Supergirl (1984, Jeannot Szwarc)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When a powerful orb ends up on Earth, a Kryptonian girl called Kara – who’s Superman’s cousin – gives chase and finds that she now has special powers…

Good guys: Helen Slater plays Kara with wide-eyed likeability. The character survived the destruction of Krypton because she and her family live in Argo City, which is in a pocket of trans-dimensional reality (or something). When a MacGuffin called the Omegahedron is blown out into space, she follows it to Earth. Finding she can crush rocks and fly, she becomes Supergirl. But in order to search for the Omegahedron, she poses as a schoolgirl called Linda Lee – her alter ego has brunette hair, which acts as her equivalent of Clark Kent’s true-identity-obscuring glasses. At the school, she shares a room with friendly Lucy, who just happens to be Lois Lane’s little sister. Linda later has her first kiss, battles a witch, and ends up in the Phantom Zone (the prison world where Zod and her allies were kept in the first two Superman films).

Bad guys: Faye Dunaway – who gets close-ups filmed in soft focus with a splash of light on her eyes – is the villain: a would-be witch called Selena. Dolly Parton was initially offered the role and would have been more fun. We meet Selena as she’s having a riverside picnic while daydreaming about world domination. The Omegahedron falls out of the sky and lands in her food – she (somehow) instantly sees its potential for (somehow) casting spells. Her lair is in an old funfair and she has two hangers-on: Nigel and Bianca. The former is a teacher at the school Linda ends up in and is Selena’s boyfriend. A lacklustre Peter Cook seems less than thrilled with the role. Meanwhile, Bianca is played by Brenda Vaccaro – aka Joey Tribbiani’s mum. She’s the best thing about the whole film – sarcastic and full of energy, she feels like a real person.

Other guys: Peter O’Toole hams it up very entertainingly as Zaltar, an iconoclastic Kryptonian who accidentally causes the crisis at the start of the story. He willingly goes to the Phantom Zone as punishment, where conveniently Kara later bumps into him. Also in the Argo City scene are Mia Farrow and Simon Ward in phenomenally perfunctory roles as Kara’s parents. Hart Bochner – later sleazy executive Harry in Die Hard – plays the gardener, Ethan, who Selena takes a shine to. She gives him a potion so he’ll fall in love with the next person he sees… Of course, he wanders off and, after an elaborate action scene, claps eyes on Supergirl. The fun Lucy Lane is played by Maureen Teefy (Demi Moore was originally cast but quit when she got a better job), while Marc McClure has an inconsequential cameo, reprising Jimmy Olsen from the Superman films. An appearance from Christopher Reeve was planned, but he decided against it. We do see a poster of him, though, in Lucy and Linda’s bedroom.

Best bits:

* The terrific use of models, optical effects and theatrical set design as we’re introduced to the world of Argo City.

* “Nigel, how long have we been together?” “Ooh, months, darling.” “Then why does it feel like years?”

* Kara arrives on Earth in her new Supergirl costume. (Just allow me this one descent into perviness: phwoar.)

* Bianca suggesting Selena starts a coven so they can use the subs fees to pay the bills.

* Oh, look: it’s Max Headroom as a creepy trucker who tries it on with Supergirl.

* Oh, look: it’s Sandra Dickinson as a guest at the party Selena throws in her haunted house. (Howard Jones’s What is Love? plays as people mingle.)

* The scene with the tetchy school principle at Midvale High – Linda, as she now calls herself, waits until he’s left his office then at lightening speed forges a letter of recommendation from Clark Kent and puts it in the filing cabinet.

* When we first meet Lucy Lane, she’s reading an Incredible Hulk comic. A Marvel title! Sacrilege!

* Nigel: “I want to make a very serious proposal.” Selena: “In that outfit?”

* A fun trick shot as Supergirl flies into a large pipe on a building site – and Linda walks out of the other end.

* The past is a strange place, isn’t it? It only been 31 years, yet I doubt you’d make a film these days with scenes of schoolgirls showering, undressing and being flirted with by grown men.

* The photography is often very lovely. It’s by Alan Hume (many Carry Ons, three 1980s Bonds, Return of the Jedi, Runaway Train, A Fish Called Wanda). He uses smoke, long lenses and warm lighting to give the film a certain cinematic sheen.

* A mountain appears in the middle of Midvale town centre.

* Banished to the Phantom Zone, Supergirl tries flying… and falls flat on her face.

Review: This direct spin-off from the Superman series was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, who was also responsible for such masterpieces as Jaws 2 and Santa Claus: The Movie. His style is often quite flat and he’s not helped by a script littered with that’ll-do plotting and contrivances. After an opening that’s like something from a 1960s Doctor Who – an alien culture crudely conveyed in “As you know…” dialogue – we get a story stuck in second gear. Kara’s search for the MacGuffin is about as leisurely as they come, while it’s difficult to take anything Selena says seriously. Sadly, there’s also no real attempt to distinguish Kara from Linda. Christopher Reeve understood that his character had two very different personas, but Slater just lets the costume do the work in this regard. Having said all that, it was quite diverting seeing this again. It’s gloriously bonkers at times. And it’s a superhero film driven by female characters – if nothing else, that’s worth celebrating.

Five hockey sticks out of 10.

Next time: Gene Hackman returns to the Superman series. What could possibly go wrong?

Superman III (1983, Richard Lester)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Industrialist Ross Webster wants to use an advanced computer system to take over the world’s oil supply – only Superman stands in his way…

Good guys: A third appearance from Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman. Clark’s been invited to his high-school reunion, so goes in order to write about it for the Daily Planet. We see Superman in action a few times, but after he’s exposed to some impure Kryptonite he starts to behave very oddly. He doesn’t seem bothered about a life-threatening accident, he flirts with people and gets drunk, and generally acts like a tit… Margot Kidder returns as Lois Lane, but only for two scenes at either end of the film. In between, the character is sent off on a two-week holiday – it’s rumoured that Kidder got less screen time as punishment for daring to criticise the producers.

Bad guys: In the Lex Luthor role this time round is icy businessman Ross Webber, played by Robert Vaughn. He’s a smooth, pragmatic villain who learns that employee Gus Gorman is ripping him off – so ropes him into his plan to ruin Colombia’s coffee crop. When Webster needs to get rid of Superman, he entrusts Gus with researching and replicating some Kryptonite. Webster also has two bickering sidekicks: uptight sister Vera (Annie Ross), who gets mistaken for his mother, and sexy ‘psychic nutritionist’ Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson), who appears to be ditzy but shows flashes of real intelligence. The latter flirts with Superman in order to manipulate him and genuinely likes him.

