Monday, 20 May 2013

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, etc.
Director: JJ Abrams
Studio: Paramount

When rogue Starfleet operative John Harrison bombs a secret installation in the heart of London, Captain James T Kirk must risk war with the Klingon Empire to bring the terrorist to justice.

Remember how Star Trek used to be the thinking man's science fiction? Well those days are long past, as JJ Abrams brings us the dumbest incarnation yet. Where his original 2009 reboot just barely held together under examination, this sequel is so full of holes, it falls in upon itself under the weight of it's own stupidity. An argument can be made that the general masses prefer this stripped down, trigger happy, bare bones version of Star Trek. I mean, just look at the box office receipts. Clearly, the audience is getting something they like...and that couldn't be more depressing.

The strangest part of this whole disaster is that despite all the promises to make the franchise easily accessible and new viewer friendly, it's basically a remake of 1982's classic 'The Wrath of Khan'. Where previous entries had simply mimicked the structure and brought a crazed tyrant up against the Enterprise *cough*Nemesis*cough*, 'Into Darkness' is far more literal. Entire sequences are copied from three decades ago. Writers Orci and Kurtzman could be accused of plagiarism, it's so blatant.

If the news hadn't already reached you, the film's lead villain is fan favourite, Khan Noonien Singh. Only it isn't really him and he isn't really the lead villain. But he should've been. Benedict Cumberbatch crafts a truly unique reinterpretation of the classic villain. He isn't remotely like the Ricardo Montalban version, in look, in speech, in mannerisms, in action. Cumberbatch is so unlike what came before, it's puzzling as to why he even needed to be Khan. He could've easily been a Starfleet terrorist called John Harrison, just as the film initially presents him. The twist of his true identity won't make the slightest difference to new viewers, while the fans will have seen it coming a mile away.

Similarly, Khan's war against Starfleet is nonsensical and ultimately fruitless. The true villain of the piece is Peter Weller's Admiral Marcus. With the post 9/11 vibe of future Earth, Marcus' worst instincts are coming to the fore, making him believe war with the neighboring Klingon Empire is inevitable and the only logical recourse for Starfleet is fierce militarisation. His plans are meant to be top secret, evoking Deep Space Nine's Section 31. However, I'm pretty sure they didn't have scale models of their mysterious evil ship displayed prominently in their office for all to see. I had to restrain myself from shouting at Kirk and Spock for not asking "gee, what's that ship, sir?". If that wasn't ridiculous enough, Marcus hands over 72 "advanced" torpedoes to the Enterprise and orders them to fire every single one at the Klingon homeworld. Not once do the crew wonder about the awfully specific number of torpedoes, what's inside of them or whether it's overkill to fire 72 missiles when one would do nicely. In terms of evil schemes, this is right up there with Scooby Doo's old man Withers. He would've gotten away with it too if not for those meddling kids!

Chris Pine is once again back as the young Captain Kirk. Despite working through his growing pains in the first movie and earning the Captain's chair, this film has him learning the exact same lessons twice over. 'Into Darkness' begins with Kirk flouting the Prime Directive, having a huge impact on a pre-Warp society (hell, pre-Wheel society) and most importantly, lying about it. William Shatner's James Kirk may've had his roguish moments in the course of his five year mission, but Pine's is ten times more reckless and prone to making bad decisions. Personally, I thought we'd gotten over this stage of his evolution by the end of the first film and now we'd see Pine living up to the rich heritage of the character. Unfortunately, this younger incarnation is little more than a petulant child, who doesn't hesitate to throw a hissy fit when he can't have his way. Even when he tries to martyr himself towards the end of the film, it doesn't play as heroic, but dumb. Pine simply isn't likable in the role of Kirk and I don't think any future films will evolve him to a point where he is.

Zachary Quinto's Spock comes off much better, having several strong scenes lamenting the loss of his homeworld in the first film and the resulting death wish he's working through. Where Leonard Nimoy once played the Vulcan as well-adjusted and open to exploring his burgeoning Human emotions, this is a Spock who's been dealt a devastating blow and is in the process of shutting those emotions down. He can't bring himself to become attached to people for fear of losing them. Even pushing away his closest cohorts in best friend Kirk and girlfriend Uhura. By the time he's chasing down Cumberbatch's Khan across the futuristic skyline, his top has well and truly blown. His frustrations fueling his fight against the literal superman. Ironically, it's this emotionless green blooded alien that gives the movie what little heart it has.

While JJ Abrams may have failed abysmally to draw out worthwhile performances or stories from the otherwise talented crew, the one area where he overwhelmingly succeeded was in the visuals. I can pick holes in virtually every aspect of the film, except this one. Whatever it's flaws, 'Into Darkness' looks absolutely fantastic. The colour palette is positively vivid, there's a number of ingenious fades and the image of the Enterprise falling out of the sky is unmatched. If they put as much thought into the story as into the visuals, we would've had an outright classic on our hands.

Being a long-time Star Trek fan, I'm almost the wrong audience for this movie. While it features more fan-service than ever before, this is not the Star Trek I knew and loved. The franchise as it was would've done anything humanly possible to avoid violence, in favour of finding the peaceful solution. This new incarnation solves it's problems at the end of a phaser. Why travel the hard road and understand your enemies, when you can fire a torpedo at them and marvel as it explodes in a variety of pretty colours. Where once Star Trek preached philosophy, it now screams spectacle. The franchise may be more profitable than ever before, but I left the film questioning whether it is now creatively bankrupt.

4 out of 10

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