot — featuring four somewhat bumbling paranormal investigators who try to stop a ghostly apocalypse in New York City — and the ad-libbing talents of stars like Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. It wasn’t a film that was really screaming for a remake, so fans were naturally a little skeptical when a reboot was announced. Unfortunately, the backlash from some quarters turned rather nasty, with some of the anger directed at the new all-female cast. The trailer even became the most disliked film trailer on YouTube.

However, now that the movie is out, what’s the actual verdict? While it’s still fair to say “Ghostbusters” didn’t really need a remake and the new film won’t replace the original, the reboot is very fun and entertaining. I loved the chemistry between the members of the new team, and there are some great cameos of characters from the original film (including a certain Stay Puft Marshmallow Man).

I’d definitely classify the new “Ghostbusters” as more of a re-imagining than a remake; it pays homage to the original film but isn’t a direct copy of the plot. Kristen Wiig plays a straight-laced Columbia University professor named Erin Gilbert who has tried to distance herself from her paranormal investigating past and her former friend and ghost hunting partner Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). When Erin is caught on video after actually witnessing a ghost at a haunted mansion, she gets fired from her university job. Erin decides to embrace her past and teams up with Abby, wacky engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and experienced New Yorker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to start a paranormal investigation business called the Ghostbusters. After the Ghostbusters uncover a plot to unleash an apocalyptic supernatural horde on New York City, they risk their lives to save their city, proving once and for all that these girls “ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”

The film does have a few weaknesses, one of which is a villain who isn’t fully utilized and isn’t as memorable a plot device as the demons that possess Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis in the original film. It also feels like overall, director Paul Feig tries to play things just a little too safe, and I believe he could have ventured a little further from the plot of the original film and still pulled it off.

However, the movie is still very much worth watching for fans of the original and for those who are encountering the franchise for the first time. The film is at its best when it allows its stars — most of whom are SNL alums — to just cut loose and do what they do best: being funny. The leads all bring something unique to the team, and Chris Hemsworth is also hilarious as their dimwitted receptionist Kevin. This is a different sort of role for Hemsworth, and he proves to be a good sport as he parodies his own beefcake persona.

I also enjoyed the special effects; even though the ghosts looked a little cartoony, I thought this fit well with the spirit of the film and also hearkens back to the original. This isn’t meant to be a scary film — it’s meant to be fun.

In short, don’t let the bad buzz scare you off — the new “Ghostbusters” is very entertaining and manages to tell its own story while also paying tribute to the original.

Summer Star Trek Blog-a-Thon: ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Into Darkness’

StarTrek_2768178bAlthough Star Trek has been a part of pop culture since the 1960s, in the mid-2000s the franchise hit a rough patch. The most recent TV series, “Enterprise,” had been cancelled, and the last Star Trek movie in theaters had performed poorly at the box office. The franchise needed a shot of adrenaline, and it received one courtesy of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot, simply titled “Star Trek.” The film brought back the Original Series characters but featured a plot with a time-traveling element, setting up an alternate timeline that allowed film makers to change the characters’ destinies.

Over the weekend, I re-watched both “Star Trek” and its 2013 follow-up, “Into Darkness.” Here’s some of my brief thoughts on both:

“Star Trek” (2009)

To me, this film is pretty much flawless. Although it’s action-packed with dazzling special effects (that first full-on shot of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the space dock is still breathtaking!), I feel like most of the focus is placed on the characters. The new actors do a great job honoring their Original Series counterparts and while also bringing their own touches to the characters, allowing them both to pay homage to what’s come before but also re-imagining these well-loved characters in an interesting way. Another thing I appreciated is the use of humor in the film; the Original Series is a fun TV show, and J.J. Abrams captured that same spirit. And of course, one of the most important highlights is the extended cameo from Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock; his presence helps pass the torch to this new generation of actors.

