A review of ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ by James Murphy
Director: Jeffrey Jacob “J. J.” Abrams.
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Benedict Cumberbatch
Genre: Science fiction/Fantasy/Adventure.
Running time: 132 minutes.
Now on General Release.
Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) violates the ‘Prime Directive’ of non-interference in a primitive alien culture and is reprimanded, severely. But he is rapidly restored to the captain’s chair and sent on a mission of vengeance when a powerful terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch) threatens the world. Friendships will be tested; lessons learned and battles fought, as the USS Enterprise ventures ‘into darkness’.
The title says it all. Why not just call it ‘Star Trek 2’? The answer could be that there is already a ‘Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan’. ‘Into Darkness’ desperately wants to be its own animal, whilst enjoying the benefits of a previous series’ mythology. It fails to achieve those anti-pathetic and contrary objectives: a matter of basic ‘logic’ (as Spock might say).
The previous entry in this new series (2009’s ‘Star Trek’) had a similar problem: was it a remake, reboot or just another composite, cynically cut and pasted summer blockbuster rebrand? It didn’t matter, as the film had an infectious charm, wit, pace and visual signature, c/o director J. J. Abrams.
Now, Abrams’ genius (part Hitchcock, part Spielberg) manifests itself in this sequel, but does so solely in sporadic glimpses. ‘Into Darkness’ is a curate’s egg and missed opportunity to ‘boldly go’ near original territory. It also attempts to tag on serious subtexts about our current foreign and defence policy dilemmas, thereby muting the initial tone of frenetic fun.
Granted, the original ‘Star Trek’ always reflected the essential optimism of its creator (the late, great Gene Roddenbery), using sci-fi to address and simulate solutions for (then) present-day problems (prejudice, discrimination, bad hair).
But Roddenberry’s ‘Trek’ never shied from a sense of good vs. evil, either and therefore punctuated open-minded episodes of exploration with the purposeful punishment of villainy. Indeed, it is for that very reason that many welcomed the return of old characters (Kirk and co) in fresh guises: a new platform for old heroics.
I won’t give away plot ‘twists’, but suffice to say that the film’s big baddie is aided by a powerful ally (and I don’t mean the Klingon aliens). The sub-text is a tired one and cropped up in ‘Iron Man 3’ recently, too. Memo to Hollywood: stop it now. It’s an ill-timed and ill-judged conceit.
There is also a scene involving a child with a terminal illness (the aesthetic would indicate cancer) which is as manipulative and insensitive as it is entirely dispensable to the movie’s motifs. That also neglects the ethos of optimism that defined original ‘Trek’ lore (with disease being a thing of the past in a utopian future).
So what are the film’s strengths? The acting is one. Chris Pine is a brilliant leading man and personifies movie star magic: confident, commanding and charismatic but likeably natural in his delivery of dialogue. Zachary Quinto is also an asset, displaying immaculate comic timing, physical presence and emotional depth, all while playing an alien logician (quite a balancing act). These are great actors and true stars.
The music is majestic (download it now) and the sets, design and special effects are flawless. Those qualities alone bode well for Abrams’ leadership on the imminent ‘Star Wars’ sequel. But ‘Wars’ is not ‘Trek’ and this film needed to be more than an extended trailer for its rival franchise.
‘Star Trek into Darkness’ is fast paced, well performed and stunning visually. But it lacks originality and suffers from a smug and sententious sense of self-importance. Verisimilitude is also a basic problem and for all its liberal ambitions, the script chronically neglects women as characters.
You will probably enjoy the film overall but struggle to remember why, having simply been numbed by cinematic bombast. ‘Beam aboard’ for this one by all means; just don’t expect to make any new discoveries on the voyage.
3/5: Fine but ‘must try harder’: simplify storyline and tone for Captain Kirk’s next mission; dare to be original and this franchise might just ‘live long and prosper’.
Website and trailer: http://www.startrekmovie.com
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