Horizontal, Vertical (水平垂直)

The Grandmaster is the more stylized approach to the Ip Man story. Although it’s a bit confusing, two seperate Ip Man movies were in production around 2008. A 2008 franchise starting one starring Donnie Yen and a 2013 standalone one starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai. I’ll always prefer Ip Man, but The Grandmaster did make me curious. I remember when it was nominated for 2 Oscars. Best Cinematography for Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s beautiful, mostly slow motion backdrops. Best Costume Design for its decades long period setting.

Unlike Ip Man, The Grandmaster severely condenses his life. To the point that many events are explained in narration and/or text. There’s not too much focus on his wife or children, the Second Sino-Japanese War is quick, Ip Man’s Wing Chun martial arts school is in the background, and Bruce Lee is just a boy who appears close to the end. So the movie’s biggest strength is action. Most of it focused on Grandmaster Ip Man teaching the importance of martial arts. There are fights in the rain, in the snow, and by a train.

A conflict between the South and the North leads to him facing many grandmasters. Those fights are much more close quarters. Tony Leung is fine as Ip Man, but we don’t really get to know him. He’s more distinguishable by his white fedora. A lot of the focus actually switches to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon actress Zhang Ziyi as Gong Er. She’s a Northern rival and possible mistress with a journey that takes up most of the film’s climax. The Grandmaster is artful, but not my preferred way to experience Ip Man.

The Grandmaster

Ip Man vs. Gong Er

The Student Becomes the Master (学生成为主人)

Ip Man 4: The Finale gave Grandmaster Ip Man a dignified send off. It was only a matter of time before this mostly biographical martial arts franchise came to an end. Donnie Yen returned one final time and gave it his all. After losing his wife, Ip Man is diagnosed with cancer in 1964. He fights through the pain and deliverers some of his fiercest Wing Chun. Danny Chan is a lot more prominent as Bruce Lee, but the movie still isn’t about him. Though he does have an awesome fight scene complete with nunchucks.

Lee invites Ip Man to San Francisco where most of the film takes place. So expect way more English than you’d expect from a Chinese production. The central theme is “father’s and their children.” Ip Man has a strained relationship with his son, but he still goes to America to find him a school. Tai Chi master Mr. Wan of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association appears to be the villain, but this franchise always leads me astray. The real enemy is discrimination. Something Wan’s daughter Yonah faces from an annoying rival cheerleader.

Ip Man takes her under his wing and defends their way of life. He fights Chinese masters, school bullies, and a racist drill instructor. Lee’s student Hartman is a US Marine who’s Chinese kung fu is mocked by the karate proficient Barton Geddes played by martial artist Scott Atkins. Ip Man defeats his brash sensi when he comes to Chinatown, then teaches Geddes a brutal lesson. Ip Man 4 never loses sight of what’s important with a genuinely heartfelt tribute to Ip Man’s finest moments. Ending with world famous Bruce Lee at his grandmaster’s funeral. Ip Man 4: The Finale is an honorable end.

5. Ip Man 4

Ip Man prepares to fight

Preceded by: Ip Man 3

Another Master’s Path (另一个大师之路)

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy is a fine detour from the Ip Man story. Although produced by Donnie Yen, Master Z is all about rival Wing Chun master Cheung Tin-chi. He may be based on a real martial artist, but the story is more or less fictional. Max Zhang made such an impression in Ip Man 3, that he was given his own spin-off. One more concerned with stylized action than story. Not that Cheung isn’t an interesting martial artist who wants to put that life behind him.

He’s just trying to be a good father, but Cheung is roped into the violent world of organized crime. Something that brings him in contact with the lovely Julia, her business owning brother, and opium addicted friend. Both triads are ran by major celebrities. Martial arts legend Michelle Yeoh seems to be the villain, but Ms. Kwan is trying to legitimize her business. It’s really her brother making trouble in an illegal drug ring. Dave Bautista himself plays syndicate leader/restaurant owner Owen Davidson. Tony Jaa is also involved as a mysterious hired assassin.

Since action is more emphasized, all players get impressively over-the-top fights. Cheung faces several men on neon signs, fights with the surprisingly proficient Julia, matches skills with Yeoh, and has a brutal scuffle with Bautista. In the end, the real enemy is the increasingly annoying dirty cops controlled by the British. Master Z doesn’t add much to the Ip Man legacy, but awesome action is usually enough for me.

4. Master Z Ip Man Legacy

Cheung Tin-chi vs. Tso Ngan Kwan

Spin-Off of: Ip Man 3

Master vs. Master (大师对大师)

Ip Man 3 is probably the weakest in the franchise by default. Ip Man got so popular at this point, that telling a genuinely authentic biopic was no longer a top priority. Ip Man 3 is far more stylized with a PG-13 rating instead of the usual R. Several Ip Man movies sprang up between the second film’s release and Donnie Yen wasn’t keen on returning. Even though the Grandmaster of Wing Chun had so much story left to tell. Although it now takes place in 1959, I’m not sure how much of the movie is factually accurate anymore. Ip Man 3 deals with rising crime in Hong Kong.

