Reviews: Star Trek Into Darkness
A Tough Call
I'm struggling on what to think of this one. On the one hand, it's a fairly good action movie, the acting sky-rocketed over the efforts we saw in the last Trek film, and the lens flares are toned down. On the other hand, the core problems of the last film remain. The plot is made of swiss cheese, and the writers seem a bit confused on what it means to be faithful to the source material. To give an in-franchise example, when Deep Space Nine was released, Gene Roddenberry was already dead. There was no way he could've guided that series whatsoever. It was even a major departure from how Star Trek had worked before, and even dared to say that the Federation was NOT the utopia we thought it was. But you know what? Most fans eventually accepted it into the franchise, because it did keep the spirit of Trek alive. It presented us with a future that we'd still hope to see, even if it wasn't perfect. Star Trek Into Darkness does not. If this is how Orci, Kurtzman, and Abrams see the future of Star Trek, then I refer them to Professor X; "I don't want your suffering! I don't want your future!" When you've presented the audience with a future they don't want, then congratulations, you've missed the entire point of Star Trek. Only at the very end do we see any glimpse of hope that the future may be better than the present. I'm not saying that any story with a future where we're pretty much the same as we are now, let alone a dystopia, is bad. But any Star Trek movie that presents that future and does nothing to change it? That's a bad Star Trek story. So yeah, this was an alright action movie. If you're not a Trek fan and can stomach the plot holes, you'll probably enjoy it. But it's a horrible Star Trek movie, and I can't believe that Orci and Kurtzman call themselves fans without even understanding the most crucial part of Star Trek: the hope for a better tomorrow.
One Bad Decision After Another
Two fair warnings. First, this will contain spoilers and significant ones at that. Second, while this is going to read like a fanboy whining about how they ruined his beloved series, I'm not a big Trek fan. I've only seen a handful of the movies and episodes, mostly since the reboot, and half spent mot of my life at best ambivalent to the series. I guess the worst part of the movie is the incredibly lazy writing. Had the writers been willing to put forth some effort, this movie could have been saved. Instead we get set up for good ideas that get ignored. For example, early on in the film, Kirk is reckless (as he is want to be) and he gets his ship taken away from him. We could have seen Kirk prove his worth by and grow as a character. Instead, Kirk almost immediately is named First Officer for reasons that never adequately explained. The conflict with Scotty and Kirk is also an example of this, with Kirk changing his mind in the time it takes to get to the bridge, but only after Scotty has left. We also see the idiot ball something fierce in this film. "We just suffered a terrorist attack, let's gather all the Captains and First Officers in the same easily-attacked room. What could possibly go wrong?" There's the problem of Khan. Khan didn't need to be in this movie. The writer's had a perfectly serviceable (if poorly-executed) movie about a terrorist with a grudge against Star Fleet. Khan is just a ploy to fill seats. Khan bears little resemblance to his prime universe counter-part. Where's the genius? Where is the metaphor on the dangers of the Superman? What we got was instead instead Cumberbatch being Cumberbatch while the rest of the cast acts like idiots to make him look smarter. And while we're on the subject of Cumberbatch, there are many people you get to play an ethnically Indian character. The whitest not-currently-dead English man on the face of the Earth is not one of them. I love Cumberbatch, but again, I think he was cast more for his name than for his suitably to the role. So to sum up, what we're left with is a remake of a movie (I admittedly already hate) that doesn't do enough with what it created for itself. I'd give it a pass.
Better and Worse than the 2009 Film
Improvements: -The film acknowledges Kirk's ill-preparedness to serve as captain and he matures and becomes aware of his flaws/failings to a much greater extent -Spock is more likable; his developing friendship with Kirk serves as the emotional core of the film -The beginning of the film sets up the conflict well -As Harrison, Benedict Cumberbatch is effective at evoking an ambiguous situation -Great acting from the Enterprise crew Failings: -The end of the film completely falls apart and cheapens the emotional impact -Harrison's identity is underwhelming and not incorporated into the film's story structure well -Both female characters fail in their endeavors with disheartening frequency -Kirk comes across as more of a lecher than his TOS counterpart did, especially with the implications surrounding Chapel's departure (This also will make any sort of romance between Carol and Kirk extremely problematic given that Chapel is Carol's friend. I can't imagine becoming involved with someone who treated a friend of mine so poorly.) -The bedroom scene with the aliens is kinda creepy, not because it's threesome, but because it involves women who look like twins and are likely genetically related. Imagine sleeping with someone at the same time as your sister. Yikes… -Uhura's role revolves entirely too much around Spock. There is exactly one scene of hers in which he was not present and even then, she was still speaking with Kirk about him. She remains horrifically underdeveloped because although she's the third most prominent character, besides work-related facts, the only thing we know about her is that she was Gaila's roommate. -The Spock/Uhura romance simply doesn't work. Probably the biggest issue here is that it is reduced to a vehicle for Spock's emotions. A revealing instance is seen during Spock and Uhura's argument, as Spock is talking about the emotions he experienced when his planet was destroyed, the camera pans over and focuses on Kirk — indicating that this scene is really all about what will happen between them later in the film and furthering their friendship. -Not enough Mc Coy — Karl Urban cares about the character; it shows Although there are many more points of criticism than praise, I did enjoy the film. However, it could have been a great film but falls short in a myriad of ways.
