Thursday, May 30, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness review

     Star Trek: Into Darkness is a movie I have had some trepidation about watching due to the fact that I'm a big Star Trek fan. You can see it in the name of my website. I really liked Star Trek's reboot under JJ Abrams but I also think it was roughly as substantial as a doughnut. It's all powdered sugar and sweet bread, no real substance. Which isn't bad. Mindless entertainment has its place.

   The thing about Star Trek, I love the series, but it was on its last legs due to a series of medicore serials and unfortunate misteps. I liked Enterprise but it was clear the writers had no idea what they wanted to do with the series. Likewise, Star Trek: Nemesis was a half-finished jumble of ideas with nothing behind it. This is in addition to the damning with faint praise I have for Star Trek: Voyager, which never really rose above okay.
ST:ID continues the fine Trek movie tradition of kicking the **** out of the Enterprise.
    So how does Star Trek: Into Darkness measure up?

    Pretty well, except it's now a doughnut with a glass of orange juice as opposed to just a doughnut. There's very-very mild social satire in the movie and that elevates it above the previous one but the movie never stops to breathe long enough for the ramifications to sink in. It's literally not until the final speech we even get the movie's opinion on terrorism.

    The problem with ST:ID isn't that it's a bad movie or has poor world-building, it's one of the most evocatively realized settings I've seen out of big-screen science fiction in a long time. My main issue is that it's a very smart movie which doesn't have much confidence in the story it's telling. A surprisingly good script is buried under whiz-bang action and never-ending fanservice. I, honestly, believe the movie would have been better if they'd deleted all of the callbacks from the final half-hour of the movie and stuck with the original plot they'd created.
I'd complain that Trek isn't about attractive women in skimpy outfits but then I'd be forced to choke down my own laughter.
     Still, I can't be too hard on this movie because of two factors:

    1. I was never bored.
    2. The movie had a surprisingly uplifting message for the Post-War on Terror United States.

    Much like Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness is pretty anti-War on Terror. Our heroes are struck hard by the character of John Harrison but the film depicts Kirk's knee-jerk desire for reprisal to be objectively wrong. In fact, violence of any sort causes repeated problems for our heroes (even in self-defense). Only once or twice in the movie does it do them any real good and that's when it's coupled with thinking.

Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing in this film, oozing menace even during scenes straight from Silence of the Lambs.
    The performances in the movie are a good deal better than the original and I didn't think any of those were bad. The actors were more comfortable in their roles and able to stand on their own rather than dwelling in their predecessor's shadow. Chris Pine's Kirk isn't the most likable of characters, especially when he commits crimes which never would be tolerated in any profession let alone Starfleet, but you can't say he's not a distinct character from Bill Shatner's Kirk.

     Zachary Quinto's Spock is a little less authoritative in this movie, which seems to come from his realization Kirk is his only friend in the world (not counting Uhura). It's an interesting change and plays up the rivalry between Kirk and Spock in this setting. Sadly, that leaves Karl Urban less to do as McCoy. One of McCoy's major roles in the game was to be Kirk's voice of conscience as well as Spock's rival. With those roles split between Spock and Kirk, he mostly exists to re-hash classic lines.

     Oddly, my favorite performance from the movie was Peter Weller's Admiral Marcus. The years have not been kind to Mister Weller, who looks more like Robocop than any man should, yet this only lends credence to the idea he's a Starfleet Admiral who has seen more than most. He strikes me as one of the few characters capable of putting Kirk in his place. I wish his role in the movie had been larger.

    In conclusion, I really enjoyed this movie and recommend people see it. This isn't entirely a movie where it's best to turn your brain off but it's close.


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