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…
Heh…that does not surprise me…being so non-trek like.
It sure doesn’t seem like it to me. I am curious to hear what people who actually like Star Trek a lot think of it.
The first reboot wasn’t exactly trek like either.
True. But this is the reboot x2.
isn’t the kid that plays Chekhov Russian?
In real life? No idea. But in these movies he has an accent that would put Herkermer Homolka to shame.
I haven’t the least interest in dork trek.
But, I can hear some hardcore Almadan bleating about this.
I doubt you’d get much out of this.
Hmm. I like spectacle for the sake of it. Also, explosions. And Benedict Cumberbatch was excellent as Sherlock Holmes.
I dare say you will like this then. Mucho splosions. Agree about Cumberbatch. Guys a good actor.
Needs giants warwick davis
Wouldn’t a giant warwick davis just make him a regular sized warwick davis?
In relation to trek….there would have been a wormhole whereby the giant Warwick came through. Hence the pocket size Warwick, our Warwick, would still exist. Our world will have the power of W2.
Or we could already have the giant-size Warwick….and someone stole our mini-Warwick.
I think it’s a very real possibility that our Warwick is a giant robot. Like the robots in Pacific Rim, he’s being piloted by tiny aliens who built him for the purpose of conquering earth. Only to discover, once they had arrived, that they had grossly miscalculated the robots scale.
Dunno whether this cheers you up or not, but the Guardian agree with you about this not being Star Trek.
No. It doesn’t.
Good review Droid. I disagree on this one though. I actually really enjoyed it as a bit of charming –and sort of brainless–space opera. The story is ridiculous, the spectacle relentless, but I do enjoy this crew and ultimately like trajectory of this tale more than the last one. ST redo didn’t gain much traction around here, but I thought it was a reasonably fun entry, and this one is better. Credit to Abrams, he adopts the whiz-bang pace and event because it’s the only thing one can do in the face of the wormhole size plotholes in the Kurtzman-Orci script.
I like your point about the fans vs the faithful, but I have some thoughts of my own about that. I’ve always maintained that ST has never been as brainy or sci-fi thoughtful as its adherents would like to beleive. In fact, the movie the nerds adore is Wrath of Khan, and it’s a deliberate attempt to turn away from the only hard sci-fi entry of the film series and deliver a pulpy Napoleonic naval battle movie in space. None of the ST original crew films (which i know you haven’t seen) are really much about science fiction, save agian for the first one that is largely deemed unsuccessful. I suppose part V was envisioned as science fiction, but somewhere it fell down the Shathole.
The original series was pure pulp, and no less silly than anything we see here. For instance, there were wizard castles with giant cats in them, Kirk fought an intergalactic dinosaur in hand-to-hand combat, and one ep found them joining forces with Honest Abe to defeat an alien warrior. The follow-up series relied upon a more seemingly brainy, character-driven approach because they simply didn’t have the budget. All along the series trajectory, it’s never demonstrated an integrity of ideas that would suggest that it wouldn’t have gone this way if it could have.
A lot of the ire I see is not from Star Trek fanboys persay, but from fanboys who adore a certain particular film–that was never as great as they ever thought it was–and are taking offense at that.
Anyways, good review, and I get where you are coming from, even though I don’t agree.
Also, exhausted by action again? You are becoming an old man….Reminds of the time Roger Ebert responded to Siskel’s complaint that The Rock physically and emotionally exhausted him and he was panning it, by saying ‘Well I guess I went in better rested…’
TO be fair too, I saw this on a positively epic day of screenings, sandwiched in between Kon Tiki (quite good) and Before Midnight (great), so STD had the advantage of being in the middle of two very good movies and also being a bit of counter-programming at the same time.
Saw the Before Midnight trailer last night. Gave me the warm and fuzzies. I comes out in June here I think.
Fair enough. I admit I am utterly ignorant when it comes to this. But I maintain that the film is an empty vessel. I am becoming an old man when it comes to these movies, but then again, I don’t think movies of 5/10/15 etc etc years ago were this relentless. Hell, even Speed slowed down to get to know the characters. I know absolutely nothing more about any of the characters in Star Trek than I did prior to seeing the new one.
Damn kids. Get off my lawn!
I actually enjoyed the characterization of Kirk and Spock, and yes I know the basic beats are obvious and that it doesn’t slow down to let anything sink in, but in truth I think there’s more layering in their relationship and what Abrams does with it then there were in many of the older ones. It could have been a great movie, and I’m not arguing it is, but it was a great entertainment.
For me though, I look at all these things as roughly the same before walking in: IM3, Fast and Furious 6, this. They are bread and circus movies and IM3 was a bit mild in that regard, STD was solid but unremarkable, and FF6 is like someone shot a wad of steroids out of a flaming cannon into a nitroglycerin factory.
The characters just aren’t interesting, and there isn’t much of an attempt to make them so. Now, go with me here, but I think a lot of the reason has to do with the pressure to make Star Trek appeal to the international market. ST has never been as popular OS at it has in the states. So what they’ve done is essentially dilute it down to base themes and made it a odd-couple buddy pic with relentless action and direct, simplified dialogue that is easy to translate or subtitle. It’s not just the dumbing down of ST, it’s the dumbing down of Hollywood films in general that is becoming tiresome.
I see what you are saying, and yes, it’s mostly a movie where we watch movie stars playing against special effects. To that tune, Star Trek has been ‘dumbed down’ for many, many years. I thought the movie was true to the central characters–unfortunately downsizing Bones, Uhura and Scotty, but ultimately retaining what the initial reboot promised: the jazzy action version.
It’s probably just as well you reviewed this as I’m currently displaying little inclination to go near a cinema.
Still, having sat through Generations, Insurrection & Nemesis in the not too distant past I can safely say non-stop bedlam in a Star Trek film sounds like heaven to me.
Good stuff, Droid.
If that’s what you’re after, this one will deliver, Wolf. Have at it.
I agree w Jonah Bart on this one, by and large, though the whole sequence aping Mr Corinthian Leather’s movie down to entire scenes and character arcs, made me roll my eyes. But the movie Is good, I liked the tandem Adam Strange nod and was quite entertained thruout. Had a yappy row of fanboys behind me I wanted to dump buckets of Portland Lager on though. Fucking Harold clones.
I sawr it. I liked it even though it was stupid with lazy writing and plotholes galore – but not as bad as the first. The Khan references only bothered be at the end because of the too obvious way it was going to be resolved. Tribbles
Cunts like that put me off going to the cinema.
This movie is fucking terrible. It doesn’t have the temerity to be a half-decent space opera, the narrative has leaps that make no sense whatsoever (eg the aforementioned Kirk gets demoted/re-promoted/promoted again in 10 mins) and it’s a movie made with utter disdain for the franchise it purportedly wants to resurrect. And the fucker is heading over to skullfuck STAR WARS next.
JJ Abrams is a pox upon cinema for anyone who wants to watch something that makes sense, and this movie was utter, utter shite.
This is why I chose to give it two ratings. If I was a Trekkie I’d really hate it.
Not a fan, Spud?