Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness
Director: J.J Abrams
Production Studio:
Skydance, Bad Robot, Paramount Pictures
Starring:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine , Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban

Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise take on a new enemy from within their own ranks, an enemy with unclear motivations and the means to threaten the galaxy.

WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THOSE OF YOU WHOM ARE SAVVY WITH THE SERIES!
CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!

spoiler_alert2I managed to catch one of the early screenings (films usually come out on Thursdays here in the UK so we got this movie a day before you audiences state-side) of this long-awaited follow-up to J.J Abrams’ rebooted take on the famous ‘Star Trek’ mythos. Despite my head buzzing with things to say about this film I’ve spent about an hour contemplating whether or not I should include material in my review which might constitute spoiling the film’s twists for others. After mulling it over a pint of Heineken I decided to take the plunge and go whole-hog with my review, because frankly some of the things I have to talk about with regards to the plot I simply cannot get around without handicapping the review as a whole. Some of the things I reveal here won’t mean much to those uneducated about Trek’s rich history and it’s characters but the ‘Trekkies’ reading this may well end up putting two and two together soooo yeah… that’s your heads-up notice!

Let’s get one thing out of the way before I go into Star Trek Into Darkness: If you didn’t like the 2009 film because you felt it “Dumbed Down” Star Trek and took away the pioneer’s spirit some of the previous films had then you’re in for the same experience here.

Into Darkness opens with the plot running at full-pelt (literally) with Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and Doctor McCoy (Karl Urban) in the midst of a mission on an underdeveloped planet, a planet who’s inhabitants are in danger of extinction unless the Enterprise crew intervenes without violating the prime directive (which basically means that Starfleet cannot interfere in the development of species that have not yet developed warp capability). Unfortunately Kirk, in a brash but noble move, ends up doing just that and is subsequently demoted by an infuriated Federation council. Captain Christopher Pike, Kirk’s mentor and former captain of the Enterprise offers Kirk a route to redemption by installing him as his first officer on the ship but before he can take up his new post news reaches Starfleet of a terrorist attack in London. As it turns out the attack was orchestrated by a Starfleet operative gone rogue called John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). As the Federation council convenes to discuss what to do about Harrison the renegade makes the first move and ruthlessly gatecrashes the meeting and murders many, including Christopher Pike in the process. With command of the Enterprise now returned to him and with vengeance on his mind Kirk, with his newly re-instated first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) and loyal crew in tow, embarks on a mission to bring Harrison to justice.

CumberbatchThe question of who exactly Benedict Cumberbatch (pictured left) would be portraying has been the subject of immense internet scrutiny ever since his place amongst the cast was confirmed by Paramount. I am a huge fan of Benedict’s work, especially with his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s “Sherlock”, and now having seen Into Darkness… I can see exactly why cast members and directors alike have kept a very well observed silence with regards to his identity. The plot soon enough shows that there is much more to Harrison’s character than the anarchy that he initially seems to display, there is a very complex and highly (maybe even righteously) motivated man here. It’s really down to the audience to decide as individuals if Harrison is doing the right thing or not, especially with some of the more earth-shattering revelations that come up towards the film’s second act. I’m not exaggerating here: When a certain line was uttered by Harrison during a scene where he is being interrogated by Kirk and Spock the audience I was watching this with gasped in unison, it really is that much of a game-changer. Trekkies will see it coming with hints provided in the scenes preceeding it but that doesn’t detract from the impact it has none-the-less. Suffice to say Cumberbatch absolutely kills it in his role here; he’s ruthless, cunning, physically strong, and nigh-fanatically motivated for reasons that people can probably empathize with. He’s the ‘Achilles Heel’ of Kirk.

EnterprizeThe cinematography is classic J.J Abrams, although the amount of lens flare has been mercifully reduced if not by much. Action sequences involving characters and ships alike are riveting as they are frequent. The final battle in space is nothing short of breathtaking and the resulting crash-to-earth is even more awesome to behold. The vistas on display, from Earth to Kronos (the home world of the Klingons!) are fantastic if somewhat underused at times. The acting is also solid across the board with respectable performances from all involved even if the role of certain staple cast members is lesser this time around.