The Chinese police officer from the second movie returns to assist Ip Man when a greedy foreign developer seeks his son’s school. You know you’ve achieved international fame when Mike Tyson himself wants to play the villain. It’s a little jarring, but Tyson’s boxing/martial arts match with Ip Man is a highlight. The rest of the action is on par with the previous films. Though it does seem to take more time to get to the cooler fights. Ip Man once again takes on over 10 thugs and has a close quarters fight in an elevator. Bruce Lee was originally a priority for Ip Man 3, but he’s still mostly a cameo whom Ip Man neither accepts, nor denies.

Fun fact: Danny Chan actually previously played Bruce Lee in a biographical Chinese TV series. The main theme is Ip Man’s relationship with his family. The most genuine part of the movie is Ip Man losing his wife. So his final obstacle ends up being a martial artist similar to himself. Based on Sum Nung, Zhang Jin effectively plays Ip Man’s friendly Wing Chun rival and fellow struggling father Cheung Tin-chi. They ultimately fight in an epic match to prove whose Wing Chun is superior. Zhang is so memorable that he ended up getting his own spin-off. Ip Man 3 does go more for style, but its substance isn’t without merit.

3. Ip Man 3

Ip Man vs. Cheung Tin-chi

Preceded by: Ip Man 2 & Followed by: Ip Man 4: The Finale

The Grandmaster’s Legend (宗师的传奇)

Ip Man 2 continues the legend of the grandmaster with a sequel that plays to the strengths of the original. The mostly true story of Master Ip Man was meant to focus on his famous tutelage of Bruce Lee, but it was too soon for that. Instead, Ip Man 2 closely follows Ip Man’s family after they’ve survived the Japanese occupation of Foshan. Although less grim than the first movie, Ip Man 2 has far greater character drama. While at the same time increasing the martial arts action tenfold. Fortunately Donnie Yen is excellent at conveying both.

Ip Man 2 begins in 1950 Hong Kong where Ip Man takes care of his pregnant wife and struggles to open his own school for Wing Chun. His most eager student is the impulsive Leung who slowly learns the importance of kung fu. The only other returning characters are his savior Chow becoming a sad beggar and his former rival Jin turning his life around. Fighting is still the star of the franchise with even more awesome fights between expert martial artists. Ip Man teaches his potential students a lesson and defends himself against a horde of rival students.

Fellow martial arts legend Sammo Hung plays Master Hung. Although presented as the villain, Hung is just a struggling family man with a big ego. Their best fight is on an unstable table top. The true enemy is British colonialism. The final act practically turns into Rocky IV with an East meets West boxing match between English speaking foreign devils. Hung and Ip Man separately face the brash Twister played by English stuntman Darren Shahlavi. Their ring matches are intense, but Ip Man prevails and offers a message of peace. Only a last minute scene alludes to the future with a 10 year old Bruce Lee confidently seeking Ip Man’s training. Ip Man 2 ups the stakes and increases the excitement.

2. Ip Man 2

Ip Man vs. The Twister

Preceded by: Ip Man & Followed by: Ip Man 3

That Snail is Fast!

Turbo is The Fast and the Furious with snails. That’s how it was pitched and that’s what we ended up with. DreamWorks Animation is always a toss up, but I can’t say I was expecting a movie about a snail with super speed. Yet like the underdog himself, Turbo is a cute, fast-paced, victory. Albeit one that crashed and burned at the box-office. After the success of The Croods, Ryan Reynolds had two consecutive bombs with Turbo and R.I.P.D. Although it nearly killed his career, Turbo deserves a second chance. The computer animation is sleek and innocent with cartoony snails and realistic locations. Theo is just an ordinary LA garden snail living in a tomato patch. Like most underdog stories, Turbo dreams of racing like his hero Guy Gagné.

Gaining super speed was always gonna be ridiculous, but Turbo literally becomes fast by ingesting NOS in a Fast & Furious style street race. More ridiculous is Turbo developing other car powers like eye headlights, tail lights, and even radio control. It’s a fun enough concept on its own, but a star-studded cast makes things even funnier. Paul Giamatti voices Theo’s doubting safety obsessed brother Chet. They’re both brought to a struggling strip mall called Starlight Plaza where they encounter an ethnically diverse cast of humans and snails. Along with fellow business owners voiced by Ken Jeong, Michelle Rodriguez, and Richard Jenkins, Michael Peña voices taco truck driver Tito. His relationship to Turbo is almost exactly like Ratatouille. Except that Tito uses his “Little Amigo” to attract customers.

