Sunday, June 2, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) - dir. J.J. Abrams

Oh my god people...It's finally here!

2009 seems like it was yesterday. Global markets were in freefall, Taylor Swift told the world a love story, and Amanda Bynes was years from her first relapse. However this year Hollywood had something special brewing. No not James Cameron's over-inflated ego, this was a film straight from the genius of J.J. Abram's mystery box, the long awaited reboot of the beloved Star Trek series. Critically acclaimed and a smash at the box office, Star Trek gave a breath of fresh air to a stale franchise, and more importantly showed the success that comes from Hollywood investing in visionary talent to produce exceptional entertainment. Now after 5 LONG years in the development wilderness the wait is finally over, and J.J. Abrams has delivered a sequel in Star Trek Into Darkness. And boy was this worth the wait.

Caution: There will be spoilers...

There aren't rocks big enough to hide from this movie's twists.

The intro recalls Raiders of the Lost Ark in the 23rd Century 
Now I could spend this review detailing the various aspects of the narrative and plot, however even by watching the trailer I bet you could guess how this films plays out. Set pieces, part procedural, revenge plot, explosions, end. However like its predecessor, and a class of other contemporary blockbusters from modern auteurs (such as Sam Raimi, Jon Favreau, Zach Snyder, Joss Whedon and Christopher Nolan), Into Darkenss  gives the pretense of a by the books summer tent pole film whilst exploring great plot and character complexities to great effect.

Into Darkness as the title suggests follows the dark trajectory as set by it's predecessor. And whilst it's hard to top the destruction of one of the series most iconic races (I teared up), this film treads deep touching on the darkness of death and loss. It is during an Indiana Jones-esque opener that the Enterprise crew have a very close brush with death. The scene is rife with danger, Spock is in the cradle of a volcano, Kirk torn between rescuing a friend and the constraints of his training as an officer (so much hate for the Prime directive these days). Though he chooses the former, this sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the film for both Spock and Kirk. For our favorite half Vulcan, we call into question his very friendship with the crew, for who would so readily embrace death without thought of those it would effect? As for Kirk, it shows just the reckless abandon he would pursue for his friends, even if it conflicts with his duties and principles. Seeing this opening scene just opened a huge array of possibilities for the film to pursue, and it was the introduction of the best new character in the franchise that this film managed to do itself justice.

In comes Benedict Cumberbatch, as a man fans of the franchise will all know and love. And this is where J.J. Abrams treads the fine line of remake vs. rework of Wrath of Khan. Yes Khan Noonien Signh, one of cinema's most iconic villains is introduced to the new adventures of the Enterprise, and it is a reworking that I am still reeling from. Following a dramatic bombing in London and an all out assault on Starfleet (in which a beloved character is tragically lost) the prologue's ruminations on loss by the crew lead to a thirst for vengeance. Khan, as in the original, provides the perfect icon to which we despise, and Cumberbatch is phenomenal in presenting the character as this genetic superman is to be. However he does this in such a cold and calculating fashion that not is he just magnetic on screen, but thematically creates the perfect foil to Pine's Kirk and better yet his true nemesis in this film in Spock.

But seriously cannot stress how much this film belongs to the Cumberbatch, he's our new leader. Have a GIF.


Whilst Shatner and Montalb├ín battled it out in the Mutara Nebula, the best twist Into Darkness pulled was reversing one of cinema's greatest rivalries and sacrifice between the two heroes. This avoided a by the books rehash of Wrath of Khan, and I think created a far more believable stand off and emotional climax (and let's just say I thank TO GOD that this film eliminated the need for a Search for Kirk...). It was beautiful, I nearly cried, and we once again come out knowing that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one. *CUE TEARS*

As for the peripheral aspects of the film? Mixed bag unfortunately. I feel like the filmmakers decided to fully embrace a semblance of darkness themselves, especially when it came to the sets and one casting choice in particular. Whilst the first film was primarily shot in front of a green screen, and a brief visit to Vasquez Rocks (awesome), this film chose for an unusual combination of location, sound stage and green screen shots. Starfleet is quite obviously the Getty Museum (not a bad choice, just awkward having been there and recognizing the locations). The Klingon homeworld of Cronos is this laughably hammy sound stage that looks  like a paintball field. And worst of all some of the engineering sections of the Enterprise just look crappy compared to the sleekness of the other sets. If you're film is budgeted at over $150 million, make it look so, especially given that the CGI is unparalleled in its sleek presentation. My other major gripe was the casting of Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus. Not only was she just the most annoying character imaginable, but her performance was criticized (rightfully so) as being sexually exploitative. See below:

This was literally one of the only instances of skimpyness in the film, and just came across as tacky and unwarranted. On the whole, it just goes to show that writers should not revive characters from Wrath of Khan for the sake of continuity or maintaining a link. Just awful.

I highly recommend this film for fans of the series and those looking for an action romp. I am especially appreciative that this marks a continuance of the trend for more thought provoking Hollywood action films, with clear effort placed in its script, screenplay and directing. Just a fantastic package all together. 8/10


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