I could probably keep gushing on about this film, but I’ll stop myself.😉 It’s one of my all-time favorite movies and it’s probably the single movie I’ve watched the most times (I lost count after about 15). However, I do know that some Trek fans have mixed feelings about the reboot films, and I’ve even read comments from some who feel that “new Trek” fans aren’t even real fans.

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot film, though, because for me it was the gateway to the rest of Star Trek. Even though I had watched Star Trek reruns as a kid, it never really clicked for me, and I’d always been more of a Star Wars fan. I actually went to see the 2009 film because some friends of mine who were really into Star Trek wanted to see it and I thought the trailer looked “interesting.” However, walking out of that theater I felt exhilarated. I started going back and re-watching the TV series and movies featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the other Original Series actors, and I fell in love with them too. I started really understanding the magic of Star Trek.

I think it’s great that these films are introducing a new generation of fans to Star Trek, and it’s possible the success of these films helped make the upcoming 2017 TV series happen.

“Into Darkness” (2013)

Although J.J. Abrams’ follow-up “Into Darkness” was also well-received by critics, it was a bit more polarizing amongst fans due to Abrams’ gutsy decision to play around with a favorite Trek story arc: the rise and fall of vengeful super-human Khan.

A quick refresher on the plot: Benedict Cumberbatch plays a terrorist named John Harrison who is on Starfleet’s most-wanted list after bombing a building. Kirk and his crew are dispatched to find Harrison, only to discover he’s actually a super human named Khan. They also learn Khan isn’t the only villain at large; the revelation about his identity also uncovers corruption at the highest level of Starfleet. With the Enterprise left crippled and stranded in space, Kirk must to do the right thing — and make the ultimate sacrifice — to save his crew.

I actually really liked this film, even though it sometimes gets a bad rap. I don’t mind the retelling of the Khan story, especially since Abrams takes the character and the story in a new direction. I think it’s more of a re-imagining than a rehash. However, I think this film would have worked just as well if they’d simply let Cumberbatch play an original character named John Harrison with a grudge against Starfleet. There’s enough going on in this film that you don’t actually need the Khan element to make it work. I liked the film’s message that we have to be careful not to create our own demons.

Chris Pine gets to show off more of his acting range in this film, as Kirk begins to face some of the consequences of his actions. After bucking the rules too many times, Starfleet takes the Enterprise away from him — and Pine makes you feel the gut punch of that loss. I also liked how they switched up the famous scene at the end of “The Wrath of Khan,” where Spock died saving the Enterprise crew, and this time it’s Kirk that dies. I felt that both scenes show the power of Kirk and Spock’s friendship, and they demonstrate that both are equally willing to die for each other and their crew.

So, what do you think of the Star Trek reboots? Love them? Hate them? Somewhere in between?

Summer Star Trek Blog-a-Thon: ‘The Undiscovered Country’

Star-Trek-6-crewSometimes the hardest part of embracing the future is letting go of the past, especially when that “letting go” requires a difficult act of forgiveness. For Captain James T. Kirk, that means advocating for peace and relinquishing his long-held grudge against the Klingons — and coming to terms with his son’s death.

In “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” the Klingon moon Praxis explodes and threatens to collapse the Klingon Empire. In a surprising move, the war-like Klingons turn from their long history of hostility and reach out to the Federation with an offer of peace. Although Kirk is skeptical this offer is genuine, he’s dispatched with the crew of the Enterprise to meet the Klingon chancellor and escort his ship to negotiations on Earth. Kirk hasn’t forgiven the Klingons for the death of his son, David, but he accepts the assignment anyway.

Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to take the high road like Kirk and his crew. After the ships rendezvous, the Klingon ship is hit by torpedoes, which appear to come from the Enterprise. Two mysterious assassins wearing spacesuits beam abroad the Klingon vessel and kill the chancellor. Although innocent, Kirk and his crew are blamed for the incident, and they have to scramble to find the real assassins and clear their names before all hope for peace is lost.

