What’s Next For The Star Trek Kelvinverse?

The J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot warped out of the drydock and reinvigorated the franchise nine years ago. For a while it seemed as if Star Trek was back in the public eye, though it was radically changed. But it didn’t have any staying power as seen with the collective meh from the general public over the last Star Trek film and the downright hostility from old-time Star Trek fans who correctly charge that the Star Trek films strayed too far from the core essence of Trek.

There are many reasons for the indifference towards the Star Trek reboot but it gained more notoriety with the recent news that Chris Pine, who played Captain Kirk, the center of the Star Trek films, has walked away from the planned fourth film, along with Chris Hemsworth, who briefly played Kirk’s father.

The two actors left the project over money since Paramount Pictures wanted both of them to take a pay cut. In the end, this is a negotiating tactic, and the actors have a just cause since they have contracts guaranteeing a certain rate. But this latest news illustrates the tenuous state of the Star Trek films.

Ever since Star Trek Beyond underperformed two years ago, and Star Trek returned to TV, the Star Trek reboot films, aka the Star Trek Kelvinverse, has lost its luster. They were intended to attract non-Trek fans and make the franchise more exciting. Unfortunately, the Kelvinverse films pandered too much to adrenaline junkies who would never appreciate the thoughtful nature of Star Trek. Plus, Paramount was convinced that making Star Trek more like Star Wars would increase ticket sales. After all, the previous Star Trek films before the reboot were disappointments. This attitude, unfortunately led to poorly conceived marketing that catered to The Fast and the Furious crowd which alienated fans and didn’t end up bringing in the demographics that Paramount wanted. Just look at this horrendous first trailer for Star Trek Beyond that helped doom the film, which is unfortunate because it turned out to be a good Star Trek film.

After Star Trek Beyond, no one knew if there would be another Trek film, at least one set in the Kelvinverse. This question came up after the ambiguous announcement late last year that Quentin Tarantino wanted to do a Star Trek film and that his vision would be even more radical than Abrams’. Around the time that Star Trek Beyond premiered, it was announced that the fourth film would feature a time travel story and have Kirk meet his father. The added bonus is that Kirk’s father was Hemsworth, who is famous for his Thor performances, and he actually excelled in his brief role in Star Trek.

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The big question is what if Pine and Hemsworth don’t return? What then? Should the roles be recast? Should the characters be written out or should the project be scrapped altogether? The bottom line is that Star Trek Kelvinverse films are expensive to make and are not the big moneymakers that Paramount hoped for, which is why they wanted the two actors to take the pay cut. In order for the films to be viable the budgets have to be pared down which is tricky but not impossible. The next film could use stock footage, it worked for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which is still considered the best Star Trek film.  A lower budget would force the director and writer to focus on characters and plot, not flashy visuals.

Honestly, Star Trek can survive without Chris Hemsworth. The role can be easily recast or the story can be tossed out in favor of  new one. But can Trek survive without Pine? Sure it can, one thing the Star Trek TV spinoffs proved is that Star Trek is much more than James T. Kirk and Spock and McCoy. It is possible to have Spock as the lead character, maybe do a role reversal of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and have the Enterprise crew searching instead for Kirk. In the end, Pine may wind up reprising his role one more time and the film will be another hurrah for the Kelvinverse Enterprise crew, which is fine since the reboot films have their merits.

Or Paramount can be even bolder and go with a new set of characters or jump ahead into the future and feature the Kelvinverse version of the Next Generation or DS9 crews. Frankly, it is probably time to take a new approach to the Star Trek films and the current cast will get more expensive, have a higher profile these days and may want to move onto other venues. While recasting the Enterprise crew may be an easy out for the film studio, what would generate more interest and maybe bring back disenchanted fans might be to go with a new set of characters and situations. After all, the Star Trek universe is infinite and true fans would welcome this approach if done correctly.

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Thor: Ragnarok Is Three Times The Fun

For the third film in a trilogy, Thor: Ragnarok is the liveliest one of the bunch. Frankly, after the dire and listless second film Thor: The Dark World, this third Thor film is a spectacular shot in the arm for the God of Thunder’s films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Loki and Thor

Thor: Ragnarok quickly picks up where the second film left us, with Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) commanding the throne of otherworldly Asgard under the guise of their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) quickly deduces what Loki is up to and the two find out the consequences of Loki’s actions. In Odin’s absence, the Nine Realms that he ruled over have slipped into anarchy. This also means that Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who was imprisoned by Odin to escape and wreck havoc on Asgard. Before Thor could stop her, he is accidentally transported to the planet Sakaar, taken captive and forced to fight in gladiator-type games held by the planet’s ruler, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). As we all saw in the trailers, Thor’s opponent is the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who was last seen going into self exile in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Thor must find a way to stay alive, escape his enslavement and convince the Hulk to join him in saving Asgard from Hela.