Other guys: The main guest star of the movie is Richard Pryor, who plays Gus Gorman. At the start of the film, down-and-out Gus excels on a computer-training course and soon gets a job working for Webster’s company. When he sees his first payslip, he spots an opportunity to steal all the fractions of cents that go unclaimed. Webster catches him and is so impressed that he press gangs Gus into using a satellite to create a tornado in Colombia. Gus later impersonates an army general so he can present Superman with a gift made from 99-per-cent Kryptonite, then convinces Webster to fund the construction of an all-powerful super-computer. More a misguided buffoon than a true villain, Gus is let off at the end – Superman even tries to arrange a new job for him. When Clark goes to his high-school reunion, he meets two old school pals: Lana Lang, played by Annette O’Toole, and Brad Wilson, played by Never Say Never Again’s Gavin O’Herlihy. Cutely enough, both characters were in the brief high-school scene of Superman: The Movie. Brad is a drunken brute, while Lana is a cute single mother who’s bored of her life in Smallville. Jackie Cooper and Mark McClure are also back as Perry White and Jimmy Olsen respectively.

Best bits:

* The domino effect of slapstick in the credits sequence as a guy perving at Pamela Stephenson sets off a chain reaction of chaos.

* The guy trapped in a car filling with water. When he see it, Clark changes into Superman in a photo booth – a kid tries to take the resulting strip of photos, so Superman rips off the two that show Clark.

* Clark intercepting a custard pie heading for Lorelei and instead swinging it round into a passer-by’s face.

* The knowing look Lois and Perry White share when Clark refers to himself as a Metropolis sophisticate.

* Oh, look: it’s Shane Rimmer again. And there’s Al Matthews from Aliens in the same scene.

* The chemical-plant disaster – Superman walks through fire to save Jimmy, then flies to a nearby lake, freezes its surface and carries the huge sheet of ice back to the fire.

* Clark’s high-school reunion. The Beatles’ cover of Roll Over Beethoven is playing as everyone dances (of course, director Richard Lester also made the first two Beatles films). Meanwhile, event organiser Lana distractedly gives the DJ a pile of plates then tries serving food on some LPs.

* Clark doing an energetic and nerdy twist dance *just* as the music switches to the ballad Earth Angel (which is by Marvin Berry & the Starlighters, right?).

* Gus gets his next pay slip: $85,789.90.

* Webster suggests they’ll never find the person who’s embezzling funds. “He’ll keep a low profile and he won’t do a thing to call attention to himself. Unless, of course, he is a complete and utter moron.” Cut to Gus driving up to the office in a brand-new sports car.

* At a picnic, Clark says he likes the pâté. Lana says she didn’t make any and points out that Clarke is eating dog food.

* The ENORMOUS cowboy hat Gus is wearing in the scene he tries to get Brad drunk.

* Oh, look: it’s Sandra Dickinson as the wife of a guy unhappy with her Bloomingdales bill (which, due to Gus’s interference, is now huge).

* Webster’s ski station on top of an inner-city skyscraper.

* Gus re-enacts Superman saving Colombia from the tornado.

* Gus falls off the building, plummets dozens of storeys down to the ground, and, er, somehow survives.

* Affected by the dodgy Kryptonite, Superman blows out the Olympic torch just for his own amusement.

* Gus’s schematic for his super-computer is scrawled on scraps of paper and fag packets.

* Oh, look: it’s Robert Beatty playing an oil-tanker captain who likes to play golf.

* Superman fucks Lorelei!

* Superman gets drunk!

* Superman vs Clark Kent: the two personas do battle in a scrapyard. Whether this is literally happening or is meant as a dramatisation of the character’s inner turmoil is left open to debate.

* Webster’s massive computer, which aesthetically speaking is oddly reminiscent of the Death Star.

* The computer traps Vera and turns her into a robot. Terrifying.

* Oh, look: it’s Larry Lamb playing a coal miner.

* Knowing Lana had to pawn her diamond ring, Superman squeezes a piece of coal and Clark gives her the resulting precious stone.

* Lois returns from her two-week holiday with a story about corruption in the Caribbean. “I knew I was on to something when that taxi driver kidnapped me…”

Review: This film has a really bad reputation in certain circles – some fans have even produced amateur re-edits to ‘improve’ it. However, this is one of those cases where I just don’t see what everyone’s on about. Maybe it’s because I first saw it at a young age, but I think Superman III is a tremendous popcorn movie. More irreverent than the first two, sure, but it’s pacy, light on its feet, smartly written with lots of witty dialogue, and is generally very enjoyable. For the opening quarter, two plots run alongside each other. But then Clark’s return to Smallville and Webster’s diabolical plan collide in smart ways. Richard Pryor is a lot of fun as Gus Gorman, as is Robert Vaughn as Webster. Clark’s romance with Lana is very sweet. But there’s also a fair bit of darkness. Seeing Superman affected by the tainted Kryptonite is unsettling, while Vera being encased in robotic wires and panels is just horrific – it ranks alongside Raiders of the Lost Ark’s melting faces and pretty much all of Return to Oz as one of the scariest things I ever saw as a child. On the downside, it’s a shame Lois Lane is essentially ignored, while director Richard Lester succumbs to easy, flippant gags too often. Comedy Italian stereotypes are bad enough, but the Commodore 64 graphics, sound effects and *on-screen score* when Webster is firing his missiles at Superman have not dated well, either conceptually or visually.

Eight combine harvesters out of 10.

Next time: Hang on, so Superman wasn’t the only person to survive the destruction of Krypton?

Superman II (1980, Richard Lester)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When Lois Lane begins to suspect he’s really Superman, Clark Kent faces a huge dilemma… Meanwhile, three Kryptonian psychopaths are taking over planet Earth.

Good guys: Clark Kent/Superman is again played by the peerless Christopher Reeve. At the beginning of the film he flies to Paris when he learns terrorists have taken over the Eiffel Tower. Lois Lane (Margot Kidder, likewise returning from the preceding film; likewise excellent) is caught up in the incident too and needs saving. Later, she and Clark pose as a married couple in a Niagara Falls hotel and are given the honeymoon suite. Great mileage is made with the idea that while Clark is in love with Lois, she’s in love with Superman. As Lois gets closer to discovering Clark’s secret identity, he becomes more nervous about it – she risks her own life to test her theory, but it’s only when he accidentally burns his hand and there’s no scar that he has to own up. As Superman, he takes her to his Fortress of Solitude near the North Pole and chooses to renounce his powers so they can live as a couple. Reeve then, in effect, plays a third character: Superman in persona, Clark in abilities. It doesn’t last long, however…

Bad guys: The three criminals we saw briefly in film one – General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Hallaran) – swore revenge on Jor-El and his heir when they were imprisoned. Once freed thanks to the shock wave from a hydrogen bomb Superman has flung into space, they end up on the moon, then head off to conquer Earth. Zod is self-important and arrogant; Ursa has a habit of stealing badges from victims and adding them to her own clothing; while Non is a mute and slightly dim giant. Also in the film is Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman again). At the start, he’s still in prison with bumbling sidekick Otis (Ned Beatty) and is without a wig. Once Lex has escaped with help from Miss Teschmacher and a hot-air balloon, he searches for Superman’s hidden lair (which he finds easily), then attempts to team up with Zod.

Other guys: Susannah York reprises her role as Superman’s mum in a scene filmed to replace Marlon Brando’s Jor-El (who was dropped from this sequel in order to save paying the actor more money). Also back from Superman: The Movie, but with little to do, are Jackie Cooper as Perry White and Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen. Clifton James appears as a local cop – it’s a role not too dissimilar from JW Pepper, his character in a couple of earlier Bond films. EG Marshall plays the US President.