“The Undiscovered Country” is the last film to feature the cast of the Original Series in its entirety, and it’s a bittersweet send-off for these well-loved science fiction icons. In many ways, it’s actually two films in one: there’s a suspenseful “whodunit,” which requires the crew of the Enterprise to play detective and find out who really killed the Klingons, and then there’s the political parable that examines the difficulty of letting go of past prejudices for the sake of progress.

It’s tough to blame Kirk for his mistrust of the Klingons, and I’m sure that to him, offering peace to the Klingons feels like giving them a free pass and glossing over their past crimes. However, he comes to realize that by offering forgiveness, he is giving future generations a chance to live in a better world with less conflict. This is a new way of “boldly going where no man has gone before,” and Kirk’s final mission with the Enterprise becomes one of his most important.

Although there are some serious themes in “The Undiscovered Country,” one of the things I appreciate most about the TV episodes and films featuring the Original Series characters is the use of humor and the spirit of fun. “The Undiscovered Country” has some nice lighter moments, including a culture clash at a dinner party with the Klingons (that leaves many of the Enterprise crew members with a killer post-Romulan ale hangover); some Klingons who unexpectedly spout Shakespeare; and a jab at Kirk’s reputation for romancing his way across the galaxy.

The special effects in “The Undiscovered Country” and many of the Original Series films haven’t aged as well as “Star Wars,” but the stories and characters are still just as good. Although I’ll always wish we got more than three seasons of the TV series, it’s pretty remarkable that the show built up enough of a following in its short run to generate six movies and then many spin-offs. I’m also glad J.J. Abrams was able to bring the characters back in his 2009 reboot, and the new actors do a good job carrying on the spirit of the original show.

And speaking of J.J. Abrams, up next on the blog-a-thon schedule is the first of his reboot films, “Star Trek”!

Summer Star Trek Blog-a-Thon: ‘The Voyage Home’

star-trek-iv-the-voyage-homeAfter a week’s vacation (my very first trip to Disney World — I had a blast!), I’m ready to dive back into my summer Star Trek blog-a-thon. This week I’d like to take a look at another film featuring the Original Series cast, “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” However, before I do, I want to acknowledge a very sad bit of news I learned during my trip: the death of actor Anton Yelchin, who plays the younger version of Chekov in the Star Trek reboot films.

J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot film, simply called “Star Trek,” is near and dear to my heart, since it’s the film that sparked my love for the Trek franchise, particularly the characters from the Original Series. Yelchin was funny, warm, and lovable as Chekov in these movies; like all the cast members in the reboot films, he honored the original show while also bringing something new to the franchise. His promising career was cut short, and watching “Star Trek: Beyond” in July will be bittersweet for fans. It is Yelchin’s last appearance in a role he should have played many times more. He will be missed.

***

“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” is one of my favorite Star Trek films, and it’s also one of the most unusual (it’s commonly known as “the one where Spock swims with whales”). Directed by Leonard Nimoy, the film kicks off with a mysterious alien probe broadcasting a signal that inadvertently creates deadly changes to Earth’s climate. The signals the probe is broadcasting are actually humpback whale songs, but there are no humpback whales on Earth to answer because they’ve gone extinct. Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew cook up a plan to travel back in time to the 1980s to rescue some whales and bring them to the future so they can communicate with the probe and save the Earth. Unsurprisingly, the crew has a somewhat challenging time fitting into 1980s culture, particularly Spock, who is still adjusting from being brought back to life in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.”

As I type up the plot synopsis, I have to admit that yes, this film does sound somewhat strange. But somehow, when you actually sit down to watch the movie, it all works. The film is smaller and less epic in scope than many of the other Trek films, but that’s okay. It’s a more lighthearted adventure and shows off the genuine chemistry between the Enterprise crew members.

Some of the funniest moments of the film are made possible by the time travel element, such as Dr. McCoy’s frustration with 1980s medical practices, Scotty’s attempt to speak to a computer, and of course, Spock’s efforts to use profanity so he sounds more like a local. Spock also earns a round of applause from his fellow bus passengers when he uses a Vulcan nerve pinch to silence an annoying man who is playing music too loudly.

