Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

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Back to the Past and Into the Future

A Film Review of Star Trek Into Darkness

By: Lawrence Napoli

 

Before getting right into this review, I’d like to chalk up a victory to internet speculation; which is basically two thumbs way, way up to all of you.  Back when J.J. Abrams was tapped to reboot this franchise with a throw back perspective of the original crew’s adventures, message boards all over the net lit up with likely plot points, villains and scenarios.  Abrams’ first adaptation in 2009 gave the audience a fresh new take on Kirk, Spock and the rest, but its success as a story was heavily dependent on plot points made famous in both the original series and feature films.  This brings us to the images leaked from Star Trek Into Darkness while in production and even more specific predictions hit the internet thanks in large part to the manner in which Abrams’ first story played out.  J.J. certainly played coy in response to all the rumors and speculation, but the fact remains that several key predictions of the online community regarding this film are accurate.  So again, I say to you all: well done!  Your insight serves you well.

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Tron or Trek?

The basic plot for this film continues to make similar allusions to the past exploits of the original crew which is at times its greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness.  What’s good about this aspect to the screenplay is the fact that the nostalgia generated from the audience does much to bolster the sympathy factor for every character as well as the stakes they are contending.  Of course, what’s bad happens to be predictability; specifically in regards to new characters that are introduced and situations that come off as far too familiar.  J.J. went on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show talking about how he continued to want to make these reboots appealing to more than just “Trekkies,” which is all well and good seeing how the “money demographic” of males 18-25 is less likely to be familiar with Kirk and Spock’s original adventures.  If these tales worked once before, why wouldn’t they work again with an even bigger budget?  However, what’s most impressive about the script is that despite all the action and all the past references is that writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof still manage to make Star Trek Into Darkness an intimate exploration into both Kirk and Spock, what binds them together as well as what drives them forward.  This intimacy chains to the rest of the cast which really promotes a family dynamic amongst the crew and this makes the audience care that much more.  Overall, the script delivers a very accessible sci-fi adventure that focuses on action, but delivers dramatic character interplay minus the scientific jargon that tends to fill out the dialogue of standard issue Trek.  

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Star Trek's version of WMDs perhaps?

As for the action, it is a cavalcade of CG wizardry, wire-work and wreaking havoc with pyro which is exactly what this rebooting effort has been all about thus far.  What’s interesting, though, is that Into Darkness continues to not favor starship warfare as the de facto action option.  Certainly a budget of $190 million dollars can afford us a glimpse into futuristic people doing futuristic things without the aid of toy models.  Just about every character gets put into harm’s way with their boots on the ground which makes for some satisfying chase sequences and hand-to-hand fisticuffs at various points throughout.  As important as those elements to a Star Trek adventure may or may not be, seeing the Enterprise (or its respective counterpart) in action has always been a mainstay.  As iconic a vessel as that starship will always be, it is severely underused in this film.  Granted, the plot gives the audience a myriad of exposition to explain this little detail away, but the Enterprise is still vital in our protagonists accomplishing their goals.  I would have liked to see a lot more space ship action, and I’d really like for the production team to dim the lighting and décor on the bridge a bit.  For crying out loud, it seems like the command crew is operating within a tanning booth in the middle of an Apple Store!

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More Enterprise please.

Star Trek Into Darkness continues to showcase some of the best examples of ensemble performances you’ll find in blockbuster films thanks to a number of larger names such as Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban being comfortable with the smaller, support roles of Uhura, Scotty and “Bones” McCoy, respectively.  As much as I’d like to see more of the command crew stand out, shifting the focus of a Star Trek movie away from Kirk and Spock is like shifting the focus of an X-Men film away from Wolverine: It just isn’t going to happen.  Still, J.J. seemed very diplomatic in partitioning specific moments for everyone to shine as well as bringing new characters such as Alice Eve’s Carol into the fold who will undoubtedly play a more significant role in Treks to come.  Peter Weller (a.k.a. Robocop) takes a break from his voice over work to do some live action as the fairly creepy Admiral Marcus.  His talents are better served behind a microphone.

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Was this moment the real reason Alice Eve was tapped for this role?

And speaking of creepers, Benedict Cumberbatch as XXXX equates to the best performance you’ll see from a villain this entire summer.  Of course, I refer to his character as XXXX because it’s a major spoiler who he really is, and that gets instantly spoiled if anyone checks out imdb.com.  If you know your Trek mythos, allow yourself this additional little surprise by limiting your spoiler-free research to right here at cosmicbooknews.com.  That being said, this man has an incredibly intimidating voice that could redefine what it means to be a villain these days in Hollywood (and it already seems to be paying dividends in his additional film work as he has also been cast as the Necromancer in The Hobbit sequels). He doesn’t seem much to look at, but his domineering presence exudes from his dulcet tones.  Cumberbatch’s performance was a welcome return to respectable villainy unlike Eric Bana’s Nero in the last film which amounted to one of the worst villains ever conceived in the realm of science fiction.   

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This is how you do the stare down.

Chris Pine does a respectable job as he continues to embody a young James Tiberius Kirk, and Zachary Quinto continues to amaze with his various reproductions and slight alterations to Leonard Nimoy’s performance during the original television series.  Separately, these men accomplish everything required of their characters, but in the scenes they share, I seem somewhat lost in buying their friendship has evolved to such a degree in such a short time to make their decisions in the third act come from a natural place.  It’s not exactly a lack of chemistry I am describing as Pine and Quinto nail the knucklehead/straight man routine quite well, but with only the plots of two films to build their camaraderie, it feels like Kirk and Spock are still feeling each other out and this uncertainty would not translate to such reckless abandon, both exhibit towards the end of the film.  Still, their evolution as Kirk and Spock progresses despite the fact they take a giant step forward in their shared “bromance” here.  I’d like to see Pine take it down a notch in terms of projecting Kirk as a hot-head, so as to accentuate his suave and smarmy appeal.  But perhaps this balance is only attributable to the unique efforts of Mr. William Shatner

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Hunny, what if it was just us?  Would J.J.'s Star Treks still hold water?

Star Trek Into Darknessis a very fun adventure for both adults and kids, men and women.  There’s lots of CG eye candy, action and character intrigue.  It is a fine example of popcorn films doing their best to entertain.  A third Star Trek adaptation from Bad Robot and J.J. Abrams is inevitable, but that film will most certainly have to take more steps into uncharted territory than its brethren in terms of plot points.  It’s not enough for J.J. Abrams to remix the tales of old with the aid of youthful exuberance and an old Vulcan from the future giving you tips along the way.  There needs to be more separation before anyone with a cursory knowledge of Trek knows the entire story before it even hits the theatres.  Outside of this dependence on the past, the Star Trek reboots continue to prove as worthy diversions of summer fun.

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