Best bits:

* The prologue-cum-credits sequence, which recaps the important beats of the first film (well, except Marlon Brando’s contribution, which is edited around).

* The breezy opening scene in the Daily Planet newsroom – Clark is ignored by everyone he tries talking to, casually throws his hat onto a hat-stand without looking, then learns about the crisis in Paris. (Clark: “That’s terrible!” Perry White: “That’s why they call them terrorists, Kent…”)

* Clark opening his shirt as he runs down an alley, revealing the Superman logo.

* Lois sneaking onto the Eiffel Tower and giving herself a pep talk as she holds onto the underside of a rising lift.

* Oh, look: it’s Richard Griffiths playing one of the terrorists.

* Clark walking out in front of a taxi when he spots Lois on the other side of the road – the car comes off worse.

* Oh, look: it’s Cliff from Cheers again, seemingly playing a different control-room lackey from his character in the first movie. (Shane Rimmer, an American in so many UK-based productions, is in the same scene.)

* An astronaut on the moon spotting Ursa flying past his craft.

* Lex Luthor using a hologram projector to trick a prison guard into thinking he and Otis are still in their cell.

* When a searchlight hits Lex, Otis makes shadow-puppet bunny ears. Otis then tries climbing up the rope ladder Miss Teschmacher has dropped from the balloon – but each step simply drags the basket closer to the ground.

* Clark panicking when Lois pulls off his glasses to clean them. When she finally looks up and sees him, a big thought occurs to her…

* The little boy titting about on the barrier of Niagara Falls. He has a mum who’s pretty blasé about her son’s wellbeing.

* Lex and Miss Teschmacher finding the Fortress of Solitude. She keeps repeating the last word of his impressed dialogue (“The place is genius…” “Genius…”), then implies she needs the toilet. “Why didn’t you go before we left?” “That was two days ago!”

* Oh, look: it’s John Hollis, the baldy guy from The Empire Strikes Back, as a Kryptonian official.

* Lois throwing herself into a fast-flowing river to try to force Clark to reveal he’s Superman. (He refuses.)

* Arriving on Earth, Zod walks on water. The scene has an ubiquitous bemused onlooker.

* “You *are* Superman!” Lois works it out, and Clark owns up.

* In a redneck diner, Ursa challenges a guy to an arm wrestle – and wins so much she breaks the table.

* Zod’s expression of pride when he realises the whole planet can see him on TV.

* Superman gives up his powers…

* Zod, Ursa and Non defacing Mount Rushmore, replacing three of the Presidents with their own faces.

* Zod, Ursa and Non’s attack on the White House.

* “Rise before Zod… Now, kneel before Zod.”

* Clark is hit by a bully in a roadside cafe and bleeds. (It shows how fantastic Reeve is: despite the fact he was 6’4” and well-built, you buy him being intimidated.)

* Clark returning to the Fortress of Solitude and finding the crystal necessary to return his powers, which glows green on his face as the music swells.

* Non being fascinated by a Newton’s cradle executive toy.

* Waving a white handkerchief, Lex walks into the Oval Office to parley with Zod.

* After the bad guys have burst into the Daily Planet, Lois punches Ursa – the latter doesn’t flinch, but Lois busts her hand.

* Surveying the damage Zod and co have caused in the Daily Planet office, Lex says to himself, “When will these dummies learn how to use the doorknob?”

* When a colleague suggests Zod is as powerful as Superman, Lois pushes her out of shot.

* The lengthy and inventive battle on the streets of Metropolis. Well, at least at first – a plethora of product placement gets tiresome, while it gets increasing silly. When Zod and his allies create an overpowering wind, we see a man who continues his conversation despite the phone box being knocked over, a man roller-skating backwards and other facile jokes.

* Thinking Superman is human, Zod orders him to take his hand and swear loyalty – Superman squeezes it like in a vice. (Lois, meanwhile, realises Ursa has lost her strength – so socks her in the mouth.)

* After a kiss from Clark, Lois forgets that he’s Superman.

* Clark returns to the roadside cafe to humiliate the bully.

Review: This film was made concurrently with Superman: The Movie, and the turbulent production history is fascinating. If you don’t know the behind-the-scenes story, I highly recommend checking it out. A good précis can be found here. The most relevant fact is that, after completing the first film but before all of Superman II had been filmed, director Richard Donner was sacked and replaced with Richard Lester. A lot of Donner’s work was retained, but some scenes were reshot, the story was reworked and new footage created. Sadly the cracks are all too apparent. Gene Hackman refused to return after Donner was fired, so Lex inelegantly disappears from a crucial scene. Margot Kidder, under contract and with no choice but to carry on, visibly changes appearance in scenes shot months apart. Lester’s approach is clearly more flippant than Donner’s. But despite all that, the film holds up remarkably well. It’s very, very enjoyable. Zod and his sidekicks are great villains – camp yet still menacing – while the love story between Clark and Lois is superbly written and played. Their relationship is the beating heart of the story, and his sacrifice for her feels huge.

Nine molecule chambers out of 10.

Next time: Richard Pryor skies down the side of skyscraper!

Superman: The Movie (1978, Richard Donner)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent has a secret – he’s actually a powerful alien who was exiled from his doomed home planet as a child. When criminal mastermind Lex Luthor plans to destroy California, Kent’s superhero alter ego – Superman – sets out to stop him…

Good guys: Christopher Reeve stars as Clark Kent/Superman (he’s only got third billing, after the title, due to the blockbuster casting of two other roles). He’s just terrific and is equally believable and interesting as both sides of the character. The difference in the two personas, costume aside, is brilliantly achieved through posture and attitude. It’s some very smart acting. Clark’s got his job as a reporter because editor Perry White thinks he’s the fastest typist he’s ever seen. He’s seemingly a bumbling, nervous, old-fashioned doofus, and meets colleague Lois Lane when he starts work at the newspaper – he actually gets assigned to her ‘city beat’. They become pals, though, especially after he saves her life during a failed mugging. (Jeff East plays Clark as a teenager, though Reeve dubbed the dialogue.) Lois is played by Margot Kidder, who’s absolutely knockout. When we meet her, she’s writing a story for the paper (“How many Ts in bloodletting? How do you spell massacre?”). She’s adorable, feisty, sassy and a bit of a klutz. She’s not fussed by Clark’s attentions, but she falls for Superman after he saves her during a helicopter accident. Kidder beat a lot of talented actress, including Anne Archer, Stockard Channing and Lesley Ann Warren, to win the role. Jackie Cooper appears as the no-nonsense, hyper Perry White; Marc McClure plays photographer Jimmy Olsen, who’s on $40 a week but gets to feature in the film’s climax.

Bad guys: Gene Hackman – an actor who can basically do anything – plays our bad guy, Lex Luthor. He has a lair hidden in a disused section of Metropolis’s train station and wears a succession of wigs (a sly nod to the fact the character is traditionally bald… and a compromise because Hackman wouldn’t go for it). Lex has two sidekicks: the buffoonish Otis (Ned Beatty), who calls his boss “Mr Lu-THOR,” and has his own comedy cue in the incidental music; and Miss Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), who helps Superman after Lex is mean to her. Hackman and Beatty has some fantastic comic chemistry. There are also cameos from Jack O’Halloran, Terence Stamp and Sarah Douglas as the villains we’ll be getting to know in the next film.

