15 May 2013

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

(Dir: J.J. Abrams, 2013)

The 2009 version of Star Trek proved one thing very successfully - that some films / tv shows are worth rebooting. The decision a couple of decades back to move Star Trek films into the Next Generation timeline was highly successful as that was the biggest of the three iterations of the universe on tv at the time. But those films eventually grew bland and tiresome. For an enduring franchise like Star Trek sometimes a new approach is required, and what J.J. Abram's offered with Star Trek was even more wholly satisfying than expected, primarily because of the casting, characterisation and their interplay. And not forgetting that it's a decent modern sci-fi / action movie.

So you'd think the hard work is done as they know what works and that a sequel is now just happy plain sailing, right? Well, Into Darkness proves that's not entirely so. The entire crew are of course back with a small handful of fresh faces and there's the inevitable new villain in the shape of Benedict Cumberbatch's John Harrison, although that name may just be a faรงade (implying that is only really a mild spoiler as if you followed any of the build up to the film his real identity was widely rumoured). And thus he becomes the greatest foe this still fledgling crew has had to face yet.

So what seems to have gone wrong along the way? The plot of Into Darkness really stretches patience as it's just flat out boring or at times derivative of the last film. After a mildly exciting intro sequence and some interesting Earth bound scenes the Enterprise takes flight and this is where the film should come to life, but no, it labours away with a story that barely seems to leave the ship and doesn't involve any of the other rich or exciting alien life forms created in this universe, save for some cursory Klingon action which is a brief opportunity wasted. When there's so much potential in this world why limit yourself so much? It's only the scenes on Earth that really seem to have something engaging about them, which is a damn shame. 

None of this is helped by the villain who is pretty rubbish (if you don't want spoilers don't read this paragraph). The decision to make him Khan seems entirely nonsensical in this iteration of the universe and incredibly lazy. I'm still struggling to figure out how he logically fits into this story although I'm not entirely au fait with this whole universe so maybe I'm missing something? Either way I get frustrated when filmmakers feel they must just replicate what previous films did, you know because Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was the most popular we must try replicate it in our sequel. No, have confidence in your material and do something more creative. None of this is helped by Cumberbatch's terrible acting. He's as stiff as a board and the way he looks like he's over-enunciating words may work on stage but here it just looks stupid, diminishing his impact. Having only seen him in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse I'm kinda confused why people seem to think he's such a great actor.

Where the film does work is back in the interplay of the key characters that everyone knows and loves. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are still up to their usual verbal sparring which is great to watch, whilst both Bones (Karl Urban) with his quasi-serious concern and Scotty (Simon Pegg) with his hyperactive mania both continue to provide decent light relief. Fortunately the misguided Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock love storyline from the last film is mostly sidelined here. Likewise JJ Abrams seems to have curtailed his overly distracting use of lens flair. I hasten to say it's more tastefully used rather than constantly blinding us, but perhaps this is because it would be too much for those choosing to watch in 3D?

This might be the best summation of Star Trek Into Darkness I can think of - when I sat in the cinema watching Star Trek I didn't want it to end and could've happily spent another hour absorbed in the world, whilst at the halfway point of Into Darkness I already couldn't wait for it to end. This proves to be a pretty compelling example of no matter how good and interesting the characters are, it's unlikely they'll transcend a boring plot. I'm still bemused why with such scope in the Star Trek universe you'd limit yourself to a human villain and ignore the interesting alien worlds. And that villain is just lazy and poorly acted, making Eric Bana's so-so Nero in the last film look like a masterpiece of villainy. Into Darkness is highly unsatisfying and curiously, it seems the old "odd numbered Star Trek movies are bad, even numbered are good" paradigm has been reset in the opposite direction with this new run of films.

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