The film doesn’t really have a villain or any big, special effects-driven action set pieces, but as I said before, sometimes it’s nice to have a change of pace. “The Voyage Home” feels like an expanded episode of the Original Series, and even comes with a message at the end: respect — not squander — the Earth’s precious resources.

Up next, I’m planning to review “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (interestingly, the even-numbered original Trek films seem to be the best). Then I’m planning to re-watch J.J. Abrams’ two reboot films and a film featuring the Next Generation cast. I’ve actually not watched a Next Generation film before, so I’d love to hear your recommendations about which one you like the best!

Summer Star Trek Blog-a-Thon: ‘The Wrath of Khan’

722231a1-2a13-4047-b848-2be9472c0071This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise, a sci-fi phenomenon that started, ironically enough, with a TV show that ran just three seasons before being canceled. Fans refused to let the franchise die, however, and it has since spawned countless movies and spin-off TV series. While Star Wars was, and always will be, my first love, I do have a special place in my heart for the Star Trek Original Series. The special effects may not be as polished as some of the later Star Trek series, but the show featured so many now-iconic characters and dared to dream up big ideas beyond what its limited budget should have allowed.

Since this year is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and there’s a new movie coming out about a month from now, I thought it might be fun to look back at some of my favorite Trek films, starting with “The Wrath of Khan.”

“The Wrath of Khan” followed the very first Trek film on the big screen — a film that was not necessarily applauded by fans and critics. However, “The Wrath of Khan” is generally regarded as one of the best — if not the best — film in the Trek franchise. It draws from a famous episode from the Original Series, which had the crew of the Enterprise facing off against a genetically enhanced superhuman known as Khan (Ricardo Montalbán). Kirk and Co. maroon Khan on what they think is a hospitable planet, but a natural disaster turns the planet into a desert wasteland. Now, Khan is desperate for revenge, and he has sworn to make Kirk suffer.

“The Wrath of Khan” was released more than 30 years ago but I think it has aged remarkably well. Although the special effects may not be quite as flashy as the ones in the most recent Trek films, the story is still fascinating. Khan is probably my favorite Trek villain, and Montalbán is clearly having fun with the role; his Khan is colorful, crazy, charismatic, and most definitely not a person to dismiss lightly. He makes a great foil for Captain Kirk.

It’s also great to see the chemistry between the Original Series cast, and it’s wonderful for fans to see them back in action, especially since the TV series was cut short. Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, Chekov, and Sulu each bring something to the Enterprise team, but my favorite is the friendship between Spock and Kirk. They are the ultimate odd couple — Kirk is brash and emotional, while Spock is careful and logical. But somehow, it works, and their strengths and weaknesses balance out and make them more effective as a pair than they would be apart.

Another thing I appreciate about “The Wrath of Khan” is despite the fact that it is a sci-fi action film with some great action scenes and dogfights in space, it also takes the time to touch on some thoughtful themes. In this film, Kirk grapples with the fact that he is aging and his role within Starfleet is changing. Some of his past mistakes are catching up with him, too; he has to face Khan and repair his own estranged relationship with his son and the mother of his child.

This film also contains one of the most moving scenes in Star Trek: Spock quietly leaves the bridge and fixes the Enterprise’s damaged warp drive, exposing himself to deadly radiation. He and Kirk have to say goodbye separated by a wall of glass. Spock’s “I have been and always shall be your friend” still gets to me.

I’m planning to review several other Star Trek films throughout the summer, leading up to “Star Trek: Beyond” on July 22. I’d love to hear about your favorite Trek film, and feel free to share links to your own Trek reviews in the comments section!

TV review: My belated thoughts on ‘Arrow’ Season 4

arrow-s4ep12The fourth season of “Arrow” wrapped up a couple weeks ago on The CW, so I apologize for this rather belated review. I’m actually still stuck in season 1 of “The Flash” and season 2 of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” so I sense some catching up on superhero shows is in my future this summer.😉

I started watching “Arrow” after reading a preview about it in Entertainment Weekly and found the show got better and better throughout its first season. The show reached its pinnacle in a strong second season, but some fans expressed disappointment in season 3. The flashbacks — which were an intriguing part of the first two seasons — began to feel a little old, and a little forced; the same thing could actually be said of the drama between some of the characters. However, a new season is always an opportunity for a fresh start — is “Arrow” now headed in a better direction?