His relationship to his brother Angelo also mirrors Turbo’s relationship with Chet. The funniest characters are a posse of racing snails who help Turbo on his journey. All of whom would end up with their own flash animated Netflix show Turbo Fast. Samuel L. Jackson is the crazy Whiplash, Ben Schwartz is the feisty Skidmark, Maya Rudolph is the flirtatious Burn, Mike Bell is the delusional White Shadow, and Snoop Dogg himself is the smooth talking Smooth Move. He contributes to the soundtrack that includes the extremely catchy “That Snail is Fast.” Everyone gets the crazy idea to enter Turbo in the Indy 500 and they accept using Air Bud rules. Turbo’s French Canadian hero, voiced by an unrecognizable Bill Hader, quickly turns into the bad Guy who refuses to lose to a snail. I’m not a NASCAR fan, but high octane races are always fun to watch. Even with a predictable outcome, Turbo is a cliché filled family friendly thrill ride.

25. Turbo

Turbo and his crew

Dun Dun Dun

The Croods introduces the second best animated stone age family. Despite distancing themselves from satire, DreamWorks Animation continued to make original comedies in between franchises. I honestly thought The Croods was a step backwards for the computer animation studio. Apart from The Flintstones, I’ve never been a huge fan of caveman media. Since I was 17 at the time, I wasn’t sure if The Croods was worth seeing in theaters. It turned out to be surprisingly hilarious and even heartfelt in an appropriately crude way. The Croods is the first DreamWorks animated movie distributed by 20th Century Fox. Although originally pitched as a stop-motion Aardman movie, the story evolved with stylized computer animation.

The Croods are a crude family of cave people consisting of cave father Grug, cave mother Ugga, cave grandmother Gran, cave son Thunk, cave baby Sandy, and lead cave daughter Eep. Rising star Emma Stone is perfectly suited for the tough, wide-eyed, but rebellious teenager Eep. All she wants is to leave the cave, but her dad keeps the family safe by warning them against anything new. Nicholas Cage goes full caveman as the hilariously headstrong Grug. Catherine Keener is a little more open to change as the caring Ugga. Cloris Leachman is a frequent scene stealer as the oldest living cavewoman and overbearing mother-in-law Gran. Clark Duke is just as funny as Eep’s dimwitted brother Thunk. Sandy is a typical feral baby who gets plenty of fun moments too.

I was mostly on board with the Croods, but Guy really gets things going when he warns them of the end of the world. Ryan Reynolds lights the way with Guy’s scary new ideas and inventions humorously based on modern convenience. His Belt is actually a sloth who memorably says “Dun dun dun.” The animation really shines when Guy leads the Croods cross country to find “Tomorrow.” The path is full of colorfully bizzare sabertooth cats, cannibalistic birds, and my personal favorite Punch Monkeys. Grug is understandably protective of his family’s way of life, but everyone learns to open up throughout the course of the movie. Eep falls for Guy, Thunk gets a prehistoric pet “dog” named Douglas, Ugga lets her hair down, Gran softens up, and Sandy becomes less ferocious. Ending with a well earned new way of life. The Croods has more than enough new ideas to help its cave family standout.

24. The Croods

The Croods

Followed by: The Croods: A New Age

Beam Me Up Scotty

Star Trek Beyond is a strong way to end the possible final frontier of the USS Enterprise. Making the “Kelvin” timeline trilogy the only part of the Star Trek franchise that was ever consistently good. After Into Darkness, I assumed the series would continue to follow the pattern of each installment by rebooting every plot thread. It made sense for The Wrath of Khan, but it really would’ve been derivative to recreate everything. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin were all on board to return, but J. J. Abrams chose Star Wars over Star Trek. Many directors were considered until they ended up with the unlikely choice of Fast & Furious franchise director Justin Lin.

I grew nervous when the first trailer showed nothing but action set to the Beastie Boys with Kirk performing motorcycle stunts while being energized. It looked more like Fast & Furious in space, but Beyond ended up being one of the most genuine Star Trek movies in a long time. Being a Trekkie herself, the movie was enough for my brother and I to convince our mother to see it with us. Simon Pegg worked on the script in order to ensure a return to the lighthearted exploration that the franchise was built on. Paramount was still nervous when they requested a Star Trek movie that wasn’t too nerdy. Beyond will definitely please Trekkies, but it was still a financial disappoint that audiences unfairly ignored…

19. Star Trek Beyond

Captain Kirk and Scotty formulate a plan with Jaylah

Star Trek Beyond is notable for several reasons. Lack of J. J. Abrams meant an Enterprise bridge almost completely free of lens flares. Despite Lin breaking his Fast & Furious streak to direct a Star Trek film, his fresh direction ended up being exactly what the franchise needed. Though I’m not sure what his experience is with the original series. Beyond was sadly the first Star Trek voyage released after Leonard Nimoy’s passing. More tragic was Anton Yelchin dying only a month before the movie’s release at the young age of 27. Beyond is dedicated to both the old and the new actors who helped make Star Trek what it is today.

