Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Movie Review: Stark Trek: Into Darkness

Spoiler Warning: I’m not going to reveal overly much about the plot of Star Trek: Into Darkness – at least not more than any other movie – but I do know that many people complained about spoilers in critics reviews and even the IMDB page of this movie about revealing something they didn’t want to know. I’m going to assume that if you’re THAT much of a fan of Star Trek, than you saw it this weekend and if you are THAT adverse to spoilers, you wouldn’t be reading a review of the film anyway, but I thought I’d give a warning anyway. Read no further if you don’t want to know anything about the film.

Star Trek: Into Darkness
Directed by: J.J. Abrams.
Written by: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof based on the TV Series created by Gene Roddenberry.
Starring: Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (Bones), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Bruce Greenwood (Pike), Peter Weller (Marcus), Alice Eve (Carol).

Doing remakes or reboots of beloved franchises is almost never a good idea. If the filmmakers are too reverent of the source material, you essentially end up with something almost as silly and pointless as Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot Psycho remake, because you are adding nothing new. If you go the other way, and try hard to make it different, you run the risk of draining what was so special about the original in the first place. But for the second time, J.J. Abrams seems to have made a Star Trek that walks the very fine line between being too reverent and too different. I’m not a Trekkie in the least – one of my big cinematic blind spots is pretty much every Star Trek movie made before 2000. But I know enough about the characters and the franchise to know why it worked so well. In 2009, Abrams took on the monumental task of rebooting the franchise – finding a new Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Bones, Scott, Sulu, Chekov and the rest. The result was a highly enjoyable film that worked for everyone – not just Trekkies. I’m not sure if Into Darkness tops it – but it surely equals it. This time he takes an iconic storyline from the past, and makes it new.

The movie opens on a mission where once again Kirk (Chris Pine) doesn’t follow orders, but once again his not following orders actually works out better than if he had. Still, Star Fleet looks down on this sort of independence, and Kirk is called to the carpet for his actions – mainly because Spock told on him, not to be mean, but because Vulcans cannot lie. But even Star Fleet thinks Kirk could come in handy after two attacks by John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) – one of their own gone rogue. The second attack is at the heart of Star Fleet itself, and leaves Kirk’s mentor Pike dead. Vowing revenge, Kirk convinces Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to let him take the Enterprise to go get Harrison – even though he’s hiding out on Kronos, the home planet of the Klingons, and doing so may cause a war. Marcus equips Kirk with experimental, long range torpedoes to get the job done. But once again, Kirk doesn’t quite follow orders.

Once again, the cast in the movie is excellent. Chris Pine’s Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock have already established a relationship that feels real – Spock reins Kirk in when he’s going to go too far, and Kirk helps to humanize Spock – gets him to see things the way the rest of us do. They are the heart of the cast – and they are both just about perfect for their roles. The rest of the Enterprise cast are really just stock characters – and yet Karl Urban as Bones, John Cho as Sulu, Anton Yelchin as Chekov and especially Simon Pegg as Scotty are all entertaining in their roles. They are trying, with mixed results, to get Zoe Saldana’s Uhura to be a more major character – but as good as she is, she still gets shunted to the background.

The storyline – in particular the villain – are much stronger this time than they were in Abrams s first Star Trek movie. As entertaining as the first film was, I think we can all admit that Eric Bana’s villain left something to be desired. He was shunted to the background, as Abrams concentrated more on re-establishing the characters for a new generation than the story itself. This time, Cumberbatch has one of the best roles in the film as the bad guy – a heartless villain willing to sacrifice everything for what he wants.

As for Abrams as a director, he still has a little too much of a TV perspective for my taste behind the camera. His last film, Super 8, was his best as it was his only original one so far, and did a far better job of imitating his idol Steven Spielberg. With Star Trek: Into Darkness, he is back to the TV aesthetics of his first films – with perhaps a little too much Paul Greengrass style editing and shaky camera in the action sequences for my taste. Still though, the film mainly looks great – the special effects are well handled. I didn’t see the film in 3-D, because generally I don’t like 3-D for live action films (although, admittedly, Baz Luhrmann used it well in Gatsby, even if I was disappointed in the film).

We are just three weeks into Hollywood’s annual blockbuster season – and we’ll see many more BIG films over the next few months. Star Trek: Into Darkness is the first blockbuster this year that I can fully get behind. I enjoyed it far more than Iron Man 3 or The Great Gatsby. It’s a must for Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike.

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