thor vs hulk

Now reading the above makes you think this will be another serious-minded Thor film with high stakes and Shakespearean undertones. But that isn’t the case with Thor: Ragnarok. The somber approach worked in the first Thor film thanks to the skillful hands of Kenneth Branagh, who is familiar with Shakespearean drama and brought that to Thor. But this time, Thor: Ragnarok’s director Taika Waititi relied on his comedic tastes and background for the film. In doing so, he brought a welcome change of pace and mood this time around as this film is more of a comedy. This approach mostly works though I have to admit there are times there are just a tad too many jokes and there are moments that should’ve had more weight but come off as too light. It’s clear that Marvel Studios wanted to repeat the look and formula that worked for Guardians of the Galaxy and this is very evident in the scenes taking place on Sakaar. The Guardians of the Galaxy films perfectly balanced its comedic tone with serious drama but Thor: Ragnarok comes up a bit short in keeping that balance.

Hela (1)

Nevertheless, the third Thor film is a fun blast with stunning set pieces and special effects that buttress its lighter tone. Credit for that does not just go to Waititi, but the film’s stars starting with Chris Hemsworth. In other films, Hemsworth has shown that he has quite a comedic gift and he gets to display that in this film. Thor seems less pompous and more laid back in his third outing. It’s almost as if he has thrust off his original regal persona and taken on an ability to crack a joke. This does not mean he takes things lightly. Hemsworth and the director knew which moments to hold back the jokes  and appropriately react to more serious moments. Continue reading

Thor Returns To “The Dark World” Of Cinema

thor 2 posterPhase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is well underway with the release of Thor: The Dark World. The sequel to 2011’s Thor stars Chris Hemsworth, reprising his role as the God of Thunder, as well as Tom Hiddleston as Loki–Thor’s treacherous stepbrother, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster–Thor’s human love interest, and Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s father Odin. Joining the cast this time out is Christoher Eccleston as the film’s main heavy, Malekith.

The first Thor movie was unexpectedly rousing and fun thanks to the cast’s performances and expert directing. This time out Alan Taylor takes over the directing duties in this tale that takes place a couple of years after the first Thor movie. Thor and Jane are still separated from each other after the wormhole that first brought the hero to Earth in the first film has been shattered.

Thor: The Dark World introduces us to the Dark Elves, malevolent beings who wanted to use a weapon called the Aether to destroy the universe. Fortunately, the Dark Elves were defeated thousands of years ago by the Thor’s people, the Asgardians. But a handful of Dark Elves and their leader Malekith escaped and went into suspended animation. In the present day, Thor is in his home realm of Asgard and kept from returning to Earth and his love Jane Foster due to obligations. At this time, a space/time anomaly allows portals to open up everywhere and link worlds, including Earth. In London, Jane is unexpectedly sucked into one of these portals. Just as she is sucked into the passageway, Thor comes back to Earth looking for her and eventually reunites with Jane. After they journey to Asgard, she and the Asgardians discover that the ancient Aether weapon is within her.

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Malekith is reawakened after sensing the Aether. Assembling his elven army, he uses this opportunity to attack Asgard to get the weapon and conquer the universe. As the Dark Elves wreck havoc on Thor’s world and threaten Earth, Thor is forced to turn to his imprisoned, hated stepbrother Loki for help in defeating Malekith and his vicious army.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Whereas the first film introduced audiences to Thor’s rich, majestic world that was obviously inspired by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s early comic book stories, Thor: The Dark World presents us an expanded world taken from writer/artist Walt Simonson. Malekith was a supervillain introduced in Thor #344-349, which was during Simonson’s tenure on the title. Using the Dark Elves will please many Thor fans and general audiences who wanted to see something different in this sequel. The villain Kurse appears in this film and he is a faithful recreation from Simonson’s epic run. He looks like he stepped out from the comic books.

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Overall, Thor: The Dark World is an enjoyable, humorous, and exciting adventure. However, it isn’t as satsifying as the first Thor movie. It does have a lot going for it, the special effects are top notch, as is the production design that showcases various worlds that Thor and Malekith battle in during their epic conflict. Regarding the acting, everyone does a fine job but Hiddleston steals each scene he’s in with his portrayal of Loki. Hiddleston simply doesn’t let go of his screentime. It’s clear that he relishes what he is doing and Loki is now the top villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s unfortanate that Malekith can’t compare to that. On paper he is a good villain but he comes as a by-the-numbers foe for Thor that lacks Loki’s gravitas.

The core issues with this film have to do with the feeling that the stakes are high this time out. Sure the universe is imperiled but it’s hard to feel as if there was any danger. We know that Thor and company will prevail, and even an important character death doesn’t have much impact. Adding to that problem is that Thor doesn’t have the emotional journey that he had in the first film. He doesn’t have to learn humility or any other lessons. Here, he’s an obedient son to Odin and is more of a traditional superhero with few faults. But now he doesn’t have that Arthurian journey to undergo.

Still, this is a well-crafted movie that adds to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Be sure to stick around for the two secret endings!

Steven L. Walterson and Lewis T. Grove