Star Trek into Darkness (2013)


Star Trek into Darkness is everything that is wrong with J. J. Abrams.  Occasionally he brings interesting direction and ideas, but it really needs to be tempered by other writers.  His style is either mystery boxes or nostalgia and, since he wasn't able to bring any of his Lost style of writing to the Star Trek reboot, it's nostalgia that is going to take over.  In the first movie that was fine; as I stated in that review, a good portion of Star Trek in any capacity is fan service.  There was a reason Khan was brought back for the second movie after Gene Roddenberry's attempt to make Star Trek: The Motion Picture into his personal 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The problem this time is that the 2009 Star Trek was a perfectly good movie that introduced the Kelvin Universe and a more action-oriented approach.  Most fans were okay with it because it didn't mess with the series they knew and loved, and honestly not having to worry about Trek continuity allowed for a wide range of ideas.  So it is extremely disappointing that, for the second movie in the new series, Abrams decided to rework Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan instead of coming up with new ideas.  

A man named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) uses a cure for man's dying daughter as a bargaining chip to gain entrance to the Starfleet Archive and commits a terrorist bombing.  The result is he is able to get the top Starfleet brass together and attack, killing Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and incurring the wrath of Captain Kirk (Chris Pine).  To avenge Pike's death Kirk agrees to carry out a secret mission for Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), whose daughter Carol (Alice Eve) sneaks on board the Enterprise as a weapons expert.  The mission is to fire a number of torpedoes at an abandoned region of Qonos, the Klingon homeworld, where Harrison is hiding out.

It turns out that Harrison is no other than Khan Noonien Singh, the leader of a number of genetically enhanced humans that were cryogenically frozen and exiled from earth 300 years previous.  Surgically altered to be unrecognizable, Khan was part of a secret Starfleet plan to plan for an upcoming war with the Klingons, but when faced with the threatened death of his compatriots decided to strike back.  Unfortunately, the Khan in the Kelvin Universe is just as vengeful and homicidal as the one in the Prime, and soon Kirk finds himself facing a foe that is almost indestructible.

One of the few problems I had with Star Trek is that the villain was pretty much disposable and dull.  Khan is definitely not that, and Cumberbatch does what he can to bring his interpretation to the character, but he is not Ricardo Montalban.  The sense of duty and honor, combined with homicidal rage, that Montalban brought to the character is missing this time around.  Abrams came under some fire for not hiring an actual Sikh actor to portray the character, but honestly had some reservations about the fact that he's a villain.  While not dull like Nero, whether it be a Sikh actor or not, Khan needed to be a lot more well-rounded than he is here.  Also, the writing for Khan could have been better; fans of Star Trek know the character, so a better path would have been to make Khan an antihero rather than an all-out villain, and make the alternate universe version much more likeable and a true ally with Kirk.  With the audience expecting Khan to be Khan at any time it would have been nice if he turned out to be a decent person after all.

Besides the villain there is another problem.  It wasn't as apparent in the first film because of the conflict between Kirk and Spock, but Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto don't have the same chemistry as William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.  In fact, even the chemistry with DeForest Kelley is missing, as all Karl Urban is allowed to do is spout McCoyisms and not develop the character at all for himself.  When it comes to a key scene between Spock and Kirk it doesn't come across as believable, but rather just a set-up for a famous line to be uttered.  I can't believe that these two, in any way, are actually friends.  Kirk acts like a child, while Spock acts like a nagging wife, and that's about it.  

Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is unfortunately back to being a background character this time around, while little is done with John Cho or Anton Yelchin as Sulu or Chekov, which is about as close as this comes to feeling like actual Star Trek.  Simon Pegg is the only one that actually feels right in his role as Scotty, as he seems to both be channeling Patrick Doohan while making the character his own.  Then, of course, there is Alice Eve as Carol Marcus.  In the Prime Universe, Marcus is Kirk's "could have been," complete with a son that he didn't know existed.  Here she looks petulant when confronting her dad and strips down to her undies.   While Eve had no problem with the scene and was happy to go along with it, the truth is that those who say it was gratuitous are right.  Not that I mind seeing it - she's a very nice looking woman - but it comes at a point in the film where it just stands out like a sore thumb.  It's clumsy and, while it can be defended by all the times Pine shows up without his shirt on, if it happened in an intimate moment with Kirk no one would have cared.  

Structurally, the movie is fine.  The performances, despite my problems with a lack of chemistry and with certain characters not being given the screen time they deserve, are still good.  It's just that this new cast deserves better and, if Kirk and Spock are going to continue to lock horns, it would just be good to write them that way for the future and throw all this "great friendship" stuff to the wind.  It is a different universe, after all, and not everyone has to behave the same as they do in the Prime Universe as long as they don't do anything that outright betrays their characters.  Like in the first the effects are top notch, and I tend to like what's in his Star Trek movies better than his Star Wars prequels.   

Still, fine doesn't cut it in many cases.  While it is true that Star Trek on the big screen needs more action than it does in any of the series, it still needs to have that feel of being Star Trek.  Other than the names and the general design of the Enterprise, nothing here does.  I complained that some of the ship design from The Motion Picture looked like a 1970s airport lounge.  The Enterprise in the new movies looks like it was filmed in a shopping mall after hours.  Everything is too clean and bright and, while the Enterprise for the original series was designed more for how it looked than for actual ship functionality, I can't imagine what type of functionality most of the interior of this Enterprise has.  It is wasted space with everything seemingly polished so that Abrams can get his famous lens flares, with plenty of barely-attached stairwells and platforms just ready to crash the first moment the ship shakes.  The only major improvement I can see is someone finally thought about adding seatbelts. 

It has been said that this is supposed to be Star Trek for people who aren't fans of Star Trek, and supposedly Abrams isn't.  The problem is, I can't see where fans of anything else would be interested in this if it didn't have a big name attached.  It may be enjoyable to watch in parts, but, unlike many of the films that came before it - including the reboot - it is lacking anything resembling a soul.  That's too bad because fans, and the current cast, deserve better. 

Stare Trek into Darkness (2013)
Time: 132 minutes
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Alice Eve, Peter Weller
Director: J. J. Abrams

 

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