Saturday, 11 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness



After the success of 2009’s Star Trek and with a large and loyal fan base waiting eagerly, there was no doubt that another Star Trek film would follow the recent reboot. The film picks off pretty much where the first one left off, thematically and cast wise at least and finds the crew of the USS Enterprise on a previously unexplored planet, attempting to save a primitive civilisation. Several set pieces and un-followed directives later and Captain J.T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is stripped of his captaincy while his first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is reassigned. When a rogue officer attacks Starfleet in London, Kirk is given command once more and tasked with tracking the extremely dangerous Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) to the Klingon home planet and ordered by his superiors to set phasers to kill.

For about an hour I was really enjoying this second updated Star Trek movie and had few complaints but into the second hour the plot begins to sag and then fall away completely. There is a set piece, which is also in the trailer, and shows the Enterprise hurtling to Earth in an uncontrollable spin. For me this was an apt metaphor for the film as a whole following a second act reveal. Up until that point I was engaged and intrigued but once the torpedo truth was made known, the film hit a brick wall and relied on admittedly excellent special effects and action set pieces to see it to its soppy conclusion.

I don’t want to give the impression that Into Darkness is a bad film because it isn’t. But it isn’t a great film either. The movie blends traditional Trek with modern twists to create some exciting scenes and there are knowing nods to the original series littered throughout which will please Trekkies. I have to wonder though whether the hard core fans will really go for this movie as aside from the character outlines and occasional references, it’s far removed from the 1960s television series. Because the story isn’t strong enough, the film relies too often on running around, battles and explosions. While I’m no huge Star Trek fan, my memories of the TV series were of philosophical and theoretical discussions on strange worlds with Spock’s logic and Kirk’s heart driving them towards worthy conclusions and decisive moral victories. Of course there was action too and fighting both in space and on terra ferma. Here though there is far more of the fighting, explosions and shaking camera, holding onto chairs, rocking from side to side stuff. For me that fails to separate the movie from any other Hollywood blockbuster whereas the TV show’s intellectual side separated itself from everything else on TV at the time.

Although I got a bit fed up with all the fighting and running about, it at least looked very good. The special effects were absolutely fantastic and both in space, on Earth or on foreign worlds, the landscapes, beings and ships looked wonderful. There’s some very nice set design, especially in some of the Enterprise’s engine rooms and London and San Fransisco looked realistically futuristic. J.J. Abrams’ direction is recognisable in both its quick zooms, lens flare (I know, I shouldn’t mention it, but its everywhere) and general assured quality. The screen pops with interesting and exciting visuals and I have no complaints in any aspect of the film’s design. The 3D isn’t terrible either. It is particularly effective early on but becomes gradually worse and some scenes are a little fuzzy. Overall though it didn’t impact massively on my experience either way.

The returning cast is mostly solid and in a couple of the actors I saw flashes which I failed to notice in the first film. Karl Urban has grown into the role of Bones, seeming both more like DeForest Kelley than before but also bringing his own take on the character at times. Chris Pine lacks some of the charisma of William Shatner but holds his own as the focal point. Zachary Quinto once again impresses as Spock, bringing depth and humour to the role and John Cho is also very watchable. I have a problem with Simon Pegg though and feel as though he is miscast. I think (and hope) that his terrible accent is a loving nod to James Doohan’s Scotty but overall his acting style and portrayal of the character just doesn’t work for me. Zoe Saldana is an actress who I like but in this film her character is reduced to a pastiche of a girlfriend with the hump. New to the series is Alice Eve who added nothing of note bar an unnecessary lingerie scene and Benedict Cumberbatch who shines brightly as the film’s villain. Cumberbatch has immense screen presence and brings a brooding darkness to the role and the film as a whole. He is wonderful when spitting out complex and often skull crushing dialogue and shows that he is no slouch in the action scenes too. He’s a highlight of the movie.

One of the problems with the film for me is that because the story was so thin, I was more attune to picking up little inconsistencies and plot holes. Little things that wouldn’t have bothered me had I been more engaged also became more problematic. In addition to this, the plot was often so predictable that I was able to second guess much of it, thus taking away a lot of the fun and excitement of its discovery. I want to avoid spoilers so won’t be too specific but Peter Weller’s character development was painfully obvious from the start and as soon a someone takes over from Kirk as Captain, you know their days in that role are numbered. A daughter’s English accent also jarred when her father spoke broadly in an American one and Spock’s refusal to break directives (rescue) while breaking others (interfering already) should have been spotted by the writers. Something else that bothered me was the availability of transporting which flickers between working and broken with annoying regularity and for no other reason than to stop the script from taking the simple, non action orientated way out.

