Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness!

If you saw The Hobbit in IMAX in December then you may have been treated to a preview of the first ten minutes of J.J. Abrams’ long awaited sequel: Star Trek Into Darkness. And it was fantastic. Fast paced, action-packed and funny, it was exciting to see these characters return amid the unrelenting chaos of colourful new worlds, creatures, and concepts. It reeked of confidence, and successfully ramped up my anticipation, assuring me that Abram’s must have created something pretty great.

Because, let’s face it, they hype up Abrams’ projects a lot. They are shrouded in secrecy, and he makes a point of not rushing into things until everything’s in place. We should feel assured that if he’s taking his time, instead of cynically cranking out a sequel, then it should be because he wants to do something unexpected and special. And the trailers seem to promise us dark times ahead with raised stakes and heightened emotion. Is Into Darkness really the Star Trek equivalent of The Dark Knight? Is it a raw and twisted game-changer?

Sadly, no. No, it’s not. It’s an entertaining enough blockbuster but has a surprisingly simple story that you could probably piece together from the watching trailers, watching the original films, and reading old character entries on Wikipedia. So temper your expectations and join me... after the jump!

Abrams’ Star Trek is suffering from an identity crisis. After a first film full of creatures, sword fights, and planet-hopping, it feels like they have taken onboard the claim of Star Wars comparisons and have deliberately pulled away from them. This time around Sulu stops being a ninja and simply sits in a chair. In fact - after the crazy action-packed opening - this Star Trek gets a lot smaller in scale, with much of it taking place on the bridge of the (various) Enterprise(s). Like the Trek of old, it’s here where they debate boundaries and ethics - which may appease hardcore fans, were it not for the fact that none of it is nearly as smart as you would hope.

Because, at its core, despite all this chatter, Star Trek Into Darkness is about simple revenge plots. This guy is going to make those guys pay for what they did. And now those guys are going to make that guy pay for what he did. Now this guy and this guy will work together to make that other guy pay. Wait - you just did what?! Oh man, you’re going to pay for that! This linear, straightforward tale is really just four or so revenge plots in a row, but the worst thing is that the most common way they deal with this is... punching. Yep, that’s the strategy. “You pissed me off, so I’m going to punch you. A lot.” Just about everybody does it, and none of the punches amount to anything. I wish there was more to it than this, but there’s really not a lot. This is certainly not one of those high-concept, mind-bending plots that will even attempt to surprise you.

And the frustrating part is that Into Darkness still pretends to be more than it is. The emotional scenes, complete with lingering close-ups of teary faces and sad music, are disappointingly hamfisted and manipulative. I don’t feel like they are ever truly earned, particularly towards the climax, but perhaps I’ll save that for a spoiler section at the end.

I did enjoy seeing these characters back together, but they are not as well written as they were the first time around. Karl Urban’s McCoy is still a fun performance, but he’s a parody now, delivering fan service lines for cheap and guaranteed lols. Simon Pegg’s Scotty is also just a clown. Spock is the most emotional Spock you’ve ever seen if your life. I’d go as far to describe him as fragile at times. And Kirk has lost all of his proto-Shatner swagger. He’s not slick or sly anymore - his arrogance has turned into anger, making him a loud-mouthed hothead who is frankly harder to enjoy.

Now look, it’s not a bad film. Not by a long shot. Abrams should be commended for taking a flailing franchise that was only appealing to diehard fans, and making it far more watchable. I think this film has a very broad appeal and it will work well enough with mainstream audiences. They’ll be entertained for two hours. It’s a blockbuster. It hits all the beats. There are a handful of strong action set pieces. But I feel like it wins that broad appeal by not taking any risks. It’s safe and it’s not TOO smart. It delivers simple jokes that even your grandmother will get. It’s not a challenging film. The question is: Should it be?

