Star Trek Into Darkness review #2

Star Trek Into Darkness International Poster

For those who are ignorant with respect to “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”, there are a few major differences. “Star Wars” is a space opera, primarily concerned with the struggle between good vs evil, using outer space and its many planets as merely a fantastic setting for its generic narrative. “Star Trek”, on the other hand, traditionally uses outer space and all its wonders as plot devices, things the crew of the Enterprise may explore and study. The characters in “Star Wars” take their surroundings for granted while the characters in “Star Trek” make it their job to learn about the wonders of the universe. This is what’s sparked thousands of unique stories about science and morality in the “Star Trek” franchise.

Although JJ Abrams successfully rebooted the series into a hip and relevant franchise for the common, non-Trekky audience, he seems to have forgotten the foundations on which the series is based. He’s merged ideas from both ‘Star’ franchises into an arguably unrecognizable product. Making an action film to start the series was an understandable, if controversial, choice, but at some point it has to actually become “Star Trek”. “Into Darkness” lacks that exploratory spirit that made the series so great. This film seems to go where every man has gone before in order to please everyone. There’re hints that future projects might change this, but should it really take two whole films for that to happen?

But that’s what the movie isn’t. How about what the movie is? It fails as a great science fiction film, but for an action film, it’s not bad. Visually, it’s breathtaking. Nothing in this film looks fake. A futuristic London with its sprawling concrete jungle looks simply awe-inspiring as does San Francisco, the city in which Starfleet Academy is based and where an exceptional chase scene takes place. The characters blend perfectly with the backgrounds as if they’re actually there. The film is probably drowning in CGI, but it’s never apparent. Even a planet containing pink vegetation looks like it could exist in reality. And the Enterprise has never looked better.

Benedict Cumberbatch is also brilliant. He plays the main antagonist, John Harrison, a former Starfleet agent who holds a grudge against The Federation. Cumberbatch’s deep voice and eerily precise way of speaking add to the darkness and intensity of his performance. When he speaks, we listen. His reason for being might be a tad convoluted, but that’s the writers’ fault. Cumberbatch shines with what he’s given.

Harrison kicks off the story by bombing an instillation in London. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), who’s been recently demoted upon breaking the Prime Directive (thou shalt not affect the natural progress of other planets) to save one of his crew members, attends an emergency meeting at Starfleet Command to discuss the recent bombing. Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), his predecessor, mentor and harshest critic joins him. Former Robocop actor, Peter Weller, plays Admiral Marcus, the head of this meeting and an important character in the film. In accordance with most action movies, before a certain number of words can be said, action must take over, so in comes John Harrison to sabotage the meeting. There are casualties, and Marcus orders Kirk (now the captain again?) and his crew to pursue a fleeing Harrison.

One sequence in the second act involves the villain getting captured with very little effort. He’s then put in a cell where he looks unnervingly comfortable and gives sinister speeches. We then find out he wanted to be captured all along to further his plan. If this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve seen it twice in the last year; once in “The Avengers” and again in “Skyfall”. There’s also a needless cameo this time around that feels clumsy and in no way enhances the story.

All the beloved crew members return for this installment. They’re all very likable, if mostly one-dimensional. The growth of Captain Kirk from a recklessly indifferent man to a more serious leader and of Spock (Zachary Quinto) from a cold-hearted ‘robot’ to an individual with feelings is believable and satisfying, but the writers still cram the ‘gut vs logic’ motif down our throats one too many times. ‘See!’ says Abrams, ‘It’s more than just spaceships!’ Abrams also tries to incorporate women in the film, but Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is a nagging girlfriend whose character is defined only by her relationship with Spock, and Carol (Alice Eve) isn’t as important as you might think, although her role strays from a path that might’ve seemed predictable. Gene Rodenberry was known for creating strong female characters, but it looks like we’ll have to ‘boldly go’ on without them.

And, yet, as I write this I realize that most of the reasons to not like the film are based on reboots, shared universes, canon, preconceived notions, and film comparisons. This isn’t a brilliant piece of cinema, but it’s a gorgeous looking film with a great villain and several likable characters. The story is fairly dry, but it’ll do. And the action isn’t stellar (figuratively anyway), but there’s lots of fun to be found in this sequel. A scene where Kirk is launched into space, trying to reach another ship while avoiding chunks of debris, comes to mind.

It’s just sad that, with the entire universe to explore and hundreds of previous “Star Trek” stories from which to draw, the film makers have essentially created a simple revenge story…much of which takes place on Earth…with a threat coming from within. Gene Rodenberry always had an optimistic view of the future. I don’t think he had this in mind.

Grade: C+

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