Captain’s Log, Stardate 99129.5: Beyond refers to the historic 5 year mission from the original series. Making this the first reboot not set anywhere near Earth. The crew of the Enterprise finally voyage to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life, and new civilizations. However, boldly going where no one has gone before is starting to get a little episodic for Captain James T. Kirk. Scotty even references the giant green hand from the episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” Their latest mission sees Kirk attempt to gift a relic to the hilariously diminutive Teenaxi race. When transported off the planet, Kirk enters a Captain’s log that brings the audience up to warp speed. Jim & Bones drink over his upcoming birthday and the captain reflects on becoming older than his father. He considers leaving Starfleet to become vice admiral. Kirk discusses the position while on shore leave in the enormous starbase Yorktown. Shohreh Aghdashloo plays the high ranking officer Commodore Paris.

Beyond is another Star Trek character study that brings added depth to its crew. Kirk avoids telling Spock that he wants to make him captain of the Enterprise, but his logical Vulcan friend has a secret of his own. He learns that Spock Prime has died and he also wants to leave the Enterprise to carry on his work. It’s a moral dilemma that leads Uhura to break up with Spock, but keep the necklace he gave her. Scotty spends most of his time working on the ship, Chekov can be seen flirting, and Sulu is revealed to have a daughter and husband. Gene Roddenberry always wanted gay characters in Star Trek, but George Takei himself wasn’t impressed by the decision. The Enterprise is of course called to an uncharted nebula where they rescue an alien named Kalara. She tells Kirk the story of her crew crashed landing on Altamid and that she’s the only one who escaped.

They’re suddenly attacked by the original villain Krall. He’s a lizard-like alien who leads a swarm of bee-like ships to attack the Enterprise. Krall plans to obtain the relic from earlier called the Abronath. The crew does their best in defending the Enterprise, but Kirk ultimately orders everyone to abandon ship. At this point I’ve lost count of how many times the Enterprise has been destroyed. The crew is separated with each of them ending up with someone who can ensure they’ll make it off the planet. Some of their uniforms have been slightly altered to include flight jackets. Uhura, Sulu, and other members of the crew are taken prisoner by Krall. Idris Elba is hidden under an impressive amount of Oscar nominated makeup that was somehow beaten by Suicide Squad. Elba had a lot of exposure in 2016, so he does well as the latest Star Trek antagonist.

Krall tells Uhura that he’s counting on Captain Kirk’s arrival, though I was a little confused about what his villainous plan was specifically. He wants the Abronath to develop a bioweapon and apparently drains a person’s lifeforce to stay alive. Kirk, Chekov, and Kalara are together when they search the Enterprise wreckage for the Abronath. They quickly realize Kalara is a spy and Kirk somehow manages to ignite the engine of the Enterprise in order to kill Krall’s men and Kalara with them. Spock & Dr. McCoy are the most meaningful pairing due to their tumultuous history. When Spock is injured, McCoy operates on his green blooded frenemy in the most humorous way possible. They discuss logic and emotion when Spock mentions leaving, and you know he’s delirious when he ends up laughing.

Scotty is alone, but he’s quickly joined by the best addition to the sequel. Since Dr. Carol Marcus was left out, supermodel Sofia Boutella steps in as witty scavenger Jaylah. Boutella was already making a name for herself, and playing the all white alien was her best call. Jaylah survives using reflector technology, learned English from her home in the USS Franklin, and resents Kroll’s second-in-command Manas for killing her father. Scotty manages to find Kirk & Chekov in one of Jaylah’s traps and uses the Franklin to energize Spock & Bones. Although Krall manages to retrieve the Abronath hidden with a crewmember, Uhura is located when Spock uses her necklace as a tracking device. Kirk riding an antique motorcycle is used to distract Krall’s men and free the crew. Jaylah gets her revenge and is transported at the last minute.

Krall manages to escape as he plans to use the bioweapon to kill the inhabitants of Yorktown. The Enterprise crew manage to get the Franklin off the ground with Sulu piloting it to safety. SPOILER ALERT! Uhura discovers Krall is surprisingly long lost USS Franklin Captain Balthazar Edison. He prefered war over peace and grew to resent the Federation when they failed to locate his crew on Altamid. His alien appearance was the result of exposure to technology left on the planet. Scotty realizes the best way to disable Krall’s swarm of ships is with music. “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys was heard in Star Trek (2009), but now the archaic song is used in a creative climax leading the ship to Yorktown. Scotty somehow manages to transport Spock & McCoy onto one of the ships while Kirk gives chase to the mostly human Krall. They end up in the ventilation system in danger of being sucked into space. Krall is consumed by his own bioweapon and Kirk is saved at the last minute by Spock.

