Synopsis: After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.
Before we get started on reviewing the actual film I feel I need to start with a disclaimer.
It’s been 4 days since I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness, the long awaited and anticipated follow up to JJ Abrams’s 2009 franchise re-boot. Four days from viewing to writing is the longest gap of any movie I have seen.since starting Hooray For Movies. The problem has been knowing how to write about such a divisive fan movie, or more accurately how to add any value to the discussion.
It’s the same reason I don’t write about Star Wars.
You see I’ve never really been a fan of Star Trek. The Original Series has kitsch value and I know important key points in the history of the franchise that have had an impact on other shows since. Fundamentally, if you want to quantify my knowledge; I get most, but not all, of the Futurama Trek references.
It is only my unnatural love for pop culture that gives me some grounding in the lore of the show without really ever having seen an entire episode from start to finish. While this gives me a base knowledge and allows me to appreciate some of the in-jokes and nods to the original series/movies there is a whole internet full of people far more invested in the lore of Trek that can, and have developed, much more interesting and articulate views on this newest entry into the franchise.
So with that in mind this review is written from the perspective of a JJ Abrams fan. A film fanatic. Not a Trek fanatic.
On with the review then.
Out of the blocks I want to say this: Star Trek: Into Darkness has a heap of tropes and plot holes you could fly a very large spaceship through. It is flawed. Yet, it is also, along with Iron Man 3, the most fun I have had at the cinema this year.
As you would expect from Abrams the film is a cut above the rest of it’s action peers and counterparts and is, ultimately, great popcorn fun. The great thing about Abrams is that he is both a fan-boy and a film geek. He knows the importance of recognising the lore and history of a franchise like Star Trek. With that in mind there are smatterings of nods to Wrath of Khan and TOS to let everyone know he is a fan at heart. He also recognises, though, that there are ultimately more film fans than Star Trek fans and as such a balance needs to be struck. Understandably there are Trek fans who have dedicated terabytes of server space to picking holes in Abrams’s handling of the Khan storyline and other technical issues. But no-one wants to a fan Trek film apart from Trek fans because it would be very dull indeed.
Damon Lindelof and I have a testy relationship. I liked Lost, for which he wrote more episodes than anyone, although for reasons too long and boring to go into here I never finished it (I know, minus geek points for me). However, I HATED PROMETHEUS SOOOOOOOOOO MUCH (my essay on why I hate Prometheus so much is here http://wp.me/p32hec-m2). He seemingly has a great gift for broad narrative strokes but struggles with nuance, detail and dialogue. Essentially he is a great treatment writer. Star Trek then is a pure Lindelof script; fantastic broad strokes story, and purely entertaining as long as you don’t stop to think about it for too long. Otherwise you start going “wait a minute………what?”.
Unlike Prometheus (arrrrghhhhh) though Lindelof nailed the fizz of the dialogue that made the first one so enjoyable. One of the reasons I never really got into the TV shows, particularly Next Generation, was the dialogue always seemed soooooooo hackneyed. Abrams and his writers though recognised though that the dynamics between Kirk, Spock and Bones in particular were ripe for the sort of snappy back and forth dialogue that the likes of Shane Black had made so popular in the 90’s.
Occasionally it still falls into irritating, soulless exposition. This is particularly true of Alice Eve’s dialogue which is awwwwful. Unfortunately she is the weakest addition to a great cast that could really grow with the next few installments (lets’ be honest, this is going to stretch to 4 or 5). I couldn’t tell if this was poor acting on her part, a badly written character or bit of both but her presence felt like a distraction. It was as if some bright spark at the studio said
“hmmmmmm Zoe Saldana is hot and all but this place feels like a sausage factory…….got it. Hot blonde. Can we write in a hot blonde character? She doesn’t need to be well rounded or anything. But she will need to take off her clothes for no apparent reason”.
Yes, that scene which has gotten so much attention that Lindelof was compelled to issue an explanation and apology via Twitter (as covered by Huffington Post and others here). For a writer to come out so soon after and say that a scene was “gratuitous” is both as surprising as it is refreshing. Particularly as the scene was more dumb than gratuitous and that Lindelof seems to be shouldering the blame for something that a lot of other people had a hand in before it got to screen. You all know the scene; in the trailer Alice Eve is standing in the most unnatural and uncomfortable looking pose in her underwear. It is so unnatural in fact that you assume it has been taken out of context for the pleasure of internet points. Where it is in fact as weird in context.
At the end of the day while he wrote the script Abrams had to shoot it and edit it. I can’t imagine Lindelof was screaming to keep it in as an integral plot point. It in fact had no purpose other than to have a blonde in her pants for a split second. It seems like Abrams should be shouldering that one.
I think it is only right that as I am talking about it to put in a picture, but in the interest of equality here it is next to a picture of Walter White in terrible underwear.
The returning cast are all great. In particular the chemistry between Chris Pine’s Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock fizzles, contrasting the gut decision making of the Captain and his logical to a fault best friend. Both were excellent casting choices in the first film and seem to be comfortable finding their groove in Into Darkness.
However it is Benedict Cumberbatch who barrels in and blows everyone away as ***SPOILER*** Khan. It is a character, particularly as a Brit, that in lesser hands would have been dialled up to 10 and much chewing would have ensued. With Cumberbatch though he exudes malevolence and Machiavellianism and never lets you rest on your laurels as to what side of the coin he will ultimately land on. He is one of Britain’s finest and this will undoubtedly cement his Hollywood credentials. Along with James McAvoy, Martin Freeman and Michael Fassbender, Cumberbatch is part of a new British/Irish revolution proving that you don’t have to ham it up to make it in LaLaLand.
Of the rest of the returning cast Karl Urban’s Bones gets the most screentime and focus and it feels like he is making the most of it, delivering every line like he has watched TOS on a loop. I was also glad that while Simon Pegg’s Scotty remained the ultimate comic relief, that he was given some moments of emotive exposition as well. Zoe Saldana as Uhura felt underused, as did Anton Yelchin’s Chekov. But at the end of the day there is only so much screen time to go around.
Ultimately, as much as the film is about big set pieces and loud noises, often the most poignant moments are those when JJ Abrams stops for breath and allows a conversation to take place without something exploding. Saying that one particular such conversation takes place while a volcano is exploding. One of the highlights is the moment that Cumberbatch reveals he is Khan and recalls how he came to be who he is. I genuinely felt my tear ducts well up. My emotions were most logical.
It did let itself down though in the final 20 minutes with a set piece that lacked the required tension and was driven by a plot hole so incredibly dumb that I am going to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume I missed something fundamental. Overall though this is the second best blockbuster so far of a summer that is jam packed with them. Bring on Man of Steel.
Conclusion: The difficult second film, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a breathless trip that wants to distract you from it’s flaws with huge ships, big explosions and awkward underwear scenes. And it works. A close second to Iron Man 3. Star Wars fans should be excited.
Director: JJ Abrams – No description necessary. But if you require one; King of Lens Flare
Writer: Damon Lindelof – Lost collaborator and writer of Prometheus (shudder…for those of you unaware my hatred of that movie is documented in detail here http://wp.me/p32hec-m2)
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Alice Eve, Peter Weller