Overall for all the effects and fire and crashes, Star Trek Into Darkness is a bit underwhelming. It looks brilliant and the direction is very good but the story comes off as rushed and ill thought out. The writers are well known to movie fans and have penned some very popular movies but with the likes of Cowboys & Aliens, Transformers 2, Prometheus and The Island amongst their screen credits, a pattern emerges of films that are attractive, big in scope, often big on ideas but ultimately flimsy and full of holes. Star Trek Into Darkness continues in that vein and although starts out promisingly it eventually boldly goes into the incidental, also ran category.    

6/10
GFR 6/10

Titbits

  • Nods to the original include the appearance of a tribble and a small cameo from a farmiliar face.
  • Director J.J. Abrams didn't want to shoot in 3D and preferred to use IMAX cameras. A compromise was made with the studio and the film was shot in the IMAX format and converted into 3D in post production, a world first.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch was recommended to Abrams by Steven Spielberg.
  • Michael Dorn, known for playing the Kingon Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation was contacted about appearing in the film but in the end the film makers decided against his inclusion.           

11 comments:

  1. Yeah, that's pretty much how I felt about it too. A perfectly adequate action film, but a thin plot padded out with a LOT of pretty action scenes which do nothing to move the story along (the enterprise falling to earth being one of many examples).
    In film making a basic rule of the craft is that every shot should move the story forward, and if the shot can be cut without affecting the story then it should be. There were quite a few entire scenes that felt like filler. The one where [SPOILERS] had to go from one ship to another having quite a lot of filler.

    That being said, I did enjoy the Raid and Dredd and those were both plot light action films. I'm not sure how star trek felt a lot like filler but those didn't.

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    1. I think that The Raid and Dredd knew that their story was a little thin and compensated with all out action which didn't give you time to think about what was going on aside from the bone cracking slaughter. Star Trek has lots of action but it doesn't consume the film in quite the same way. You have time to think about the how, what and whys.

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  2. The previous Star Trek movie is a tough one to beat. It was close to perfection (lens flares and all). So this movie had a tough up-hill battle ahead of it. I am happy to report that the writing, direction, cinematography and acting were all at least as good as the last one. Cumberbatch is brilliant. I won't divulge any spoilers, but I will say that the throw back to the earlier movies is very very clever and well executed. It is hard to find fault with this movie, particularly as it had very big shoes to fill. But it does so brilliant and effortlessly. The added depth we see in the characters of Kirk and Spock is icing on an already delicious cake! Well done JJ, producers, actors, writers and musicians. This is one of the very few movies I have ever given full marks

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  3. I obviously love this movie a lot more than you did. Maybe I'm just the right target audience: I'm a fan of Star Trek, but not fanatical. I wouldn't call myself a devoted trekkie and perhaps that's why I can buy into the changes here and there.
    I'm sorry you weren't engaged enough to not star thinking about plot holes or predicting what was going to happen next. Once you enter that path, it's hard to really get back into the movie with all your heart. I was there all the time and what an enjoyable, spectacular ride I had!

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    1. You're right. It's hard to come back once you've lost interest. It's a shame because I enkoyed the first half and thought it looked great.

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  4. My more positive review of this film lasted about 2 minutes here. I totally disagreed with the review saying this film was top dog and had a great meaningful plot with the moral questions required of a good Star Trek film,
    The war on terror, elite produced weapons, morals and philosophy mixed with action! Then I saw your 8/10 review for that turkey, Iron Man III and the penny dropped. That film was the very antithesis of this one. Both 'big Action films' yes; but this one has a heart, a mind and a point while Iron Man III is a tired pentagon poster child for the very mechanical machine produced killing machines this film (ST)rightly questions (renditions; assassination before trials, etc).
    Epic Fail review, Show some gut's and let this critique stand!. It will show you have charachter: I might even respect that and so might others!

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    1. " Show some gut's" from someone who leaves an anonymous review and puts an apostrophe in a word that doesn't need one? I appreciate comments and criticism but you couldn't at least be constructive.

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    2. Who cares who I am in the end. It doesn't matter because in the end it's the weakness or the strength of my argument that should count. As for using the 'anonymous' approach, that is because I can't use any other of the options here (I have no desire to use facebook).
      I did make some points in my earlier post and I AM interested in hearing your response to mine, Who knows maybe you will get the fact that like Star Trek VI;'The Undiscovered Country' (my personal favourite) this film is correctly focused on the personal MORAL dynamics of the main characters in the situation they face. The scene with Scotty insisting on resigning and Spock arguing with Kirk over how to deal with Harrison are also of central importance, just the like the end of the Cold War (1989) was in forming ST VI then and why the 'War and Terror' is now central political issue of this newer film.
      This film was 'light years' better than that tired Pentagon inspired Iron Man III. THat was a cold soulless film.

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