Other guys: Marlon Brandon was paid an absolute fortune – about $19 million – for his small role as Jor-El, Superman’s father. He plays it straight if not especially charismatically. Jor-El predicts the destruction of Krypton, so sends his infant son off to Earth in a space ship. He doesn’t want the boy to miss out on his education, so the pod contains a series of talking books where Jor-El explains who Einstein is and how many galaxies there are. Brando later pops up as a hologram too – Superman’s dad didn’t half record a lot of material for his son to view later on in life. Didn’t he have other things to do during the last 30 days of his planet’s existence? Susanna York plays Jor-El’s wife. Glenn Ford appears as Clark’s adoptive human father – the way he plays the character’s fatal heart attack (a quiet, scared, “Oh, no…”) is touching. We also briefly see Clark’s high-school crush, Lana Lang.

Best bits:

* The black-and-white opening – a child’s narration setting the scene and the context, a comic book’s page being turned over, and a set of cinema curtains swishing aside as the image becomes widescreen for…

* …the opening credits. Big, bold, blue – they thunder into view, scored by John William’s fantastic fanfare (which you can sing along to: “Su-per-man!”).

* The ice-covered surface of Krypton.

* The scene setting up the sequel (which was shot concurrently with this movie). A trio of menacing villains are introduced, tried, convicted and imprisoned in a spinning mirror floating in space.

* The highly reflective clothing on Krypton. “Front-axial projection,” shouts anyone who’s seen the documentary about the making of Doctor Who serial Silver Nemesis.

* The destruction of Krypton.

* Mr and Mrs Kent finding the infant Clark in a meteorite crater. Moments later, he lifts a truck’s back end up on his own.

* Teenage Clark running alongside a speeding train. (A little girl spots him through the window. An extra scene in the director’s cut tells us it’s a young Lois Lane.)

* Clark heads north – and uses a crystal from Krypton to build his Fortress of Solitude.

* Our first view of Superman in costume – and of Christopher Reeve in the role, actually – is after 46 minutes, when he flies across the Fortress’s cavern.

* The Daily Planet newsroom: we get whip-cracking dialogue sensationally rattled off by the cast, some superb blocking and brilliant bits of business.

* Lois accidentally backs into Clark’s crotch and gives him an approving look.

* A mugger fires a bullet at Lois; Clark catches it.

* Lex Luthor, on his sidekick Otis: “It’s amazing that brain can generate enough power to keep those legs moving.”

* Lex’s secret lair.

* The film’s second scene in the newsroom consists of a single 121-second take: an elaborate, far-moving but never show-off-y camera move.

* Oh, look: it’s Larry Lamb playing a journalist!

* After the helicopter accident, Lois falls from a great height. Clark runs towards a phone box so he can change into Superman, but it’s an open-sided booth so he has to use a revolving door instead. The first person to see him after his costume switch is… well, it’s a comedy 1970s black pimp, isn’t it?

* “You’ve got me?! Who’s got you?!”

* Oh, look: it’s Oz Clarke playing a robber!

* Superman uses his X-ray vision to check whether Lois, a smoker, needs to worry about lung cancer.

* Lois interviewing – and flirting with – Superman.

* Superman taking Lois for a fly. She’s terrified at first, then enjoys it. We hear her thoughts as the form of a spoken-word song (“Can you read my mind?”), which is one of the film’s more charmingly bonkers moments.

* In a brilliant bit of movie-making magic, we see Superman – demonstrably Christopher Reeve – fly away from Lois’s balcony and then Clark – again, clearly Reeve – walk into her flat, all done in one camera shot. (There’s not enough time for the actor to change costume and make-up, so how did they did it? When we see Superman, it’s actually a pre-recorded take being projected onto a screen built into the set. Ingenious stuff.)

* Clark considers telling Lois the truth. He takes his glasses off while she’s not looking and seems to grow a foot taller.

* Lex’s frustration at his inept sidekicks wittering on.

* Oh, look: it’s Larry Hagman! Cameoing in a bizarre scene where a group of soldiers ogle and consider sexually abusing a car-crash victim rather than get her some help.

* When he learns of Lex’s plan, Clark discreetly jumps out of the window and switches into Superman on the way down.

* When he shows Superman his proposed map of the new California, Lex is dumbfounded to see that Otis has added a place name: Otisburg.

* Oh, look: it’s John Ratzenberger as a missile control-room operator.

* Lex tricks Superman into opening a box containing Kryptonite.

* Lois’s car breaks down during the earthquake – she spots the approaching crack in the ground in her rear-view mirror.

* All the model work during the earthquake is superb.

* Lois is buried alive!

* Superman’s anguish after he finds Lois dead.

* In order to save Lois, Superman turns back time by flying round the planet really quickly – thereby disobeying Jor-El’s commandment. (It’s a testament to how enjoyable this film is that you forgive it this enormous storytelling cheat.)

Review: The title’s apt. This is a *movie*. There’s a great sense of epic scale, with a long running time, a chapter-like structure and some ambitious special effects. But it’s far from po-faced. It’s often very funny, in fact. Director Richard Donner has spoken about how verisimilitude was his key word for this film – and he keeps things plausible and believe-in-able at all times without ever losing sight of lightness and fun. There’s real soul to everything on show. Other writers are credited with the script – including The Godfather’s Mario Puzo – but the movie as filmed was actually the work of creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz (Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die). And what a great job he did, combining comic-book concepts with His Girl Friday banter; action with comedy; style with substance. The movie is in three main sections: a 17-minute opening set on Krypton, all mythic dialogue and sci-fi sets; a 15-minute sequence featuring a young Clark in Smallville, full of bucolic charm, wide open spaces and American Gothic simplicity; and the main bulk set in a hustling, bustling Metropolis of wisecracking journalists, arch criminals and men who wear hats even though it’s the 1970s. A great cast – especially Reeve, Kidder and Hackman – only add to what is an enormously likeable experience.

Nine boxes of Cheerios out of 10.

Next time: So… whatever happened to those three villains from the beginning?

Batman: The Movie (1966, Leslie H Martinson)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Four of Gotham City’s most notorious criminal masterminds team up to take over the world – only caped crusader Batman and trusty sidekick Robin stand in their way…

Good guys: Adam West and Burt Ward star as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin respectively. When this movie was made, the pair had already been in the roles for months – the film was produced as a tool to promote Batman the TV series overseas. The first time we see the superhero alter egos is after just three minutes when Bruce and Dick slide down the Batpoles to the Batcave and Bruce flicks the ‘Instant costume change lever’ on the way down. We then get a James Bond-style opening action scene, which shows off the Dynamic Duo, their outlandish vehicles and ingenious gadgets. It’s 33 minutes into the movie before they return to their everyday personas. Both characters are illogically intelligent, astonishingly naive, hilariously sincere and incorruptibly noble.