The ending is bittersweet with Spock deciding to stay after seeing a photo of Spock Prime with his crew from The Wrath of Khan. Kirk stays as well when he celebrates his birthday with his loyal crew. Jaylah is also enlisted into Starfleet as they look upon the reconstruction of the USS Enterprise. Having Kirk, Spock, Scotty, McCoy, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura speak the famous monologue is the perfect way to end the trilogy. Despite talk of a 4th film with Chris Hemsworth or one directed by the hyper-violent Quentin Tarantino, Star Trek hasn’t had any theatrical follow ups in over 5 years. The only thing keeping Trekkies busy are all the hit or miss shows made for streaming. If you want the classic feel of the landmark science fiction franchise, then Star Trek Beyond truly is the final frontier of the series. “Live long and prosper.” 🖖

20. Star Trek Beyond

Spock and McCoy mount an attack with Jaylah

Preceded by: Star Trek Into Darkness

My Name is Khan

Star Trek Into Darkness may divide longtime Trekkies, but it’s just as spectacular as the 2009 reboot. Even if it is practically a remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. J. J. Abrams and the rest of his producers were all asked to return for a sequel. Along with the newly endearing cast of Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin. The lens flare obsessed Abrams directed Super 8 in the meantime, since the story was so difficult to figure out. Klingons were discussed as always, but everyone was adamant about bringing Khan Noonien Singh back to the franchise. Although it could’ve led to a direct rip-off, Into Darkness has enough surprises to make it fresh.

The other difficulty was figuring out the right title. Since the previous movie was simply called Star Trek, it wouldn’t have made sense to call it Star Trek II when this was technically the twelfth installment. Star Trek Into Darkness is an unusual title with no colon that suggests dark tidings are on the horizon. Although the sequel is more intense, the humor and optimism of Star Trek is very much intact. After deciding to watch Star Trek not long after it came out, Into Darkness was finally enough to get my brother and I to see a movie in theaters. It was the right decision since Into Darkness was presented in 3D and became the highest grossing film in the franchise…

17. Star Trek Into Darkness

Captain Kirk and Spock speak with Khan

Star Trek Into Darkness takes place in what is now known as the “Kelvin” timeline. Although the timeline led to the formation of the USS Enterprise and her crew, changes can still occur that weren’t meant to happen as early as they were. Which is why Khan can appear despite meeting Captain James T. Kirk when he was discovered in “Space Seed.” Some Trekkies and even George Takei himself felt that using the character was just a marketing tactic. Although I can see where they’re coming from, the movie does attempt to make it a surprise. Even though you can see the twist coming from a mile away.

Captain’s Log, Stardate 99126.76: Into Darkness begins just like an episode of the original series. Captain Kirk & Dr. McCoy are humorously being chased by a primitive culture on the planet Nibiru. A red floral planet with native chalk white inhabitants. The Enterprise in concealed underwater and Spock is fitted with a containment suit that he uses to drop a cold fusion device into an active volcano. Every Trekkie knows that the Prime Directive of non-interference is the most serious law in all of Starfleet. Although Spock says the famous line, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” Kirk breaks the Prime Directive anyway to save his friend. Leading to the Nibirans worshiping the Enterprise.

It’s more of an unconnected cold opening, but it does serve the plot. It’s followed by a lengthy, almost silent sequence where a Starfleet officer and his wife look after their sick daughter. John Harrison shows up to save his daughter in exchange for the officer bombing Section 31 in London. An important Star Trek location I’m not familiar with since I haven’t seen Deep Space Nine or Enterprise yet. Although the terrorist calls himself John Harrison it was obvious from the start that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Khan. Despite making a name for himself on Sherlock, Into Darkness was really Cumberbatch’s big break in a Hollywood blockbuster. Although he isn’t Hispanic like Ricardo Montalban, his performance is menacing, calculating, and compelling in a more ambiguous way.

Jim and his crew return to Earth where he’s first seen sleeping with alien twins who have tails. Kirk is demoted by Admiral Christopher Pike for his reckless disregard of the Prime Directive and Spock is sent to another ship. It’s more clear now that Kirk & Spock are close friends by the way they discuss whether what they did was right. When Starfleet learns about the bombing, they hold an emergency meeting that Harrison attacks. Pike’s death was obvious since he had one final heart to heart with Jim. Another deviation from the original timeline considering Pike was given a new chance at life in “The Menagerie, Part II.” Harrison escapes using a transporter so powerful, it’s a wonder the Federation continues to use starships. Since Harrison transports from Earth, all the way to Kronos. Kirk’s primary struggle is his quest for vengeance at the expense of his leadership.

