Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

28 May


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

With 2009’s big-budgeted reboot of “Star Trek,” director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman introduced a new look at the popular saga originated from Gene Roddenberry’s imagination—darker, more kinetic, very exhilarating, and very action-packed, while also keeping true to the spirit of the original TV series in terms of creativity and of the memorable characters. 2009’s “Star Trek” was a big hit, and so it was inevitable that a follow-up in the same style and tradition would be constructed. Four years later, we have “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which is believe it or not, a bigger, more bombastic sequel than its predecessor.

And to get it out of the way, the first hour-and-a-half or so of this two-hour-and-12-minute sci-fi blockbuster is just incredible. The action scenes are tense and very exciting; the characters are all solid (Spock is pretty badass in this “Star Trek” entry); the villain is great; and there’s good social commentary among all the madness that ensues in this story, and it’s not unlike the best “Star Trek” movies or TV episodes. But then in its final half-hour, it’s as if something went wrong. Usually in big-budget action films with strong buildups, it’s usually the payoffs that are lacking in substance. But here, it’s just a lack of knowing any better. There is twist upon twist, and I wouldn’t mind so much if it wasn’t trying to straight-up copy an easily-remembered sequence from one of the earlier “Star Trek” movies. Then there’s a silly chase scene that results in a fistfight. Then there’s a total copout to what has been built up before with that aforementioned “copied scene.” Then there’s a rushed epilogue so that it’s hard to feel exactly what Abrams and co. were going for.

I didn’t give much away, but you get my point. I was really enjoying this movie, ready to call it one of the best films of the summer so far. I was so into the story and the action and what all the characters were doing and etc. and so on. This was “Star Trek,” and I loved it. Then it all goes downhill in its final act. Abrams and co. deserve credit for the first hour-and-a-half-or-so and why it works so well, in my opinion. But they also have to take the blame for what happens to the movie.

The film starts with a bang in a fabulous scene set on an alien planet. The crew of the USS Enterprise are sent to save the primitive natives of this world from an erupting volcano. In the process, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is in peril and Kirk violates the Federation’s prime directive in order to save him. Because of his insubordination, Kirk is demoted from Captain to First Officer. But shortly after, the Federation is under siege by a fugitive, a rogue Starfleet officer named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who murders Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) in his attack. Kirk wants revenge and requests to go after Harrison. Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) agrees and puts Kirk back in his ranking, but with simple instructions to track down Harrison and kill him. Kirk rounds up his crew, including Spock, Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) (Scotty, played by Simon Pegg, joins later after being unsure about this mission), and heads to Kronos, the Klingon planet where Harrison is sure to be located.

There’s a lot to like about this movie, and among the chief aspects is the villain. This is not a one-dimensional bad guy. At first, he seems like a standard action-flick terrorist that just wants to blow stuff up. But there’s actual reason to his actions here, and the more they’re developed, the more they make us understand why he’s doing all of this even if we don’t tolerate it. There’s a good amount of depth to how this character is portrayed, and Benedict Cumberbatch plays the role so well.

(By the way, even though most people will know the villain’s true identity before its reveal, I won’t reveal it here. All I can say is that I think it works really well.)

The heroes are all as appealing as their original counterparts (though without the truer sense of camaraderie that will probably be further developed in later installments). In particular, Kirk has a credible story arc about doing what he believes must be done, even if it isn’t the best thing for everyone else around him. Whatever he’ll do, he’ll do it to save his friends and crewmembers. And in a way, he and the villain, without giving too much away, are practically the same person in motivation, which makes things more interesting. But if there’s a flaw in this arc, it’s that its resolution is not strongly-handled, which is one of the many flaws with the film’s final act.

Spock has already been established as half-human/half-Vulcan and constantly walking that fine line between logic and emotion. He doesn’t quite understand why Kirk risked his job and life to go and save him in the opening sequence, and Kirk must convince Spock what the meanings of being human and forming friendship mean. Spock goes through a lot in this movie, continuing to walk that line. And it does pay off in an emotional way, to the credit of the final act.

(By the way, Leonard Nimoy shows up in a brief cameo as “Spock Prime.” While it’s pointless, it results in a great reaction when Spock asks if he knows who the villain is.)

Being a summer blockbuster, “Star Trek Into Darkness” moves with a fast pace that only breaks when it needs to. It stops at the most appropriate times for the audience to breathe and take in what we’ve just endured. And there are some terrific action scenes—along with that opening scene, we also have a desperate battle between Enterprise crew and Klingons (yes, there are Klingons in this movie), and an attempt to get from the Enterprise ship to a space station through space, if only Scotty could open the airlock in time. This is an epic journey that works as a glorious space opera—we have space battles, distant planets, all sorts of conflicts and interruptions along the way, and many surprises along the way.

There are many other old-“Star Trek” references making appearances. There’s a Tribble that McCoy experiments with (and Good Lord, could the payoff to this thing be any more obvious in the final act?); there are a few throwaway memorable quotes (“Shut up, Spock! We’re rescuing you!”); there are models of old Enterprise ships in Admiral Marcus’ office; and (possible spoiler alert) many, many references to the “Star Trek” TV episode “Space Seed.” Also introduced in this rebooted franchise is Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), who, for those who are familiar with the early-‘80s “Star Trek” movies, will become the mother of Kirk’s son. (By the way, for those who say she’s underused in this movie, calm down—it’s just her introduction.)

And then, there’s the final half-hour, which almost completely ruined the whole movie for me. While some parts of it aren’t bad, everything else about it hit the wrong notes, in my opinion. It begins with a segment borrowed from one of the earlier “Star Trek” films, and it’s practically repeated word-for-word (except with a role reversal). I wouldn’t mind this so much, as it is a powerful scene that does pay off with certain character arcs in this movie (and I would have looked forward to it being resolved in a third movie if they just took it easy from here on out). But from that point, it all goes downhill. I can’t help but wonder why they had to go this route (I think it may have been for the fans, but I think some of the most diehard fans might feel let down).

So, do I recommend “Star Trek Into Darkness,” despite a disappointing resolution? Well…it’s a close call, but I suppose I do. A good majority of the movie is entertaining and exhilarating, and I was having a great time up until that point of no return. So marginally, I recommend checking it out. But as a warning, you may feel like watching “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” afterwards (you’ll know why).

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