Bad guys: Four of the most popular villains from the TV show have joined forces to form the United Underworld criminal organisation. ‘Today Gotham City, tomorrow the world,’ reads their logo. Seemingly in charge is the Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, who took over the role when the TV show’s Julie Newmar was busy on another project). Posing as Russian journalist Kitka – aka Comrade Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Karensha Alisoff from the Moscow Bugle – she seduces Bruce Wayne, who falls for her big time. As did the actor: in an interview featured on the DVD, Adam West tells us: “Favourite villain? I would have to say Catwoman. And you guys know what I mean.” Right there with you, pal… The Joker (Cesar Romero) gets lots of laughing to do and his face, including his moustache, is covered in white make-up. The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) runs things when the gang are aboard their submarine. “On land you command, on the sea it’s me,” he quips. He bought the sub from the US Navy by using a fake name: P.N. Gwynne. And finally, the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) fires a Polaris missile into the air, which writes two riddles totaling 22 words in the sky with its trail smoke.

Other guys: Batman has a few allies: stoic Commissioner Gordon, Irish police chief O’Hara and loyal butler Alfred, the last of which is the only person in on Bruce’s secret. We see the US President at one point, but his face is hidden from us; he has a dog by his side. Commodore Schmidlapp is taken hostage by United Underworld, but doesn’t seem to notice: he thinks he’s still aboard his yacht because goons are faking the view out of his landlocked cell’s window.

Best bits:

* The title sequence – our two leads and the four bad guys picked out by colour-tinted spotlights.

* Robin accidentally lowers Batman into the sea – when he pulls him out, Batman has a shark clamped round his leg. “Hand me down the shark-repellent Batspray!” he says.

* Batman, Robin, Gordon and O’Hara watch a video report of which ‘super criminals’ are currently at large in Gotham and give pithy summaries as each face appears on screen.

* “How did it go, Catwoman?” “Purr-fectly…”

* We cut to dopey navy bigwig Admiral Fangschliester and he’s playing tiddlywinks with his *very* cute female subordinate.

* Due to the convention of no one recognising superheroes or master criminals when they’re not in costume, the bad guys hold Bruce Wayne hostage in the hope that Batman will come to rescue him… and Bruce pleads with Catwoman to let him talk to Kitka, who he thinks they’re also holding.

* The Riddler asks for the ‘five guinea pigs’ – five lackeys walk in, each wearing ‘GP#1’, ‘GP#2’, etc, on their sweaters.

* The old walking-up-the-side-of-a-building/camera-at-90-degrees trick.

* Batman running around a dock trying desperately to dispose of a bomb with its fuse lit. He encounters a pub full of people, nuns, a woman with a pram, a kissing couple, a marching band and a flock of ducks before he finds somewhere safe to throw it. (The fuse burns for two minutes and 26 seconds!)

* The Riddler shoots down the Batcopter… which spins out of control… and lands on a huge pile of foam rubber… placed near a sign reading ‘Foam Rubber Wholesalers Convention’.

* The climactic fight on top of the surfaced submarine, which is the only time in the movie we get the famous single-word captions accompanying punches and leaps – Pow! Whap! Thwack! Biff! Bap! Bap! Zwapp! Splosh! Klonk! Urkk! Swoosh! Swa-a-p! Eee-yow! Ouch! Kapow! Ker-sploosh! Spla-a-t! Plop! Urkkk! Blurp!

Review: Just like the parent TV show, this is a cartoon come to life. It’s incredibly silly and deliciously surreal. It’s also pure pop art, with bold colours, Dutched camera angles and deliberately arch props (Batman’s ladder has ‘Bat ladder’ written on it). The joy comes from how seemingly earnest the whole thing is. There’s some terrifically awful dialogue – “The sum of the angles of that rectangle is too monstrous to contemplate!” – but it’s delivered with tongues places charmingly in cheeks. It’s all good fun, even if the film is essentially one gag stretched out over 100 minutes. The fact that none of the actors nor the director ever break the illusion and wink to the audience makes it even funnier. You’ve really got to admire everyone’s total commitment.

Seven days when you just can’t get rid of a bomb out of 10.

Next time: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

Superman and the Mole Men (1951, Lee Sholem)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Clark Kent and Lois Lane, reporters from the Metropolis Daily Planet, arrive in a small town to write about the world’s deepest oil well. But two creatures who live in the centre of the earth climb up the six-mile-deep hole…

Good guys: Clark Kent/Superman is played by George Reeves, who appeared in various movie serials and TV episodes between this feature in 1951 and his death in 1959. We first see him in an intro sequence, which explains the set-up and ends with Superman standing in front of the Stars and Stripes as the narration tells us that he fights for “truth, justice and the American way!” Once the story’s underway, Clark turns up at the oil well with colleague Lois Lane and the pair research their story. It’s 24 minutes into this 58-minute film before Superman makes an appearance – oddly, we don’t see the switch of costume. Lois, meanwhile, is played by Phyllis Coates. She’s a photographer as well as a reporter, seems totally unmoved by an old man’s death, and shows very little journalistic curiosity. There’s no flirtation or much chemistry between Clark and Lois.

Bad guys: Luke Benson, an angry local, represents ‘mob rule’ and wants the Mole Men hunted down. He fires a gun at and punches Superman, with no effect. Sidekick Webber shoots one of the Mole Men – Superman finds him and takes him to hospital – while Benson traps the other creature in a hut and burns it to the ground. Benson is played by Jeff Corey, who was later in both Star Trek (The Cloud Minders) and Babylon 5 (Z’ha’dum).

Other guys: There are many forgettable oil workers and townsmen. The Mole Men are short, bald, dressed all in black and have huge foreheads. They don’t speak and we don’t learn anything about them.

Best bits:

* The melodramatic incidental music.

* The two Mole Men climbing up out of the pipe. They later appear at a window and scare the bejesus out of Lois.

* Superman takes flight – smartly represented by a high angle as the camera tracks above a crowd of people.

* Lois: “You give the impression you’re leading a double life.” Clark, smirking and putting on his hat: “Really?”

Review: My watchthrough of every full-length, cinema-released film featuring Superman or Batman begins poorly. There’d been a couple of movie serials featuring the Man of Steel before this – but Mole Men was the character’s first feature film. It acted partly as a pilot/showcase/advert for the subsequent TV series, Adventures of Superman, and indeed it has the feel of a story-of-the-week. It’s all out on location, for example, and we never see the Daily Planet. Sadly, it hasn’t dated well. It’s brain-numbingly bland and very, very ‘straight’. Irony, subtext and character are all absent. If you squint, I suppose there may be a Reds-under-the-beds metaphor going on. Certainly, the locals are instinctively scared of the Mole Men because they’re ‘other’. But it’s all pretty flat and drab.

Three test tubes of radium out of 10.

Next time: Holy 1960s, Batman!