RoboCop himself Peter Weller plays Admiral Alexander Marcus. He returns Kirk & Spock to their original positions aboard the Enterprise and orders them to take out Harrison using 72 specialized stealth torpedos. The entire crew has time to shine, but most of it is due to  Kirk’s impulsive decisions. Bones tries to give Jim medical tests, uses several southern metaphors, and continues to quarrel with Spock over his logical thinking. Scotty unexpectedly resigns along with his assistant Keenser when he questions the untested danger of the torpedos. Pegg had less time in the 2009 reboot to make an impression, but now Scotty is more crucial to the mission when he’s no longer on the ship. Kirk immediately names Chekov chief engineer despite his limited experience training under Scotty.

Sulu gets his moment when he sits in the captain’s chair. A reference to his future as captain of his own ship. Sulu threatens to fire on Harrison if he doesn’t willing come with their away team. Since Harrison is on Kronos, that meant the long awaited return of the Klingons. The fan favorite race was supposed to appear in the previous movie, but they were cut. Kirk, Spock, and Uhura are instead sent to their planet in disguise in order to avoid a war. Klingons have the same ridges they always do, but the only one we fully see is both bald and sporting rings in his forehead. Uhura shows off her important linguistic skills by speaking Klingon, but she also spends most of her time arguing with her boyfriend Spock over his disregard for his own life. Harrison takes out the ambushing Klingons and willingly surrenders to Kirk when he learns how many torpedos they have.

In order to discover more about their enemy, Spock suggests the ship’s secondary science officer. Alice Eve uses the name Carol Wallace, but she’s really playing other important The Wrath of Khan character Dr. Carol Marcus. Daughter of Alexander Marcus who snuck aboard the Enterprise to study the torpedos. Kirk didn’t second guess her presence since she was another pretty face. Something the movie takes advantage of in a gratuitous, but entirely welcomed scene of Alice Eve in her underwear. Dr. Marcus & Dr. McCoy perform a dangerous procedure where they attempt to open a torpedo. Only to discover a cryogenically frozen body on the inside. No Trekkie is shocked when Harrison finally says “My name is Khan.” Making this the only theatrical film to have Kirk face to face with his longtime rival.

Khan explains his history as a superhuman with a crew that was cryogenically frozen, but the main difference is Admiral Marcus being the one who woke them up. Marcus appears to be the real villain who used Khan to develop weapons that could ignite a war with the Klingon Empire, and used his crew as leverage against him. Khan gives Kirk coordinates in an attempt to maintain trust. Scotty becomes important again when Kirk contacts him to track down the coordinates. They end up leading to the enormous USS Vengeance captained by Marcus himself. He damaged their warp core and plans to destroy the Enterprise after ensuring the safety of his daughter. Scotty manages to depower the ship, giving Kirk & Khan enough time to perform a dangerous space jump with a small entry point.

Although Khan appears to be on their side, Spock contacts Spock Prime in order to learn whether or not he’s trustworthy. This was sadly Leonard Nimoy’s final on-screen performance, but at least it was playing the famous Vulcan beloved by generations. Khan shows his true colors when he turns on the crew and kills Admiral Marcus in cold blood. He demands the safe return of his crew, but they trick him by removing his crew and activating the torpedos. SPOILER ALERT! Both ships are damaged, but it’s actually Kirk who sacrifices himself to save the crew after reactivating the warp core in the radioactive reactor. The Enterprise is saved before it can fall to Earth, but Khan uses his ship to cause immeasurable destruction to San Francisco.

The roles are reversed with Kirk giving a heartfelt exchange and Vulcan salute to Spock before dying. It’s similar, but just as effective. Even Spock screaming the name “Khaaan!!!” isn’t too cheesy. Spock vengefully pursues Khan in San Francisco, but their fight is only successful when Uhura beams down to stun him. Probably the most controversial decision was having Kirk come back to life thanks to a Tribble that McCoy tested Khan’s super blood on. Tribbles are a cute callback, but Into Darkness really does open up several possibilities that are never addressed again. As is usually the case with J. J. Abrams. Captain Kirk delivers the famous monologue at the Enterprise re-dedication ceremony and finally embarks on their 5 year mission. Star Trek Into Darkness could never surpass The Wrath of Khan, but its reinvention of familiar ideas succeeds. “Live long and prosper.” 🖖

18. Star Trek Into Darkness

Carol Marcus undresses

Preceded by: Star Trek & Followed by: Star Trek Beyond

Send in the Clowns

Joker put a spotlight on the Clown Prince of Crime. For better or worse, Joker exceeded expectations in the process. I don’t think I’m too far off in saying the Joker is the greatest supervillain of all time. The psychotic criminal clown is the perfect archenemy for the brooding Dark Knight. Although I always root for the hero, I can’t deny how entertaining the Joker is in every incarnation of his 8 decade history. He’s been the most famous evil clown in history, ever since his 1940 debut in Batman #1. He was supposed to be killed off, but the Joker’s popularity endured him as Batman’s greatest enemy. It’s ironic that Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson couldn’t agree on who created the Joker.

