Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

What are Star Wars and Star Trek fans gonna argue about now that the franchises share the same director?  Can you just imagine how it would go?

"The last Star Trek movie had superior direction than Episode VII.  Ugh, and those lense flares on the lightsabers!  Are you kidding me?"

"Um...weren't they directed by the same guy?"

"Oh yeah..."

J.J. Abrams, uniting geeks since 2015.

It's really weirding me out that there's no colon in the title of Star Trek Into Darkness.  Shouldn't there be a colon between Star Trek and Into Darkness?  Otherwise, isn't the title saying that they are taking a trek, based in the stars, into darkness.  And what kind or darkness?  Space is dark, or do they mean darkness as in emotional tone?  I don't know why I'm hung up on that.

If you've been following my blog at all, or just look at my online name, it won't be a surprise to you that I'm not a huge Trekkie.  I didn't get into Trek until The Next Generation, which I loved.  I've also watched a fair amount of the more recent shows like Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise, but I never really got into the Original Series.  Even the films featuring the original crew I've only seen once or twice each.  I understood the characters and the relationships, but I always felt like the Original Series and crew was a little before my time.

I was one of the guys that embraced the reboot and changes made in 2009's Star Trek.  I thought it was a good way to introduce Star Trek to the mainstream and a new generation, while still showing some respect to the Original Series.  In some ways I enjoyed Into Darkness even more than the previous film.  I didn't have to spend any time accepting a new cast or wrapping my head around the fact that it's set in an alternate timeline.  I was able to just sit back and enjoy the movie for what it is, and for most of the film that worked for me.  However, many things happen in the second half that really detracted from the film, and not just from a Star Trek perspective, but from a general storytelling one.

I can't really get into the plot too much without spoilers, but I will say that if you've been following the rumors about what Into Darkness was going to be about, I can say that much of what I heard was true, to varying degrees.

Everyone is back for another adventure.  This time the crew is responsible for tracking down a terrorist that has committed several attacks against the Federation.  This terrorist is a rogue Starfleet member named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).  He's retreated to Kronos, the Klingon homeworld.  Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) tasks Kirk (Chris Pine) and the Enterprise to hunt him down, even though this may risk full on war with the Klingons.  This manhunt, as well as travelling so close to Klingon territory isn't something that sits well with several members of the crew.

Without revealing anything, they do a twist on a familiar Trek story, but I felt that many of these elements were totally forced.  Even if you weren't aware of any internet rumors or spoilers, the film has few surprises.  This will be especially true if you're familiar with the previous Star Trek film Into Darkness mostly references.

Another thing that really bugged me about the story is that they setup a climax that's supposed to have all this emotional significance, but a previous scene in the film has already let you know that what you're watching is not going to have any real consequence.  Knowing this takes all the impact out of it, and you could feel that the audience wasn't really affected by this either.  They should have been moved by it.  Another twist in the film is spoiled simply by having Peter Weller playing the role.  This isn't Weller's fault, but he's become one of those actors that when you see him in a role, you kind of have him pegged.  I didn't find these things plot holes (there are a few though), as much as just telegraphed storytelling.  It doesn't completely ruin the movie for me, but the more I think about certain plot elements, the more they bug me.

Plus, with shoehorning these familiar Trek elements into it, it takes away from this being original.  Why go through the trouble of rebooting Star Trek and going in a different direction if you're just going to spend a good portion of your second movie doing fan-service to previous stories?  The sad part is that until we get about halfway through the film, it still felt like it was going for something original.

Even though the story was a bit of a disappointment, I wasn't disappointed at all with the look of the film or the action.  J.J. Abrams certainly knows how to make an action packed film that's filled with great effects and is never boring to look at.  There are some great sequences throughout the film and it doesn't let up for a minute.  People have joked for a while that when he made Star Trek he really just made a Star Wars film, and now it's clear that he really is ideally suited for Episode VII.  I can't wait to see what he does with it now.

Seriously, this is only a slight exaggeration this time around.
The 3D is actually good for a change.  I saw this in RPX and this is an example of where I thought it enhanced my enjoyment of the film.  I just heard that 30 minutes of this was shot in IMAX, so even though I didn't see it in IMAX, I'd recommend seeing it in that format if it's available to you.  Oh yeah, this movie's got lense flares galore.

Another strength is that it does have some very funny dialog.  The cast still has great chemistry, and that's holding these films together.  I was a little surprised by how much people say "shit" in the future though.  You'd think we would have phased that out by then.

While in the last film, I thought Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and especially Bones (Karl Urban) had their moments, I felt like this time the real standouts were Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Spock (Zachary Quinto).  Simon Pegg in particular is a total scene stealer.  I also enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch's performance even though there were many things about his character that bugged me.  I wasn't quite sold on Chris Pine this time around though.  While I really liked him in the first film, I had a harder time buying into some of the scenes where he was trying to be intense and angry.  I think some of this comes from how the characters were written though.  The motivations of both Kirk and Harrison weren't consistent for me.

As far as summer blockbusters go, there's a lot to like about Star Trek Into Darkness.  If you're a fan of the last Star Trek or sci-fi action in general, then it delivers on exactly what you're expecting.  However, if you're a Trekkie, your mileage may vary, especially in the third act where even a non-Trekkie like myself had issues with some of the forced plot elements.  Still though, it has great effects, tons of fast-paced action and enough funny moments to please those looking for a good time at the movies.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

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