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, JJ Abrams)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After Starfleet command is attacked by a terrorist, Captain Kirk and his crew are sent on a mission to hunt him down…

At the end of the film, Kirk recites what he calls the captain’s oath. Chris Pine, therefore, becomes only the second actor (after Leonard Nimoy) to read the famous Star Trek narration in a movie: “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilisations; to boldly go where no one has gone before…”

Regulars: James T Kirk is on mission at the start, trying to protect a planet from oblivion without revealing his efforts to the natives. However, he disobeys this caveat in order to save Spock’s life. His actions lead to him losing command of the Enterprise, but after his mentor, Pike, is killed he gets it back so he can find the murderer. Once Kirk realises Admiral Marcus is the bad guy, he teams up with terrorist Khan, but then has to sacrifice his life to save the ship… On that first mission, Spock goes down into a volcano to stop a catastrophe. Once Kirk has rescued him, Spock pisses his captain off by submitting a contradictory report. During the crisis, he calls his older self from the previous film and asks him about Star Trek continuity. He outsmarts Khan and tricks him into destroying his own ship, but is then devastated when Kirk dies – it puts him in a blind rage, and he goes after Khan for revenge… Dr McCoy is on that opening mission with Kirk, and later helps new science officer Carol Marcus to open a mysterious torpedo. He does the research on Khan’s genetic ability to regenerate and uses his findings to resurrect a dead Kirk… Uhura is still in a relationship with Spock, but it’s not going well. She gets to use her communication skills when she confronts the Klingons on their own planet… Scotty works out how Khan escaped from San Francisco (he used the trans-warp technology Scotty was given in the preceding movie), then objects so much to 72 strange torpedoes being aboard the Enterprise that he resigns. Kirk later calls Scotty while he’s in a night club to apologise, admit he was right, and ask him to investigate some coordinates Khan has mentioned; Scotty ends up hiding on Marcus’s super ship… It’s Chekov who replaces Scotty as chief engineer (“Go put on a red shirt,” Kirk tells him) and he later saves Kirk and Scotty as they dangle off a balcony… Sulu gets to be acting captain while Kirk, Spock and Uhura are off the ship.

Guests: Doctor Who’s Noel Clarke plays Thomas Harewood, a pensive father who Khan manipulates into helping him. It’s a good performance, especially when you bear in mind that he has only seven words of dialogue. Khan is played superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch, although it’s 67 minutes before we learn the character’s true identity. (Why he’s no longer Hispanic, as in the timeline established in his first two appearances, is not addressed.) Bruce Greenwood returns as Pike, who’s now an admiral and gets killed off. Peter Weller plays Admiral Marcus – anyone who’s ever seen a film before could guess he’s the baddy – while Alice Eve appears as his daughter, Carol.

Best bits:

* The bonkers colour scheme on Nibiru, the planet at the beginning.

* Kirk and McCoy escape the natives by leaping off a cliff into the sea. (I first saw this film in 3D and IMAX – this moment made my stomach lurch.)

* The Enterprise is underwater!

* McCoy admitting that Spock would leave Kirk to die if their situations were reversed.

* Every single lens flare.

* The natives now worship the Enterprise.

* CGI London: St Paul’s Cathedral and a fuckload of skyscrapers.

* The mournful piano music during the Noel Clarke sequence.

* Kirk in bed with two women. Who have tails.

* Kirk admitting he’ll miss Spock after the latter is assigned to a different ship – and Spock’s inability to respond.

* The attack on the conference room.

* Spock mind-melding with a dying Pike.

* Scotty resigns (as does, in solidarity, sidekick Keenser).

* Kirk learns that Uhura’s having problems with Spock (“My God, what is that even like?!”)

* After McCoy has said both, “You don’t rob a bank when the getaway car has a flat tyre!” and “You just sat [Sulu] down in a high-stakes poker game with no cards and told him to bluff!”, Kirk tells him, “Enough of the metaphors, all right. That’s an order.”

* Sulu warning Khan: “If you test me, you will fail.”

* Spock and Uhura’s argument, with Kirk caught in the middle and chipping in.

* During a chase, Kirk flies his shuttle through a very narrow gap between two buildings by turning it sideways (surely a deliberate reference to a similar moment in The Empire Strikes Back).

* The atomic-winter feel of the Klingon planet.

* Khan saves Kirk, Spock and Uhura – then surrenders when they confirm they have 72 torpedoes on board.

* Uhura standing on tiptoe to kiss Spock.

* Kirk and Khan’s confrontation through the glass.

* McCoy: “Don’t agree with me, Spock. It makes me very uncomfortable.”

* A cute CGI shot zooming in on the Enterprise, through the window and onto the bridge.

* McCoy’s arm getting trapped in the torpedo as it counts down to detonation. Carol says, “Shit,” and simply pulls out some wires.

* The space battle at warp speed.

* Kirk: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Spock: “An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.” Kirk: “It’s a hell of a quote.”

* Kirk and Khan’s space flight.

* Khan kills Marcus by squeezing his skull (is he a Blade Runner fan?).

* Kirk and Scotty running down a corridor, which due to changing gravity conditions is rotating.

* A dying Kirk talking to Spock through a glass door – the key scene from The Wrath of Khan reversed, of course.


* The Tribble squeaking into life.

TV tie-in: The use in the plot of a Tribble – an animal that looks like a fluffy ball of fur – meant that I chose the Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribble-ations for the final example of television Trek I rewatched for this process. Made for the franchise’s 30th anniversary in 1996, it’s a brilliant bit of postmodern fun. The DS9 regulars travel back in time and interact with the crew from the original TV show. The period sets, costumes and lighting schemes are a joy; the script is genuinely funny and smart; and new footage is seamlessly cut together into old clips.

Review: Choosing to revisit classic villain Khan – and essentially remake both TV episode Space Seed and movie The Wrath of Khan – has certainly put some people off. But Star Trek Into Darkness is a very entertaining two hours, full of life and vim and vigour. Like its immediate predecessor, it’s built on the rivalry, friendship and affection between James Kirk and Spock. Even more so than the last time, in fact. Actors Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are both really excellent, and the emotional journey their characters go on – especially the usually uptight Spock – is touching and believable. The whole movie zips along and has many pleasures. It looks superb, there are tons of great scenes and witty lines, and Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastically menacing as Khan. But it’s not a total triumph, with three chief problems. The female roles are perfunctory: Uhura is mostly defined by being Spock’s girlfriend, Carol Marcus is forced to strip off for salacious reasons, and neither character has much impact on the story. Secondly, the pace sags halfway through and there’s a dull run of scenes where characters simply tell each other back-story. And finally, the moment when Spock phones his older self from the first film and asks him about Khan is dramatically tiresome. You can argue it *is* what Spock would do, but it feels like an enormous cheat. Overall, this is flawed but still tremendous fun.

Eight trade ships we confiscated during the Mudd incident last month out of 10.

