Star Trek Into Darkness

movie posterIn one of those rare occurrences, like an eclipse or Haley’s Comet, I saw a movie in the theatre. Fate conspired to get my but into a cinema seat for Star Trek Into Darkness.

In brief: this is a fun movie but seemed kind of cold to me, lacking the emotional core and ideas the best Star Trek movies bring to the screen. If you enjoyed J. J. Abrams last outing for Star Trek, you’ll probably enjoy this. I would recommend seeing this movie.

It’s hard to go into details regarding the movie’s failings without bringing in spoilers. As this is a review while the movie is in the theatres – which is not something I commonly do – I’m going to try to avoid those, so some of my criticisms may seem vague. There’s a reason for that.

To start with the positive, this was an exciting movie, and the actors portraying the Enterprise crew delivered. I believed in these characters. There was never a moment with the Enterprise crew where I saw acting. No, I saw Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest up there on the screen. That in itself was awesome. And these aren’t just carbon copies of the TOS characters. Sure, Karl Urban is basically channeling DeForest Kelly (which, honestly, is about my favourite part of these movies), but Kirk and Sulu in particular have diverged, in my mind, from their TOS inspiration.

And I must say that Noel Clarke (Mickey from Doctor Who) was honestly astounding without saying a word. Grief, resignation, regret, all there in his face and in his eyes.

Benedict Cumberbatch brought to the screen exactly what I expected him to bring to the screen. Pure. Unadulterated. Brilliance. I don’t think anyone was surprised by that, but it’s a tough job to play the uber-superior villain while maintaining at least some minor hint of vulnerability. I think putting him up there on the screen may have helped to push this movie above Star Trek on “the list.” Did his presence help force everyone else to bring their “A game?” It’s possible. He was the brightest point of this movie.

Do I need to tell you the action is awesome? Okay, I will. The action is awesome. If you are starving for sci fi action-adventure, this is a feast. The pace of the movie, once it gets going, is relentless. The plot keeps movie forward, hitting one set-piece after another. All of them so amazing up there on that big screen.

But, unfortunately – and here we get into the criticisms – after watching the movie, I began to wonder if the action was so relentless in an attempt to hide the weakness of the story. The worst part was that some of the problems were evident during the movie, meaning that the relentless action didn’t entirely paper over the cracks. It’s tough to point some things about, but a deus ex machine escape device is used only once, and no explanation of why it could not be used over again. The villain’s “lair” also made no sense, unless it was done to bring in an Easter egg situation. And a massive project is completed in what seemed an exceptionally short period of time, apparently without alerting Starfleet Command.

While the acting in general was excellent, I’m afraid I didn’t buy Peter Weller or Alive Eve. In quiet moments, Weller did fine, but there were points where he started getting bombastic. The choice kind of fits the movie, since this is a big, broad action movie whose plot does not bear scrutiny, but stacked up against the other performances, it was nails on chalkboard annoying for me.

Alice Eve’s character proved almost entirely empty. There were two specific uses for the character, one of which could have been provided by some other plot device, so I can’t say she was entirely superfluous, but the character brought almost nothing to the table. Given that this was one of two main female characters in the movie, turning her into a cipher in underwear seems unwelcome at best. This character, like most of the others in the move, is an adaptation of an existing Star Trek character, and boy was there something lost in translation.

And while Uhura gets her moment to shine, she is mostly Spock’s girlfriend in this movie. That leaves us with no strong female characters. Keeping, perhaps, with the source material, but if you can update the SFX, can’t you update the gender roles?

Finally, though frankly least important for me, this isn’t really a Star Trek movie. Now, I’ve heard others argue that TOS was not as cerebral as many claim, but I find that argument weak. In offering up the best episodes, I consistently hear “City on the Edge of Forever” and “Amok Time.” Listen, kids, if you want to argue TOS was basically action-adventure, you really need to find episodes with more action and less focus on characters and ideas. Even “Balance of Terror,” which was put forward as an action-adventure episode, certainly has a quotient for combat and action, but it’s like calling All Quiet on the Western Front an action-adventure because it’s set in wartime. Even the inspiration for the episode, arguably The Enemy Below, is more about characters and cunning than explosions and gunfire.

So, to me, Star Trek is about ideas first. It had to be exciting – it was a TV series – but that was not at its core. The core of STID (little bit close to STD . . .) is action. This is an action movie with SFX and the plot and ideas are there to drive the action, not the other way around. This is why, to me, STID and 2009’s Star Trek failed to live up to their titles. These are fun, fluffy, sci-fi action movies, but they are not Star Trek movies. But that honestly doesn’t lower my opinion of them. These are adaptations. These are J. J. Abrams’ vision of what is important, for him, in TOS. We disagree on that point, but he makes fun movies that look awesome and entertain.

And, really, that’s the final word on this and its predecessor. These are fun movies. Yes, they are flawed, and some of those flaws might be annoying, but the fun factor definitely overrides any such annoyance. These are movies I’ll watch again and purchase on DVD (or blu-ray, if I ever get a player).

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