Doomed from the start
To be clear, this movie did have potential but is over-referenced to death. First, the movie's structure itself seems heavily based on pre-existing films. The political angles from Star Trek VI (the senior conference, possible war with the Klingons, Col West/Adm Cartwright vs Adm Marcus, etc) combined with characters and plot lines from Star Trek II (notably Khan as well as Carol Marcus). Star Trek, at its core, is about exploring themes and commentary. That's one reason it has endured for so long, there are messages in the medium, thoughtful questions. At first, this movie has that. The whole deal with the Prime Directive and questioning whether the pre-emptive strike on Kronos is appropriate is pure Trek. Then Khan gets into the mix and everything breaks down, going from something with a moral to a pure adrenaline-rush series of action scenes. Things are referenced without understanding why they were powerful. For example - the death scene. The original death scene was powerful because it was (at the time) permanent. Here, the tension is broken because the audience knows it will somehow be undone - the Optimus Prime effect. Another issue is Scotty's five minute retirement contrivance, leading him directly to the Vengeance. At least Star Trek II had permanently reassigned Chekov to the Reliant. Then there's Kirk's telegraphed five-minute demotion. Realism, basically, is what I'm saying. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan already had a remake attempt in the form of Star Trek Nemesis, and it didn't do well. This reboot of the series is still strugging to stand on its own feet, without the benefit of a television series to develop the characters and refine its style. Currently, the characters are shallow caricatures of the originals, still working to find their own voice as they've had no time for but the simplest character development. Copy-and-pasting pre-existing elements from the franchise is not a method to improve that, it speaks of laziness and money-grabbing. Even changing the villain away from Khan but changing little would have reduced the inevitable comparisons, allowing more open minds. Otherwise, the film is well produced. The actors are not bad (though the main villain strikes me as cartoonish at times), the visual effects are impressive (if they could just agree on a scale...). They are simply limited by the script.
Still trekkin' on, for better or worse.
Let me be clear- I love the Star Trek reboot movies. I love the characters, the stories, the writing- I even kinda like the cheesy lens flare. That being said, I now come to the point of the review- as a Star Trek movie, Into Darkness fails. Yeah, it's an enjoyable action flick, good for a popcorn-munching couple of hours. But it fails to evoke the sense of wonder and deep thinking that a Star Trek movie should evoke. All of the "deep" stuff this movie tries to give us is ripped off wholesale from Wrath of Khan, which honestly did it better. I like the character arcs, and how they build off of the general arc of the first movie, but they seemed uncomfortably shoehorned in alongside the flashy action sequences that are so obviously the focus of this movie. And while maybe being a tongue-in-cheek reference to the M.O. of the original series (likely unintentionally), the aesop of "Violence is always the answer," falls a little flat. As I said before, I love this movie, but not as a Star Trek movie. Everything Star Trek related in this movie is ultimately cosmetic- slap a different name on the ship, movie, and characters, and it still would have been a decent showing. If that's all you're looking for, go ahead and watch it. If you're looking for a Star Trek experience, however, you'd be better off with one of the others.
Went in blind, loved it
Since I heard a lot of spoilers about this movie and Wrath of Khan, I decided to watch this movie first so that I could see it without saying "That's from Wrath of Khan!". Even though popcultural osmosis slightly ruined the engineering scene and definitely ruined the "KHAAAAAAAANNNNNNN!" scene (which is mostly because Zachary Quinto just can't muster the amount of hammy hatred that William Shatner can), I was mostly coming into it from a newcomer perspective. I liked that Kirk got some decent Character Development as his Leeroy Jenkins persona got deconstructed and his storyline started about revenge for his mentor but turned into redemption for his mistake, right up to the point where he goes into the warp core to save the Enterprise. I also liked Spock's storyline too. Say what you will about the engineering scene, but the scene in which he chases and unleashes a No Holds Barred Beatdown on Khan for (as far as he knows) killing Kirk is well-done as well as a good fight scene. Both Kirk's and Spock's parts with seeking revenge on Khan end up with them ultimately refusing to give in to revenge, and in both cases giving in to revenge would have led to disaster. Addressing two other things: no, I do not care that Khan is white. Benedict Cumberbatch smoothly puts his own take on a classic villain, easily making Khan sympathetic, terrifying, magnificent, or badass depending on the scene while keeping him consistent and neither imitating Ricardo Montalban's classic performance nor ignoring it. Besides, I was the one who originally pointed out under Values Dissonance (and this was later confirmed by the creators) there would have been a lot of Unfortunate Implications had Khan been brown-skinned. The other part: Kirk's Disney Death. Even if he stayed dead the whole movie, people would have just assumed he'd be brought back the next movie, and he needed to die to advance his character. It was a losing battle to begin with. So they quickly got it out of the way and changed the climax to an attempt to get Khan's blood, which worked better. So, the final statement is: it depends on how much of a fan you are, and what kind of a fan you are. For the record, I give 8.5 out of 10.
