A Droid Premiere – Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
I may be the last guy who should review a Star Trek movie. I’ve never seen an episode of any of the TV series, and I’ve only seen one pre-reboot film, which was called ‘Star Trek Generations’. I saw that borefest in the worst possible setting. A midnight movie marathon. So my first instinct is to leave a review of the latest Trek in the hands of someone more knowledgeable. Wolf, I’m looking at you. But having thought about it, I’ve decided that maybe I’m the best person to review the film. I’ll explain why in a second…
The crew of the USS Enterprise are young, dumb and full of… beans. Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) doesn’t give a stuff about rules or “Prime Directives”. He’s a brash, selfish, free thinking, do what he wants, when he wants punk. But when the Starfleet comes under attack by John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a superhuman rogue Starfleet agent with a suspiciously bland name, Kirk gets taken down a peg or two. To defeat the baddies, he must learn that humility and selflessness must co-exist alongside brawn and bravado. Do your daddy proud, young Jim.
‘Into Darkness’ isn’t an easy film to summarise, because there are numerous characters with ulterior motives. You’ll know them when you see them, because they’re all new. All the cast from the 2009 reboot return, and none besides Kirk and Spock are given a great deal to do. I kind of feel a little sorry for Star Trek fans. I never “got it”. But I understand why people love it. It melds geek fantasy (adventure, space travel, ray guns, sex) with mildly highbrow philosophical storytelling. At least this is how I’ve conjured it up in my head. Then came 2009 and a reboot. In charge of said reboot was a guy who, in the space of a decade or so, had risen (and would continue to rise and rise and rise) to become one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. I’m not sure exactly how he’s done it, but JJ Abrams is everywhere.
So JJ is a powerful guy, and he’s been given the task of reinventing Star Trek for the gadget generation. Money’s thrown at him left, right and centre. He’s gathered up a pretty good cast. Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg etc etc. These guys are solid. And better yet, he’s found a somewhat convoluted way to appease the Trekkies. He’s not overwriting what has come before, but instead he’s invented an alternate timeline for his brand of Star Trek. But the problem, and it’s a doozy, is that JJ is just like me. He doesn’t “get” Star Trek. By his own admittance, he’s never been interested in it. He was always a ‘Star Wars’ kid. And it shows. ‘Into Darkness’ is a film made by a guy who seems bored. Not bored of making ‘Star Trek’ films, but bored of the need to adhere to the implied Star Trek “DNA”. He’s, at best, a half Trekkie. He’s a geek who loves adventure, space travel, ray guns and sex, but appears to hold absolute disdain for any and all “thinking man’s” science-fiction storytelling.
‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ isn’t a particularly bad film. But I personally think it’s a particularly bad Star Trek film. Mainly because it’s not really a Star Trek film. It’s a non-stop, slam-bam-wham action fest with a Star Trek façade, specifically designed to hold the attention of kids who will light up their phone to text or facebook or tweet the moment the foot eases off the accelerator. Apart from one scene late in the film, ‘Into Darkness’ just does not let up. There is nary a moment’s peace. And it’s loud. So, very, very loud. Every sound effect is ramped up to 11. You know when you were in high school and everyone in class was talking amongst themselves and the only way to for the teacher to get your attention was to slam a text book on a desk, creating a thunderous clap? Well, imagine that every 4 seconds and you’ve got the effect this film is going for. Perish the thought that the audience would like to see some actual character development. I’d sure hate to get bored.
There is no greater example I can give as to how little JJ trusts his audience as the scene where Kirk gets demoted. He’s been stripped of his captaincy, and ordered back to the academy due to his reckless behaviour and insubordination. But the film doesn’t want to bother with anything as potentially dull as watching Kirk prove himself worthy and earn his place back on the Enterprise. It’s literally the next scene when Kirk is promoted back to First Officer. And, I kid you not, he’s reinstated as Captain in the very next scene after that. There isn’t even a scene where he’s down and out. It’s Scene # 2, Kirk is demoted. Scene # 3, Kirk is promoted to First Officer. Scene # 4, Starfleet is attacked, Kirk is promoted to Captain. ‘Into Darkness’ is made by a guy who simply isn’t interested in the characters.
I did say earlier that ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ wasn’t a bad film overall. So moving on from the negative ramblings, what’s to like about it? Well, the obvious starting place is Benedict Cumberbatch. This guy is quality. I never would’ve considered him a good choice for a superhuman, head-crushing, all conquering villain, mainly because he seems so lanky and uncoordinated, but I’m happy to admit that I was wrong. The guys a very good actor, no surprises there, but he handles the action scenes pretty well. He’s assisted by a lot of CG and wirework and all that Hollywood dream factory stuff, but nevertheless he makes a memorable bad guy and a distinct character. Pine and Quinto work well together and they seem to be trying hard to cram character development into the corners of the non-stop action, and Simon Pegg is amusing in an otherwise humourless film. Poor Karl Urban is stuck with a character who’s lines always begin with “Dammit, I’m a doctor not a…” and even poorer Anton Yelchin is stuck with an inexplicable accent and nothing else to do.
Some of the action is well done, as in the opening scene where Spock has to venture in to an erupting volcano. There is also a good sequence (reminiscent of Dead Space) where Kirk has to shoot himself across space from one ship to another, dodging debris. And the sequence showing just how capable a warrior John Harrison is, is very entertaining. But the scenes towards the end, where the Enterprise has lost power and is freefalling into Earth’s atmosphere, as well as Spock’s showdown with Harrison, are overdone. The showdown in particular is utterly ridiculous, where a CGI Spock jumps around, impervious to laws of physics. These last few sequences also suffer simply because the very nature of the film takes its toll. The whole film is wall to wall action spectacle and it becomes tiresome to watch. It doesn’t help that I wasn’t very invested in any of the characters. But the film doesn’t really care about that.
If you like your ‘Star Trek’ big and loud, or just like spectacle for the sake of it, ‘Into Darkness’ may be just your thing. But as an outsider looking in, I just don’t see how this film would satisfy a true fan of the brand. I’m going to give the film two ratings…
For die hard Trekkies…
For normal people who just want to see stuff blow up real good…