Star Trek (2009, JJ Abrams)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Ninety-four years after the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Spock is thrown back in time along with a vengeful Romulan called Nero. Their time-travelling creates a new, alternate reality where Spock’s younger self – as well as James Kirk and other familiar faces – team up to defeat Nero…

For only the third time in a Star Trek movie, we hear the famous narration. And for the third time, it’s Leonard Nimoy who delivers it. It comes at the end of the film: “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing missing: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilisations; to boldly go where no one has gone before…”

Regulars: The elderly Spock (Leonard Nimoy) can’t prevent the destruction of Romulus, so when pissed-off Nero travels back in time to seek revenge, Spock follows him – thereby creating an alternate reality. The James T Kirk of this new timeline is born in the opening scene: his mother goes into labour while being evacuated from a starship. Kirk’s dad, meanwhile, is killed just after he discusses baby names with his wife. We next see Kirk as a kid, where he’s clearly a bit of a wild child, then as an adult when he gets into a bar fight with some tough guys. After joining Starfleet, he cheats at the Kobayashi Maru test (as did the original Kirk), then is quickly promoted to first officer of the Enterprise during a crisis. However, after he rows with the young Spock (Zachary Quinto), he’s stranded on an ice planet where he has to evade CGI monsters and bumps into the Spock from the future. At the start of the film, we see this timeline’s Spock being bullied as a boy for being only half-Vulcan, and he kicks off when his human mother is insulted. As a young adult, he turns his back on the Vulcan Academy and joins Starfleet, where he develops the test that Kirk uniquely beats (by cheating). When Captain Pike goes off to talk to Nero, Spock is made captain of the Enterprise. Nyota Uhura meets Kirk in a bar, where he tries to flirt with her. She’s studying xenolinguistics at Starfleet – Kirk quips that she must have a talented tongue. She’s initially assigned to a different ship because boyfriend Spock was trying to avoid favouritism; she soon demands to join the Enterprise and takes over as communications officer. Also in the new crew is Pavel Chekov, a Russian who has trouble with his Ws. He does a natty bit of beaming to save Kirk and Sulu from certain death. Hikaru Sulu is a late-replacement helmsman who cocks up his first go at driving the ship, but shows his mettle on a mission with Kirk. Dr Leonard McCoy meets Kirk when they both join up. He has a fear of space-travel, and has lost so much in a recent divorce that he’s only left with his ‘bones’; during the crisis at Vulcan, the Enterprise’s medical chief is killed so McCoy takes over. Finally, after Kirk has been abandoned on the ice world, he meets Montgomery Scott, a grumpy engineer doing research at a remote Federation base. He has a mute alien sidekick, Keenser.

Guests: Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth plays Kirk’s dad. Faran ‘Warehouse 13’ Tahir plays the captain of the USS Kelvin. Eric ‘the Incredible Hulk’ Bana plays Nero. Greg ‘mate of JJ Abrams’ Grunberg plays Kirk’s stepdad. Ben ‘Dark Shadows’ Cross plays Sarek. Winona ‘Winona Ryder’ Ryder plays Spock’s mum (in aged make-up: the scene she shot as a young woman was cut). W. Morgan ‘seaQuest DSV’ Shepherd plays a prissy Vulcan official. Bruce ‘…didn’t he play JFK once?’ Greenwood plays Captain Pike. Tyler ‘Tyler Perry movies’ Perry plays a Starfleet bigwig. Rachel ‘Alias’ Nicholls plays Kirk’s one-night stand, Gaila. Deep ‘Doctor Who’ Roy plays Scotty’s sidekick, Keenser.

Best bits:

* The prologue – the wormhole, the Romulan ship, the chaos on board the Kelvin, the frenetic editing and whip-crack camera moves, Kirk’s birth and his dad’s sacrifice… It’s an 11-minute sequence that grabs you by the throat. This isn’t your father’s Star Trek.

* The graceful yet powerful incidental cue over the logo.

* Kirk as a boy, in a stolen sports car, bombing along and listening to the Beastie Boys. He’s chased by a robotic cop and ends up leaping from the car just before it careers off a cliff.

* The Harrison Ford smirk that a grown-up Kirk gives to Uhura after her accidentally feels her up.

* “You can whistle really loud, you know that?”

* Pike to Kirk: “Your father was captain of a starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives, including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.”

* Kirk’s green-skinned girlfriend (a knowing nod to the original TV series).

* The Kobayashi-Maru test. A smug Kirk eats an apple because he knows he’s going to beat it.

* The reveal that Spock designed the test.

* Kirk and Spock’s first meeting – a courtroom-style clash over Kirk’s cheating.

* “Who was that pointy-eared bastard?” asks Kirk. “I don’t know,” replies McCoy. “But I like him!”

* In a brilliant run of comedy and plotting, McCoy puts Kirk through blindness, a huge tongue and ridiculously swollen hands in order to smuggle him aboard the Enterprise.

* Spock walking from engineering, into a lift and out again onto the bridge – all in one fluid shot.

* The TV-show-like lighting effect on Pike’s eyes as he sits in the captain’s chair.

* Kirk realizing what the lightening storm is, and his mad dash through the ship to find Pike. (In a wonderfully illustrative bit of writing, Spock listens to Kirk despite their antagonism and backs him up when he talks sense.)

* “I’m Christopher Pike. To whom am I speaking?” “Hi, Christopher. I’m Nero.”

* The guy in the red space suit. A red space suit. Red.

* Kirk and Sulu’s skydiving down to the huge platform above Vulcan, and the subsequent fight.

* Spock running into the Vulcan temple and telling the group that the planet will imminently explode. Because they’re Vulcans, no one quibbles with him and they all flee.

* Uhura and Spock’s moment in the lift, him grieving and her being supportive

* “Out of the chair,” Spock says in a singsong reprimand when he spots Kirk slouching in the captain’s seat.

* Spock’s nerve-pinch on Kirk.

* Old Spock! “I am Spock,” he says to a confused Kirk. “…Bullshit,” says Kirk.

* The trippy mind-meld sequence, which handily fills in backstory.

* McCoy challenges Spock’s logic: “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?”

* The perspective gag as Keenser, who’s about four-feet tall, runs down a long corridor.

* Scotty’s story about experimenting a beaming process with Admiral Archer’s beagle. “I know that dog!” says Kirk. “What happened to it?” Scotty: “I’ll tell you when it reappears.”

* “Can I get a towel please?”

* Spock getting angry.

* The touch-too-hard slap on the arm that Kirk gives Spock after they make up.

* The Enterprise rising out of the gas atmosphere of Titan.

* Kirk’s expression when he spots Spock and Uhura kissing.

* A computer thinks Spock is his older self. “Wow, that’s weird,” says Kirk, trying to sound casual.

* When Nero has been defeated, Kirk offers mercy, explaining to Spock, “It may be the only way to earn peace with the Romulans. It’s logic, Spock. I thought you’d like that.” Spock: “No, not really. Not this time.”

* The two Spocks meet.

* When Kirk is promoted, he relieves an injured Pike of his command. “I am relieved,” says Pike, putting about 47 different meanings into the phrase.

* The final scene on the bridge – each crewmember getting their moment in the spotlight. (The way Kirk says “Bones” is pure Shatner.)

TV tie-in: Given the presence in this movie of Captain Pike, it felt right to also rewatch Star Trek’s pilot episode. In The Cage – which wasn’t broadcast at the time – Pike is played by Jeffrey Hunter and is in command of the USS Enterprise. It’s a fascinating piece of sci-fi history, notable for both the great ideas already in place and the oddities later dropped when the series was picked up. Of the cast, only Leonard Nimoy as Spock became a regular. What stops the episode being fully entertaining is its earnestness – when the show went to a series, William Shatner took over as lead actor and added some much-needed charisma and a sense of fun.

