Star Trek Into Darkness

Posted: May 13, 2013 in Film reviews
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Directed by J. J. Abrams. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Public Safety Announcement: I’m going to try and avoid giving anything away, but I can’t guarantee some of the things I say won’t be spoilery, so if in doubt watch the film then read my review.

There’s a line in Star Trek: Insurrection when Picard says, “Does anyone remember when we were explorers?” It’s a telling comment that, at the time, was meant to be a nod towards the on-going Dominion War story in Deep Space 9, though in truth it’s a comment that could be attributed to most of the Trek films, irrespective of their generation. You can argue that, on the big screen, an action adventure romp is more crowd pleasing than something with a more cerebral edge. You could also point out that the two Trek films that most accurately featured the Enterprise going where no one had gone before were The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier, neither of which tend to rank highly when people talk about their favourite Star Trek films.

So the first thing to say about Into Darkness is this, there isn’t a lot of exploring in it…

The film does open on a Class M world with the crew of the Enterprise trying to save a low technology civilisation from an erupting volcano, a task that requires dropping Spock into the volcano. Typical, send the Vulcan to sort out the volcano…It’s a nice little self-contained story that feels very much like an episode of The Original Series and sets up some of the themes of the film, about sacrifice and about bending the rules to save those you care about.

After these events however, Kirk (Pine) finds himself in hot water for breaking the Prime Directive, and it looks like he may lose command of the Enterprise, whilst Spock (Quinto) who dropped him into that hot water, looks likely to be reassigned as well. Luckily (for Kirk and Spock at least if not for other characters) it’s at this moment that a mysterious terrorist named John Harrison (Cumberbatch) launches a brutal attack on the upper echelons of Star Fleet.

Harrison escapes to the Klingon home world (renamed back to Kronos from Quo’nos because obviously the movie going public can’t deal with apostrophes).

Kirk demands to be allowed to be allowed to go after Harrison, and Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) agrees, authorising Kirk to take prototype photon torpedoes that will enable him to wipe out Harrison without having to risk setting foot on Kronos) The torpedoes are duly delivered, along with a new female science officer (Alice Eve) who isn’t quite what she seems.

When Kirk finally catches up with Harrison he discovers he isn’t what he seems either…

There’s an odd dichotomy to Into Darkness. It should be better than Star Trek. It has a more coherent plot, it has far better villains (I like Eric Banna but Nero was naff) and it isn’t encumbered by having to introduce characters in the way the first (eleventh!) Trek film was. Yet for all this it isn’t quite as enjoyable.

It is enjoyable though, an action packed, well-paced long distance race of a film that barely stops for a canny breather every now and then before barrelling on again. The set pieces are very good (even if at least one feels very familiar) and on a couple of occasions genuinely jaw dropping.

As with the first Abrams’ Trek film, one of the biggest strengths is the crew, they get who these characters are (even in their modified alternate universe states) and again the actors live up to the role, primarily the big three. Pine’s Kirk is perhaps the least effective of the three of them this time around, which is a shame as he pleasantly surprised me in the first one. This isn’t to say he’d not good, I just wanted a bit more oomph from him. Quinto is quietly brilliant as he was first time around, and probably really is the best Spock we could get, even if he never quite scales the nuanced heights that Nimoy scaled decades ago. The stand out of the three though, as before, is Karl Urban’s McCoy, a note perfect portrayal as the irascible surgeon that channels just enough of DeForest Kelley’s performance whilst still stamping his own style on the character.

The rest of the “main cast” get their moments to shine, though some have more moments than others. Zoe Saldana continues to be very good as a very different Uhura, and whilst I wasn’t keen on his portrayal first time around I found myself warming to Simon Pegg’s Scotty. John Cho doesn’t get a great deal to do as Sulu, but he does get a great scene sitting in the centre seat, whilst Anton Yelchin’s Chekov is perhaps the least well served of the cast.

Anyone who’s watched him in films and TV knows how great a screen presence Benedict Cumberbatch can be, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Dominating scenes without having to say a word he manages, for the most part, not to slip into over acting mode, which must have been tricky to do. Harrison is cold, intelligent, ruthless, and strong enough to beat the crap out of a whole bunch of Klingons without getting out of breath. His motivation is interesting, without being particularly developed, and he as I said he does skirt close to screaming madman on occasion, but never crosses the line, and he’s a great foil for Kirk and Spock.

Weller plays an interesting character in Admiral Marcus, although again he’s a little too one dimensional, whilst Alice Eve certainly looks every inch the Original Series crewwoman with her blonde bob, though it would have been nice to see her have more involvement than she does, and much as she looks very nice in her bra and panties, the scene adds nothing to the film aside from titillation and it was a shame to see.

What problems Into Darkness has stem largely from the script, and specifically arrive in the final third of the film. Taking iconic characters and using them in new and different ways is perfectly acceptable as far as I’m concerned, and much as I’m no fan of remakes, remaking a film isn’t the most heinous crime in the world. However taking iconic scenes from a previous film and reusing them almost note for note in a supposedly original film I find disingenuous to say the least, and possibly, to quote Spock, somewhat offensive. I’m sure it looked great on paper, and JJ Abrams and co no doubt imagine they’re being oh so clever in swapping character X for character Y before essentially playing the scene out in exactly the same way as before, but I found it utterly jarring and it pulled me out of film.

It also ignores the fact that these characters have nowhere near the history behind them that the original characters in the original scenes did, so there’s less emotional engagement, and the drama is further negated by the sledge hammer solution to the problem that surely most people will have seen coming a mile away.

It’s a real shame that a production company charged with reimagining and revitalising a franchise should feel the need to lift so blatantly from an earlier film it’s supposedly trying to get away from, and in particular a film widely acknowledged as the best of the bunch, because all it does is remind you how powerful the original scene was, and it weakens the new film into the bargain.

The upshot is that, while a week ago I left the cinema after seeing Iron Man 3 with a huge grin on my face, I left Into Darkness with a slight frown. I was still smiling, I was just a bit annoyed with it.

I liked it a lot, and in fact can’t wait to see it again (in 2D this time, 3D IMAX was pointless)and it might be that I enjoy it more next time around, I’m just a trifle confounded by the thematic choices made in the latter third.

Frankly I’m willing to bet no other film this year will make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end with just a glimpse of the Enterprise or a few notes of the soundtrack like this film did though, so while it isn’t quite Deep Space nine out of ten, it comes close, it’s just a shame the film makers didn’t have the courage to keep doing something different.

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Comments
  1. Chezza says:

    To quote Scotty, ‘I like it, it’s exciting!’. This re-imagining is fantastic, to appeal to a wider audience the story unfolded the only logical way it could. Story 101 dictates lessons learnt by the main characters in these two films, now built in rapid succession due to a lack of seasons 1-3 scene setting, allow for the nuances we all know and love in them to be played out without appearing to be a gash remake. This lenses flare reduced sequel has my vote. It might help if you watch two directly after one as I did to appreciate the work that went in and the detail lost vs visuals. I gave it 7/9 🙂

  2. Gor-dan says:

    “Ship out of danger?” I am so : ) but also so : ( about this film…

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