Overall, I think season 4 was an improvement for “Arrow,” even though it didn’t rise to the heights of season 2. The show featured an intriguing new villain, Damien Darhk, and this season’s flashbacks felt a little more relevant, even though as a whole the flashbacks are weighing the show down and should probably be retired.

(Warning: Some spoilers ahead!)

In season 4, Damien Darhk uses the supernatural powers he gained from a cursed idol to attempt to “cleanse” Star City and the entire globe (and by “cleanse” he actually means “destroy”). I thought Neal McDonough did a great job with the character, and he brought a lot of personality to the role, making Darhk charismatic, dangerous, and intimidating. Although when the show first started, I liked that it had a more “realistic” tone and didn’t involve any actual super-powers, I think they’ve integrated these new supernatural elements fairly well. Supernatural detective John Constantine (Matt Ryan) even has a brief but fun cameo this season; I’d love to see him return to “Arrow” or some of The CW’s other superhero shows since the NBC show featuring this character was canceled.

“Arrow” isn’t a show to shy away from shocking plot twists, and this season we had a major one: the death of Black Canary/Laurel Lance. I’m sad that Laurel will be leaving the show, even though I wasn’t really a huge fan of the character in the beginning. She and Oliver’s romance always felt too forced, but I liked that the past few seasons the show let them return to being friends and Laurel joined the superhero team as a full-fledged member. While I feel like there were still interesting stories they could have told with the character, killing off a major character does build suspense and make the show feel a little more real.

Another character that has improved throughout the show is Thea Queen, Oliver’s younger sister. I wasn’t a big fan of her either at first, but I think the character has really grown and matured the past couple of seasons. She was a great addition to Team Arrow in season 4 and she’s interesting in that she battles a different kind of inner darkness than Oliver. At the end of season 4 she says she needs to take a break from vigilantism but I hope she’ll be back in season 5.

Season 4 doesn’t definitively resolve Oliver and Felicity’s on-again, off-again relationship, and it left me with mixed feelings about their romance. Felicity was one of my favorite characters in the first couple of seasons, and I admit I was one of those fans who really wanted her and Oliver to be together. However, I’m not a big fan of how their relationship has been handled on the show so far, and I almost feel that — as much as I want them to end up together — they are better apart. The show needs Felicity’s quirky, sassy banter, and some of that went away due to her relationship drama with Oliver. It might be nice if in season 5 they both tried dating other people who aren’t a part of Team Arrow.

Going forward, while the show’s experiment with supernatural elements has been interesting, I’d like to see “Arrow” return to its roots and go back to being a gritty vigilante drama for a season, especially if season 5 is its last. The show’s villain has been global in scope the past two seasons; why not have a powerful crime lord (similar to “Daredevil’s” Wilson Fisk) whose focus is just Star City? I’d love to see how Oliver would handle this both as the Green Arrow and as the city’s mayor. It would be great to have a season focused on crime and politics. I’d also love to see Oliver finally reveal his secret vigilante identity to the public in a pivotal moment, maybe telling the villain, on TV, that “You’d better not mess with Star City — not because I’m the mayor, but because I’m the Green Arrow.”

So, what do you think? If you’re a fan of “Arrow,” what do you hope to see in season 5?

Movie review: ‘X-Men Apocalypse’

X-Men-Apocalypse_2016-21After seeing the 49 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes for “X-Men: Apocalypse,” I walked into the theater with significantly lower expectations than I had originally. Critics have called it an overstuffed, “middling” chapter in the X-Men franchise, and I was afraid it would become what “Age of Ultron” was to “The Avengers.” However, while I do think the previous two films in the X-Men prequel trilogy — “First Class” and “Days of Future Past” — were stronger, I found I really enjoyed “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Despite a few weaknesses, the film has some strong performances and a number of great moments.