Since he’s never had a definitive origin. Its always been part of the intrigue to think someone could be so psychotic with virtually no explanation. Part of the reason why I was against a Joker origin story. Even if it was separate from the inconsistent DCEU, I wasn’t especially crazy about the supervillain solo movie trend that started with Venom. The first trailer wasn’t at all what I was expecting and the R rating made Joker seem more like a thriller than a simple comic book movie. I was still on the fence about a Batman movie without Batman, but I guess it worked for Gotham on TV. Despite an unnecessary amount of controversy and a laughably low 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, Joker rightfully became the first DC movie nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards…

15. Joker

Arthur Fleck becomes Joker

Joker is a character study that shouldn’t work as well as it does. Which is why comic books deserve way more credit for introducing such complex individuals. The Joker was always meant to be a crazy, but intelligent serial killer hidden under a permanent grin and clown motif. His most iconic look has always consisted of chalk white skin, green hair, a red smile, and a purple suit. Although he’s never had a definitive name or origin, the Red Hood falling into a vat of Ace chemicals tends to be the favorite. The Joker maintained his violent tendencies throughout the Golden Age, but the Silver Age turned him into a prankster with goofy gag weapons. Most kid friendly interpretations tend to lean on the clown’s silly side. It wasn’t until the Bronze Age that the Clown Prince of Crime got his edge back.

The Joker has had a profound impact on Batman’s life ever since. From killing Jason Todd (Robin) in “A Death in the Family” to paralyzing Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. Not to mention his disturbingly unhinged portrayal in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. I’m not a fan of the more sadistic Joker in recent comics, but it is fascinating to think about the many ways you can interpret one character. Joker actors have always brought something new to the man who laughs. Cesar Romero was a creative colorful comedian perfect for Adam West’s Batman. Jack Nicholson was already an Oscar winning actor who practically stole the show as his darkly comedic version from Tim Burton’s Batman. The 1989 movie made use of his chemical toxin origin, controversially made him the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and gave him the name Jack Napier.

Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill, is arguably the greatest Joker who debuted in Batman: The Animated Series on top of several animated movies and video games. Heath Ledger was on a whole other level as the most grounded Joker to date in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. He’s my personal favorite portrayal in a performance that more than earned an Oscar after his untimely death. Oscar winner Jared Leto sounded like a good idea for the DCEU’s Suicide Squad, but his overly edgy gangster Joker is laughable for all the wrong reasons. Turns out Joaquin Phoenix wanted to do a low-budget DC supervillain character study for years. His methodical acting style wouldn’t have worked for Marvel or any other franchise character. Ironically, Todd Phillips similarly wanted to direct a grounded comic book movie. Although horror directors were proving themselves in lighthearted DC movies like Aquaman or Shazam!, Phillips was a comedy director who proved himself with the darkest DC movie of all time.

Thanks to the success of Deadpool and Logan, Joker more than earns its R rating. Joker is meant to be a Martin Scorsese style thriller from the 70’s. Specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. An 80’s Warner Bros. logo is used, while the DC label is nowhere to be seen. The soundtrack makes appropriate use of songs like “Send in the Clowns,” Smile,” and “That’s Life.” Although it was unlike any superhero movie I’ve ever seen, I knew I couldn’t miss it. No matter how controversial the movie became. People preemptively decided Joker would inspire real life crime, while critics seemed to attack the movie for its treatment of mental illness. Although some people think this is a sympathetic take on a remorseless supervillain, it’s way more complicated than that. Joker delivers a matter of fact interpretation of a mentally ill loner in a society that abandoned him and treats him like trash.

Though I was afraid this would be a definitive origin, the “unreliable narration” approach keeps things ambiguous. This version of the Joker is Arthur Fleck. Despite not existing in the comics, it’s still weird that they’d call him Arthur when Aquaman already has that name. Joaquin Phoenix has the long hair of Heath Ledger, but his portrayal is totally different. Phoenix became practically anorexic after losing a ton of weight for the role. He’s also a chainsmoker, but the biggest distinction is his trademark Joker laugh being a neurological condition. Arthur’s uncontrollable laughter is so distinct that it’s impossible not to play along. You can tell how much Arthur is suffering thanks to Phoenix’s stellar performance. Parallels to Taxi Driver can be seen in a 1981 Gotham City that’s rat infested with piles of garbage creating tension between its citizens. Swearing only occurs when necessary, but they don’t hold back on uncomfortable violence.

