Star Trek Into Darkness – 2013
Director J.J. Abrams
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Alice Eve, Peter Weller, Noel Clarke, Nazneen Contractor
Screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof
One of my favorite aspects to the Star Trek reboot (my very first review on this site) was the fearlessness with which they shed the mortal coil of the original timeline and gave themselves a brand new start with a thin, but strong connection to the past. They even had the temerity to destroy the planet Vulcan. Talk about no going back. The end of the first film has the Star Fleet pretty much decimated, but The Enterprise still in one piece. They should be the flagship for new adventures.
Frustratingly, Star Trek Into Darkness ignores these advantages and pretty much leaves The Enterprise hobbled to what lingers in the past. We see what seems to be a mission of an undiscovered planet which is improbably undertaken. Employing useless subterfuge, the crew is left with no option but to violate the prime directive. There is a bunch of exposition that makes it seem like these were the only options, but, come on, it’s Star Trek. Beaming should and could solve most things. The Enterprise did look cool coming out of the ocean, however.
Back at Star Fleet HQ, we see Admiral Pike browbeating and then demoting Kirk, only to give him a chance back on The Enterprise before you realize it has happened. This is just the first plot contrivance, so hang on. Within a couple of shakes, we have Scotty kicked off the ship, a blonde bombshell “science officer” who checks in as okay with the two highest ranking members of the crew to board, and finally The Enterprise broken down in Klingon space. After a purely expository fight with just enough Klingons to kill without starting a war, a clearly superior bad guy gives himself up after hearing some very specific information about the weapons on board Kirk’s ship. Then, once the stowaway is revealed, they put her in charge, along with Bones, of seeing what those bombs are made of. Sounds logical.
Speaking of logic, we find Spock battling with his desires even more this time around, and it’s not entirely clear why. He seemed pretty well centered at the end of the last film. More debate on the good of the one versus the good of the many ensues. Haven’t they covered this stuff before? Although I really don’t want to fault Quinto for it. His Spock is certainly entertaining, even as a whirling dervish of emotion who keeps trying to ignore his human half. The original is still better, but applaud Quinto’s effort.
Pine works the hell out of Kirk this time around. He puts everything he’s got into it it. He looks foolish a lot of the time, but given the road map to his character is Shatner, its still an upgrade. The only thing he lacks that Shatner eventually mastered was subtlety. As the Vulcans say: “…only Nixon could go to China.” He will get there too. In the meantime, he provides the pulse of the story, and because he believes this stuff, no matter how preposterous, we kind of do, too.
Bones is still magnificent. He’s around mainly to throw one liners into the ether. He does this as well as DeForest Kelley ever did. He also manages to show the compassion that we so expect from the cantankerous Doc. Urban is one of the better character actors of our time. Its a shame we won’t see him in RED 2.
Saldona’s Uhura is the biggest single change between the two timelines. This time around, we don’t have to worry about the shame of kissing a black woman on-screen (like there could ever be any shame in kissing Saldona), so they’ve gone inter-special and let ‘er rip. The fight between her and Spock makes as much sense as anything in this plot, and taking her on these away missions doesn’t really detract anything, because she portrays herself so intelligently. I would not mind her in a fight, even if I am not crazy about the Captain and Spock going on the same away missions.
Scotty and Sulu have their moments of solid ingenuity and bravery, even if the former’s happenstance is riddled with coincidence. Sulu as third in command gives credence to both Cho and his predecessor George Takei’s confidence as an eventual leader. Nicholas Pegg’s Scotty is such an inspired character, he feels underused no matter how much screen time they give him.
Chekov, however, is a mess. Yelchin does what he can, but the way Kirk throws his character around in this one lends no credence to either the Captain nor the young Ensign. The only possible explanation for promoting an Ensign to Chief Engineer over, say, the second engineer in charge, is for screen time. Just because one studies something over the summer does not mean they should be placed in charge. Well, unless that person is Tony Stark.
Cumberbatch does as much as he can with a role that is cornered by the past. He may have been even more interesting if they had not chained him down with clever twists and instead given him more of an unleashed feel. As soon as one knows who John Harrison is, though, they are no longer wondering what will happen. They know what has to happen and hope that the film makers will be clever enough to avoid retracing better, more original steps.
Having Spock scream, however, was the worst. It gives one pause when they realize that Abrams said he was not a Trekkie when he took the reigns of the franchise. It’s not enough that they had him do it, but they really had not given him a precedent for why he would do it. If he did not do it when his planet was destroyed, why now?
Of course the viewer would love to scream at this point. We’ve seen enough apparently useless information spewed forth to realize what our smart, logical Vulcan is not allowed to realize, and the result is cheapening. It cheapens the sacrifices, the reactions and the chase. Why would one go after a man, when they have what he wants? Even more, he’s already given up once for it.
All of this takes away from a movie that is still quite entertaining. Even though our characters are abused by coincidence and irony more than in any Thomas Hardy novel, they still are good at what they do. They are not aping the behavior of their counterparts. They are living it. The visual effects are astounding, unsurpassed by any Trek film and on par with Star Wars.
What are we left with? Is the visual feast and the camaraderie enough to override the silly plot that is too clever for is own good? Why the heck are we treading over familiar ground, with these twists, when the last film set us up to beat out-of-town and go for broke? The work of Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof has been subject to criticism before, but this time it feels like they played it a bit safe. They made the characters work really hard to ignore the obvious to do it. There is a lot of talk at various points about The Enterprise being selected for the “five-year mission.” Silly me, I thought they had already taken off. Seems like they were stuck in port all along.
(***1/2 out of *****)