I do think that if you’re going to take so long to make a sequel to ensure that you’ve gotten it right, plus shroud it in secrecy, then the expectations deserve to be high. As it is, this feels more like the kind of sequel that could have come out straight after the first one because it’s not especially ambitious at all. And there really was zero need for keeping the villain’s identity a secret. Because events play out exactly how you’d expect.

I’m about to do a spoiler section, so if you want to be unsullied, jump off here. Short version: it’s good, but not great. Keep your expectations in check and you’ll have more fun.

Okay, I’ll still be reasonably vague on some things, but this is where I really want to dig into specifics. Keep reading at your own risk. Seriously. Don’t come crying to me.

Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is Kahn. And he lets us know that quite clearly halfway through the film. What does that mean? Well, to non Trek fans not a whole hell of a lot, but I did read up on him beforehand. And those key elements of his backstory, as they appeared in the original series, are pretty much represented here intact. So there are no massive surprises. He’s a genetically enhanced “super man” who has been frozen for 300 years. And he’s angry. So he attacks. They attack him back. Then there’s a few more attacks.

I like what Cumberbatch does here, but it’s a little one note. He’s the menacing super-smart, well-spoken English villain, but the issue is that he allows himself to be captured and put in a plastic holding cell so he can menace and manipulate everyone from behind the glass while secretly enacting his (simple) plan. That would be fine, except we saw this exact same thing a year ago in The Avengers. There’s little new.

But what about the Klingons? That changes everything, right? Well... no. There are Klingons in this story but only in one scene and they’re not massively important. A Klingon patrol happens to get in the way while they’re taking in Khan. Only one Klingon reveals his unhelmeted face and only has a little bit of dialogue. They get caught in a fight and that’s the end of them for the film. There’s the promise that they will be important later, but the war that they portend is not important in this particular outing. It’s setup for future movies, so definitely relax your hopes there.

But what about this...

It's one shot. You've already seen it.

And the climax. I won’t come right out and say what happens, but it’s a twist on a familiar event. This is where the film attempts to strike the biggest emotional chord, but it doesn’t work because we know that - even from a business standpoint - it can’t be real, so it all feels hollow. And although there’s the opportunity to end in a darker, The Empire Strikes Back style, the film completely chickens out, and the very thing that they wanted us to cry about is completely resolved ten minutes later. It feels like a cop out. And to be perfectly honest, the choices made in the “sad” bit verge on comical. And that’s a more generous assessment than was shared by my fellow movie goers. You have to earn those moments, J.J.

This is a tricky one, and I’ll be curious to know what other people think, both casual viewers and life-long fans. I liked it, but not enough to see it again this weekend as originally planned, and the year will have to go pretty poorly for this to end up in a Top Ten list. Sorry! I feel like I’ve just ruined your Christmas. I hope you still have fun.


  1. I like how Spock called Future Spock for a walkthrough. That wasn't an annoyingly convenient plot point designed to shoehorn Nimoy into the movie AT ALL. I wish I could ring future me so I knew if I should leave the house each day or not.

    1. you know future-you would just shrug and make noncommittal noises at current-you


    Regarding the spoiler that you mentioned. The big one? I'm glad I read it. I kind of surmised it going in to all this, kinda seemed like the obvious choice, and now I feel better knowing it for sure BEFORE going in to the movie. And I dig it. But I mean c'mon...how hard would it be to guess it as soon as you know the character's name of the chick in the underwear, which EVERY GUY WILL HAVE STUDIED IN DEPTH, pants around their ankles notwithstanding.

    Since I never actually get to GO to the movies...still haven't SEEN The Avengers or Sherlock Holmes 2 yet, but I will :), I actually might sneak out one day when I should be working and catch a matinee while Bennett is in therapy. Might want to see all the 'roided EXPLOSIONS on the big screen.

  3. I loved this movie as much as its previous one. JJ Abrams sir is great. If there is to be a movie its like this only. A complete package of entertainment plus morals. Explode with actions and wits. A must watch for everyone. Because it will leave you holding your tongue between your teeth and you will remain repeating 'It's so beautiful!'