Unfortunately, not all is sound with Into Darkness. Here is where I really run the risk of spoiling the story but I cannot see any way around it because it is a problem people need to know about. Whilst the plot cruises along nicely for the duration of the first act and for about half of the second act the revelations I previously mentioned, in addition to upping the ante considerably, also hap-hazardly crowbars in elements from a certain popular episode from the original series and from other pre-Next Generation films such as “The Undiscovered Country”. To put it bluntly; the plot kicks into an even higher gear and leaves the writing staff choking on its dust. Those un-savvy with the heavy Trek mythos at work in the film’s second half won’t mind it so much as they will be enjoying the thrill ride but Trekkies will find themselves falling over trying to decipher what on earth Abrams is doing mashing together so many plot threads. It won’t affect everyone in the audience but its’ still something to be aware of, so make sure you’re fully locked in and paying attention during the second half of the film!

star_trek_into_darkness-HDChange and evolution are inevitable parts science, story science by an extension is no different in that department either. Die hard Trek fans kicked up a fuss when J.J Abrams and Paramount rebooted Star Trek and took it in a direction that they said betrayed its’ roots for the sake of attracting a larger audience.

I’m addressing those fans directly now: What you liked about Star Trek as it once was may have been good but it was hardly a crowd pleaser. I’m sorry but I cannot put it any other way, Star Trek was in serious danger of fading out into history after “Nemesis” blighted cinemas. It’s no coincidence that the two most successful Trek films prior to these two Abrams outings, Wrath of Khan and First Contact tuned down the technobabble and subtle philosophy the series was known and loved for by fans but subsequently attracted a much bigger audience and arguably kept the franchise as a whole alive. There are numerous nods and almost-apologetic phrases dotted throughout both of Abrams’ Trek films which seem to both acknowledge and apologize to Trekkies for this very reason but really… what Trekkies held dear just wasn’t working at the box office. If more people like Star Trek as a result of these films they might become more willing to go back and visit the likes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise to experience what you believe they are missing out on.

Besides… doesn’t Star Trek have a particular line for this exact situation?

Final Score: 9/10
+ Fast paced plot that keeps you locked in and eager to see what happens next
+ Benedict Cumberbatch rocks the house as John Harrison
+ Interesting story with an effective moral compass at its center
+ Fantastic action both in space and between characters
+ Franchise shows immense promise for future installments

– Plot is almost TOO fast in the second half of the film and will leave people who aren’t keep rapt attention behind very quickly
– Some characters don’t get a whole lot to do
– Almost certain to rile the feathers of hardcore fans

Although it features a very strong story, action choreography, and performances from its’ cast “Star Trek Into Darkness” suffers from a frantically paced story. However, it still succeeds as both a science fiction film and as an action/thriller film. A must-see for fans and non-fans alike.

2 comments

  1. Hey Dale,

    I am a bit confused, did you like the film or not?! Surely some of the questions you have raised can be answered by the fact that it is set in a parallel univerise where Vulcan has been destroyed?

    Would you really expect Trekkie fans to assume the film would be faithful to the original Star Trek given that no tv shows turned into films are ever 100% true to the story?

    Also, I am not sure what you mean when you say it has been dumbed down for the wider audience? It seemed fairly standard to me given that many times they repaired things by ‘reverse warp polarity’

    1. Hello there Jenny!

      I’ve found that it’s not the issue of canonical consistency that gets on Trekkie’s nerves, it’s that they tend to consider some of the films to not be Star Trek full-stop in terms of story.
      “That pioneer spirit? It’s gone, long gone.” – Robbie Colin from the Daily Telegraph
      That perhaps sums it up better, that’s why Trekkies tend to not like these new films… Arran included!!

      As for the other point, I’ve found that some Star Trek movies have put forward some provocative ideas.
      The Motion Picture delved into Transhumanism.
      Search for Spock lightly explored some religious dogma.
      The Voyage Home (my personal best!) was a fascinating cross-section of the then contemporary American society, the stuff involving Checkov on the USS Enterprise was nothing short of hilarious.
      The Final Frontier, despite being pretentious to an extreme, went heavily into religion by literally looking for god.

      The list goes on and on!
      Whilst what some have been getting out of the two J.J Abrams films is “bad guy wants vengeance and wants to blow shit up, check that lens flare!”

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