9 May 2013

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS- Review

This is a spoiler-free review- I'll be posting a more in-depth look at Star Trek Into Darkness in the next couple of weeks, but if you still don't want to know anything, proceed with caution...

When is a reboot not a reboot? In 2009, J.J. Abrams opened up the nebulous continuity of Star Trek to a bunch of new fans, without alienating the dedicated fanbase, by jumping into a parallel reality. These are the voyages of a different USS Enterprise, whose crew have been partly diverted from their destinies by the events that relaunched the series. They may also have inverted the rule whereby even-numbered Star Trek films are the best, (especially Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home) because this second (12th?) film pales by comparison.

Star Trek Into Darkness finds Captain Kirk at the helm of the Starship Enterprise, when he violates a crucial Starfleet regulation and is subsequently stripped of his command. Things look bleak for Kirk's promising career, until a mysterious enemy, known only as John Harrison, brings mayhem with meticulous terrorist attacks on both London and Starfleet HQ. On a mission of vengeance, Kirk is reinstated, and tasked with eliminating the culprit with extreme prejudice, but as he and his loyal crew venture into enemy space, his leadership is put to the test.

Let's start by accentuating the positives, because there are many great reasons to see this film. For at least the first third of Into Darkness, I was having a great time. While the first film opened with a memorable space battle, which had huge emotional impact in the story at large, this one has tonnes of fun at the tail-end of a largely unseen adventure, on the surface of a primitive alien planet. A little while later, there's an excursion on the planet of the Klingons, reimagining the aliens for NuTrek. In between scenes of high adventure, it shifts down into the more emotionally resonant scenes, boasting a surprisingly moving turn from Noel Clarke. It's in his first big scene that we meet our villain, too.

There's more to be said about Benedict Cumberbatch's role than can reasonably be given away, this close to the film's release, but suffice to say, his performance is terrific. His is a menacing villain, combining an ominous voice with real physical presence, and a mercifully uncomplicated plan. Perhaps he's been the focus of so many of the trailers and posters, precisely because he dominates the film in the same way, and he's by far the most watchable part. If this is in any way a detriment to the film as a whole, it's only because the rest of the sterling cast get short shrift by comparison.

As before, the cast put their own spin on the iconic characters, and that we want more of them is as much a credit to their work as it is to the film's disadvantage. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto lead strongly in this one, naturally at the forefront of any Enterprise outing as Kirk and Spock, respectively. Elsewhere, Karl Urban and Bruce Greenwood continue to steal scenes left, right and centre, with a welcome expansion to Simon Pegg's role as Scotty, too. Zoe Saldana's Uhura is most missed here, because after an early continuation of her romantic subplot with Spock peters out, she joins the rest of the crew in the background. Don't get me started on Anton Yelchin- really, we wouldn't have anything to talk about.

The ensemble lends this series, more than most, to more breezy and fun adventures. Unfortunately, the very title of this one says different. Kirk is always going to be right at the centre of the A-plot in a Star Trek story, but you soon come to miss the balance that was provided by Spock's arc in the previous instalment. At the very least, you wonder how much more the team dynamic and the sense of adventure might have been played up, if only there had been another year between this and last summer's mega-successful Avengers movie. A darker tone has seldom suited Star Trek, except in one very notable instance- and if this film leaves you with any thoughts regarding past forays into darkness, it will be that this film ain't that.

It feels like we've already passed the crest of having terrorists as the villains in franchise movies, and the script has none of the optimistic spirit that sets this particular universe apart from other futuristic sci-fi movies. Starfleet has its own agenda, and one that becomes particularly unpalatable if you know about co-writer Roberto Orci's Truther leanings. More importantly, it leaves you with a Star Trek film in which the principal threat comes from a bloke in a long black coat- this isn't, and shouldn't be Skyfall. There's a great scene with the Klingons in that early, enjoyable part of the movie, but you're not clamouring for them to give way to an underdeveloped villain, no matter how good the actor behind him may be.

Quite aside from political leanings, the script is full of holes- this was true of the previous film, too, but that was all about fast pacing and new adventures, as opposed to simply covering the more egregious problems with nods to the past. One of the most contrived and unbelievable holes in the film might as well have been actually plugged with a Tribble, recalling the fluffy little buggers that appeared in a memorable episode of the original TV series. Fans may be delighted by such moments, but it's not the only instance in which Orci, and co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, seem to forget about both the newly-interested audience, and the consistency of the plot itself.

So, when is a reboot not a reboot? When it's followed by Into Darkness, a film that uses the brave new universe promised in 2009's Star Trek as a stage for a story that feels all too familiar. Any updated or "original" aspects come only from minor tweaks to continuity that are paradoxically even more predictable to new viewers, who didn't already have expectations to be subverted. It's a shame, because before it settles into that groove, it promises to be terrific fun, for all of the reasons listed earlier. On the whole, it leaves you hoping that the next instalment goes considerably bolder, and to places we really haven't been before.

Star Trek Into Darkness is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen Star Trek Into Darkness, why not share your comments below? See, it's easy to review this without mentioning Star Wars Episode VII- I'm not worried about Abrams' directing, I just don't really care about that movie at this point.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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