Review: What’s immediately obvious about this movie is that there’s emotional rigour at all times. It might be a big-budget, summer blockbuster full of CGI and action scenes – but it’s constantly dealing with characters, relationships, choices, reactions, hopes, feelings, regrets and friendships… The story is built around two leads, Kirk and Spock, and actors Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are both fantastic. They’re channelling their predecessors, for sure, but are not doing simple impressions of Shatner and Nimoy. While you can sense the original characters’ DNA in these performances, there’s also danger and unpredictability. The rest of the team are fun too. Simon Pegg doesn’t show up until the halfway point, but adds a turbo-boost of comic relief, and Karl Urban is also terrific as the tetchy and sarcastic Dr McCoy. Meanwhile, other actors move away from the established template: Zoe Saldana, for example, is not especially reminiscent of the original Uhura (this one has a personality). This familiar-yet-different tone is down to the plot’s time-travel element. It’s a wonderful example of having your cake and eating it. The film acts as both a reboot *and* a continuation. By creating a separate timeline, it can utilise all the recognisable Star Trek continuity, but it also has freedom to tell its own story. The destruction of Vulcan feels like a mission statement: in this Star Trek, nothing is safe. It means the film can appeal to both fans and newcomers. If you don’t see any irony in Captain Pike ending up in a wheelchair, then no matter; if you do, then you get something extra. But in what other ways is this one of the best films of the 21st century? Well, it looks absolutely superb. There’s real beauty in the production design. The 1960s-style costumes are a treat. The CGI is skillful and used to tell story. And the infamous, extensive lens flares keep everything alive and ‘in the moment’. There are also bountiful amounts of energy and pace and zip to the whole thing, thanks to brilliant director JJ Abrams (who has yet to make a weak film). The two hours *breeze* past. This is endlessly rewatchable entertainment packed full of vitality.

Ten cupcakes out of 10.


Star Trek: Nemesis (2002, Stuart Baird)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Soon after discovering a disassembled android who looks exactly like Data, the crew of the Enterprise are sent on a diplomatic mission to Romulus, where it’s Captain Picard’s turn to meet his double…

Regulars: The crew are gathered at the beginning for the wedding of Riker and Troi – their rekindled romance in the last film has moved on, it seems. Picard is the best man and gives a heartfelt speech. He’s been itching to use the Enterprise’s new toy, a 4×4 buggy called the Argo, so tries it out when he, Data and Worf have to search a planet. After meeting Shinzon – the new Romulan leader, who was cloned from Picard’s DNA – he’s haunted by doubts and has a nature/nurture debate with himself. After marrying, the plan for Riker and Troi is to join a new crew on the USS Titan; Riker has been promoted to captain. During the film, they have sex – but Troi’s mind is affected by the bad guys and she imagines Shinzon on top of her. She equates what happened to her to rape – but in a terribly tacky moment, Picard simply asks her to endure more assaults for his own benefit. Seeing how Riker’s been reassigned, Data is the Enterprise’s new first officer. He meets android B4, who is essentially Data’s prototype (both characters are played by Brent Spiner). At the film’s end, he sacrifices himself to save the crew. Worf gets a headache at the wedding, thanks to Romulan ale, and doesn’t like the idea of stripping off for the Betazoid half of the marriage ceremony. Geordie tinkers about with B4 and gets lots of technobabble dialogue. Crusher tells Data that he has nicer eyes than B4 (“Doctor, they are identical,” he says) and also does the blood test to confirm who Shinzon is. Her son, Wesley, appears in a Star Trek movie for the first time – he’s at the wedding, but gets neither dialogue nor a close-up. Guinan’s also there and gets one line.

Guests: Alan Dale – on a mission to appear in everything ever made – plays the Romulan president assassinated in the opening scene. Kate Mulgrew has a cameo as Star Trek: Voyager’s Katherine Janeway, who’s now an admiral. The main villain, Shinzon, is played by future movie star Tom Hardy – he’s a clone of Picard, but their physical resemblance seems to boil down to both being bald. (Hardy also plays Picard in a way: we see him in a photo of a young Jean-Luc.) Dina Meyer is Romulan Donatra and an unrecognisable Ron Perlman plays Shinzon’s viceroy.

Best bits:

* The impressive opening shot: a CGI decent from outer space, into a planet’s atmosphere and down towards the Romulan senate building.

* The creepy way the Romulan hierarchy are desiccated.

* Geordie asking Guinan if she’s ever thought of marrying again. “No,” she says. “Twenty-three was my limit.”

* “You have the bridge, Mr Troi.”

* The Argo – an unusually visceral form of transport for Star Trek.

* The washed-out cinematography used for the surface of Kolarus III.

* The hand bursting out of the sand and attaching itself to Worf’s leg. He steps back and pulls a robotic arm out of the ground.

* Picard, Worf and Data finding the robot’s head, which looks just like Data, and it opening its eyes.

* The Argo leaping off a cliff and into the bay of a waiting shuttlecraft.

* There are some very neatly done shots where we see Data and B4 at the same time.

* The twist that Data has been impersonating B4. (“Move, puny human animal,” he says a moment later when he and Picard walk past some bad guys. Picard gives a note on the roleplay: “A little less florid, Data.”)

* The Enterprise’s bridge being damaged and a crewmember being sucked out into space.

* The Enterprise ramming Shinzon’s ship, the Scimitar.

* The nicely underplayed moment of understanding between Data and Geordie just before…

* …Data runs through a hole in the Enterprise’s hull and propel himself across space to the Scimitar.

TV tie-in: The creator of both Data and B4, Noonian Soong, appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called Brothers. Brent Spiner played Soong in old-age make-up, and also reprised the role of Data’s brother, Lore. If Soong’s wife had been around, presumably it would have been Spiner in a wig and a dress. It’s entertaining stuff.

Review: Nemesis has a very good ‘cold open’. The first scene sees the Romulan senate being attacked, and it’s well staged and intriguing. But it’s all down hill after that. After the smug wedding scene, we get a confused and leaden plot capped by a large amount of dreary action. For the fourth time in four Next Generation movies, Data plays a significant role, which is fair enough given how popular he was in the TV show. (There’s a ‘story by’ credit for Brent Spiner.) But the fact that many of us often forget that such a key character is killed off in this film is very telling. It’s just not very memorable cinema. A big problem is Tom Hardy’s tiresome bad guy, Shinzon. His introduction into the story should ratchet up the tension, but instead the energy seems to constantly seep out of the film. It’s also difficult to see the emotional connection: aside from being a bit spooked by seeing his doppelgänger, why should Picard treat this man as anything other than a thug? Attempts are made to mirror the two characters, and to contrast them with the film’s other ‘double’ plotline (Data and B4), but it’s all a bit perfunctory. The film was directed by Stuart Baird, who has edited many enjoyable movies (The Omen, Superman, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard 2, The Last Boy Scout, Casino Royale, Skyfall) – but any sense of interesting storytelling abandoned him here.

Four cognitive and communication subroutines out of 10.