Film Review: Star Trek into Darkness

jason stives gives us a star date …

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In 2009 J.J. Abrams was able to do something that not many can say they have done; revitalize a much beloved franchise by updating it for a modern audience while still honoring the legacy of its past. The Star Trek reboot was nothing short of phenomenal and for how loud and bombastic it was, it was an exhilarating engagement to experience in theaters. Four years later, Abrams has returned to Starfleet with Star Trek Into Darkness, but what works well the first time doesn’t always hold over on a second helping. Despite being a thrilling adventure, a less than original narrative padded with an over abundance of big action sequences makes this film a little bloated lacking a truly emotional story.

Themes of friendship and conflict go hand in hand in the Star Trek mythos and once again these act as the main themes of the film. Having his rank and ship pulled after a dangerous mission inside an active volcano, James T. Kirk is called back to helm the Enterprise after a series of terrorist attacks at the hands of one John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) leaves many people and some close personal friends dead. Forced to make their way to the edge of the Neutral zone and possibly inciting war with the Klingons, the Enterprise crew must stop John Harrison. However, the actual intentions of both Harrison and even their own allies in Starfleet may have greater ramifications if they don’t watch their backs.

I wouldn’t doubt that it was the early dailies of this film that made Lucasfilm executives decide that Abrams was the right person to direct a new Star Wars film because this is a bonafide space opera. Everything has a sense of grandeur; everything, from the crimson world that opens the film to the desolate landscape of Kronus, looks fantastic. Abrams clearly has an eye for spectacle but he also enjoys the hell out of big action sequences which make up a good portion of Star Trek Into Darkness. The film comes at you at a furious pace and bombards the senses with lasers, explosions, and the occasional lens flare. This is all well and good, but lost in the shuffle is a story with emotion to it. While we deal with internal conflict with our main characters, it’s never as insightful as it was in the first film. The internal character conflict plays second fiddle to all the stuff that is whizzing by the camera.

It’s quick to forgive plot holes when you consider this film seems to have no time to slow down, but Star Trek Into Darkness feels rather lazy at times especially when it calls back to its ancestry. Although I wasn’t a diehard Trekkie, I found myself very familiar with the references to the show’s lineage especially since much is utilized from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (considered by many to be the crown jewel of the Trek films). Now there is nothing wrong with lifting and paying homage to these things, but when it’s the crux of some of the big moments in your film’s climax, it takes away from the originality. Klingons, Carol Marcus, the Botney Bay, and even an obscure reference to Harry Mudd trickle throughout the narrative. Sometimes it’s okay to pass judgment on it but when your third act is greatly overtaken by a previous film’s most important elements, it can really hurt a good original idea.

BIG SPOILER AHEAD

Which brings us to one John Harrison. Harrison is revealed to be secretly one Khan Noonien Singh, the most iconic one off villain to grace the series. Because the rumor of his reveal has been persistent for months, the actual reveal feels a bit let down. But Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance more than makes up for that. Cumberbatch has already established himself as someone who can induce cold, calculating performances, but here he is simply a virus that picks and chooses his next attack formation. The trouble here is we never get to really delve into the mind of Khan so he never actually flexes his true capabilities beyond convincing Kirk to trust him and couple not so glamorous fight sequences. It’s almost as if Abrams expects the bulk of the audience to be familiar with who Khan can be, but the problem with that is we aren’t just dealing with the established audience/fan base anymore.

While Cumberbatch will no doubt be the most talked about thing in the film, room should be left for the rest of the main leads with Zachary Quinto’s Spock firmly placing himself as the emotional centerpiece of the film. His constant miscalculation of how to handle human emotions makes it all the more important when Spock finally lets the human side of his background out. However, outside of an entertaining sub plot involving Scotty (Simon Pegg), most of the Enterprise crew are there to cause a ruckus or sling one-liners to sometimes abysmal results (Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy being the main offender there). The newest additions to the cast also fall a bit short of truly interesting; Alice Eve as Carol Marcus is rendered useless while Peter Weller does a serviceable job as her war hungry father but still never reaps the benefits of being a truly dastardly villain.

Through it all Star Trek Into Darkness is entertaining but not without its faults, which makes it hard for it to equal, let alone surpass, its predecessor. The style and the flare (no pun intended) that Abrams punctuated the first film with is all still there but it is, for all intents and purposes, a safe film; one that utilizes its established base elements while dialing back on the scientific concepts making it more action/adventure than traditional science fiction.


Rating: 6 out of 10 (good not great)

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