Arthur is a party clown with dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. Forcing himself to smile is disturbing, but it’s hard not to understand how difficult his life is when kids beat him with his own sign. Arthur has a therapist who doesn’t listen, co-workers who don’t respect him, and a mother who tells him to put on a happy face. Although I wasn’t completely sure how much of the Batman story would be involved, this was the first movie to give Thomas Wayne significant attention. I’m just glad Brett Cullen played him instead of Alec Baldwin. Thomas Wayne is a more controversial figure running for Mayor of Gotham. Frances Conroy plays Arthur’s mother Penny Fleck as an equally mentally ill woman trying to reach out to Wayne. Arthur is like Travis Bickle for his descent into madness and surge of power when a fellow party clown gives him a gun.

When the gun gets him fired, Arthur uses it to murder three drunken Wayne Enterprises businessmen who harass him on a subway train. Another moment that’s difficult not to understand his side of. Arthur comes one step closer to becoming Joker while dancing to the music in his head. Zazie Beetz has her second comic book role after Deadpool 2 as single mother Sophie Dumond. Her cynical attitude gains Arthur’s attention and he somehow starts a relationship with her after the subway murders give him confidence. Parallels to The King of Comedy are unmistakable since Arthur is obsessed with a talk show host named Murray Franklin. Martin Scorsese may have dropped out as producer, but getting Robert De Niro to play the host is perfect full circle casting. Similar to Rupert Pupkin, Arthur has delusions of Murray embracing him like a son.

Arthur’s failed stand-up routine only stands out for his uncontrollable laughter. Nudity is only seen in his journal/joke book. His hopes are crushed when Murry makes fun of his stand-up routine on his show. Although he feels like a success, Arthur’s life takes a downward spiral when it’s implied Thomas Wayne might be his father. A disturbing scene of Arthur at Wayne Manor is when we see a young Bruce Wayne. Dante Pereira-Olson doesn’t have much to say, but Arthur trying to entertain his future archenemy is unforgettable. Douglas Hodge is a similarly flawed Alfred who tells Arthur that his mother was delusional. Things get worse when his mother suffers a stroke and the police show up with questions about the recent clown related murders.

A murder that sparks a movement of sympathizers who target the rich Thomas Wayne for his comments about the less fortunate. Arthur’s supporters dressed as clowns are disturbingly close to reality. Arthur confronts his potential father, but Thomas doubles down on Penny being delusional and punches him in the face for touching Bruce. He seeks answers at the future Arkham Asylum, but his answers are far worse than he thought. SPOILER ALERT! Arthur was actually adopted, abused by his mother at a young age, and developed a mental illness over time. Fleck is so far gone that the entire relationship he had with Sophie was all in his head. Her ultimate fate is best left ambiguous. His mother’s fate isn’t ambiguous when Arthur coldly realizes his life is a comedy while smothering her to death. Things start to turn around when Arthur is invited onto The Murray Franklin Show.

Apart from his traditional party clown attire, Arthur truly becomes Joker when his old clown buddies drop by. The guy who ratted him out is brutally murdered with a pair of scissors, but the little person who was nice to him is spared. It’s easily the most bloody act in the movie followed by pitch black comedy when he can’t reach the lock. Arthur Fleck Joker is different from any other version of the clown. He’s got the long green hair and white makeup, but he looks more clownlike with a red nose, smile, and blue diamond eyes. Some people might call his suit purple, but I think it’s more of a maroon color. His look is as instantly iconic as Joker’s improvised dance on stairs from the Bronx, New York. It was a far bigger takeaway than what people assumed would happen after the movie’s release. The police catch up to Joker and begin a pursuit in the midst of clown protests. Joker takes advantage of it by inciting a riot that gets the officers attacked.

Although far from a traditional climax, Joker on a talk show is a comic accurate reworking of a moment from The Dark Knight Returns. Arthur requests Murray refer to him as Joker before entering the show with another little dance. The building tension of the scene is masterful as Joker tries to win over the crowd and Murray continues to make fun of him. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen when he admits to killing people. Despite the warning signs, Murray doesn’t stop the show. He engages Joker in an intense discussion about society until he’s suddenly shot. The death of Murray Franklin happens live and incites an even worse riot. Batman begins with an R rated depiction of Thomas & Martha Wayne being murder in front of Bruce by Joe Chill in a clown mask. Joker is also born while wearing a bloody smile in front of an adoring crowd of anarchists.

The movie ends on another ambiguous note of Arthur in a mental hospital laughing to himself. Joker was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. I was fine with the nominations since it won the most deserving awards. Hildur Guðnadóttir won Best Original Score for her haunting cello music. Joaquin Phoenix finally won Best Actor after being nominated for Gladiator, Walk the Line, and The Master. Since Heath Ledger also won an Oscar for playing the Joker, that made them the second pair of actors to win for playing the same character. Ironically, after Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro each won for Vito Corleone. All the pushback was meaningless when Joker became the first R rated movie to gross a billion dollars. Joker is like a joke that only so many people will understand.

16. Joker

Joker dances on stairs