“Apocalypse” continues the X-Men prequel franchise that started back in 2011 with Magneto and Professor X’s origin story, “First Class,” and continued with the flashback-filled, time-altering “Days of Future Past.” The new film starts off with a great opening sequence in ancient Egypt, where a powerful mutant named Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has convinced the people he is a god. A band of rebels try to expose the truth about him, and while they do succeed in toppling a giant pyramid and burying Apocalypse in the rubble, they don’t actually kill him. He awakens thousands of years later and recruits a group of renegade mutants — Storm, Psylocke, Angel, and Magneto — to help him destroy and remake the world.

My favorite part of these X-Men prequel films has been watching Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy take on the roles of the younger Magneto and Professor X. These characters were originally played by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart — definitely not an easy act to follow. Yet Fassbender and McAvoy do an excellent job of fleshing out these characters’ backstories and portraying the friendship and conflict between them.

***Warning: Spoilers ahead!***

Magneto is one of my favorite X-Men because he’s such a complex character; his methods are wrong, but you can sympathize with his reluctance to trust non-mutants. His life is, sadly, a story of pain and loss, beginning with the horrors of the Holocaust. In “Apocalypse,” he’s tried to build a peaceful life for himself, like Professor X advised him to, but after an accident exposes his powers, his wife and daughter are murdered. He allows Apocalypse to recruit him simply because he’s so broken and sees no other path but destruction.

Although Fassbender and McAvoy were my favorite part, Quicksilver (Evan Peters) once again very nearly steals the show. He provided some great comic relief in “Days of Future Past” with a trippy, slow-mo prison break, and I wondered how they would top that sequence. Thankfully, Quicksilver gets another standout scene in this movie: he rescues all the young mutants from Professor X’s school right before it explodes, set to the tune of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” I also liked that Quicksilver got to be more than just comic relief in this film; he has a few moments of more serious character development where he struggles with the fact that Magneto is his father.

In addition to Quicksilver, we get to see some younger versions of familiar faces from the original X-Men films. Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Alexandra Shipp all do an excellent job as the young Cyclops, Phoenix, Nightcrawler, and Storm, respectively. It’s cool to watch them developing their powers and move closer to becoming the characters we know and love.

I wasn’t sure the film would have a happy ending or not, but I like how all the mutants came together to bring down Apocalypse. It took everyone using their powers — including a repentant Storm and Magneto — to defeat him, and we also get to witness the birth of the Phoenix, as Jean Gray fully unleashes her powers for the first time.

The film does have a couple weaknesses, and one of those is the fact it might be a little tricky for more casual viewers to follow. The film jumps back and forth between scenes and characters, and if you’re not familiar with all the previous films, it could be more challenging to keep up with what’s happening. I also thought Apocalypse’s prosthetic make-up was just a little too heavy, and almost buried Oscar Isaac.

I’m curious to see where the franchise heads in the future, after that relatively happy ending. Since “Days of Future Past” has reset the timeline, I’d like to see the characters take a different path than the one we’re familiar with from the original X-Men trilogy. Maybe this time Jean doesn’t have to be overcome by her dark side, and Magneto doesn’t have to be a villain. I’m also excited to see the younger mutants like Quicksilver and Storm in action.

In short, if you’re a fan of the X-Men movie franchise, don’t let the “meh” critical reviews put you off. “X-Men: Apocalypse” is still worth a trip to the theater.

Box Office Buzz is getting a remodel!

Although I’ve been blogging here since 2011, I realized I hadn’t done anything to update the look of my blog, other than change one of the images in my header.😉 I wanted to go with a design that was a little cleaner and a little more open, and also with more white space so the text was easier to read. I’m continuing to tweak the page, so let me know if you run across something that looks funny or doesn’t work correctly. Thanks to everyone who has followed along  with my blog!