Starship Troopers Into Darkness
I like to think of myself as a casual Trekkie. I do not shout BETRAYAL; my opinion of Gene Roddenberry is that he was a lounge lizard with some endearing qualities. This movie pissed me off, more than I've been in some time. I said back when the first movie broke that if they 'deconstruct' the Federation into the United States security theater, it'll be horrible. Sure enough, Starfleet has donned commissar uniforms in the wake of Nero's rampage, their phasers now look like Desert Eagles, and the theme is counterterrorism. Topical. Well, okay. I'm game. I'm all for The Federation succumbing to more hawkish elements, it's been done before. The problem is that nothing changes by the end: Violence begets violence; the "good" guys win by compromising their principles; terrorism is okay if the good guys do it, as Kirk acknowledges in his hollow eulogy. It's just eerie, because everybody is saying these things in-character. Kirk's crew members are still carrying on the background, delivering their catchphrases, and slowly, it dawns on everyone that they're in the wrong movie. Scotty is distraught over his ship being armed to the teeth and resigns. Spock voices his moral objections, and is ignored. Kirk is reckless to the point of parody, and try as Chris Pine might to make him endearing - especially in the beginning when Kirk is gushing about exploration - he is sabotaged by the script itself, which seemingly detests Kirk and is taking the piss out of us, the audience, for wanting to like him. In fact, Kirk acts so contrary to his own character, he literally has a nervous breakdown! It keeps piling up. Stupid NCIS banter. "Heroes" who hate each others' guts and prey on their girlfriends. Military porn. Villains straight out of Tom Clancy's fever dreams. That aside I don't think Into Darkness is a particularly good or even competent movie. Bones has to cut a red wire before the bomb counts to 00:01. The villain gives a self-justifying rant with violins. Another bad guy can't fire on Enterprise because his daughter snuck aboard. There are some cool set pieces, like Kirk and Scotty navigating a spinning Enterprise corridor, but then we cut and they're out of danger without any explanation. And through it all, Kirk never has any clue what is going on, and just reacts to things.
Another misguided remake.
I liked the 2009 pre-boot; I thought it was respectful to the characters and entertaining to watch. I worried about its shallowness, though: science-fiction should ask questions about what kind of people we are and whether we ought to be that way. Without those questions, the pre-boot is just an action movie in space. Into Darkness one-ups it by being not only a remake, but a misguided one. So, first off, the spoiler that isn't: the proper title of this film is Star Trek II The Wrath Of Khan II: Wrath Harder, down to the Heroic Sacrifice at the end. Its only major addition is an Insane Admiral pulling Harrison's strings. Kirk has some decent Character Development; he learns to take responsibility for his crew, to die for them if need be, and thus it's a powerful change that he makes the fatal warp core walk. The problem is, he's not the main character, Spock is—and Spock has no development at all. If anything, this film carries on the pre-boot's tradition of regressing his self-control. Kirk's death scene is excellent (and far surpasses the original)... but we never once believed it would stick, killing any tension remaining in movie, if not the franchise. Regardless of impact on the inevitable sequel, I think the Reset Button was lazy writing. And let's not even talk the Protagonist Centered Morality. The original Khan went on a Roaring Rampage Of Revenge, which resulted in his own death. Here, it's Kirk and Spock going Revenge Myopia on Harrison... and our boys not only get away with it, they are lauded for it. Not to mention that Harrison's ultimate fate is to be Human Popsicle'd again, which simply passes the buck off to Picard. It all smacks of Karma Houdini to me—or, again, lazy writing. Into Darkness is an excellent action movie, and should be enjoyed on that level. But it also abandons a lot of what makes science-fiction, and Star Trek in particular, great: the question of What You Are In The Dark as you wield the flashlight of technology and progress. Gene Roddenberry dreamt of a future where we can rise above our base natures. All J. J. Abrams sees is fists and lens flares.
"Into Darkness" it goes, but there's always before it gets there
I was initially confused by the title of Star Trek Into Darkness when I first heard it. Sure, it was grammatically correct, and expressed an idea, but it was still pretty weird. Having seen the movie, I can see that "Into Darkness" is a pretty accurate subtitle - by which I mean that the last third of the movie is a downward slope into derivative mediocrity that mirrors the Enterprise's falling to Earth. Though it basically presents itself as a burnt offering to the great god Wrath of Khan, the movie seems to be much closer to The Search for Spock: Lots of good ideas that the movie introduces but ultimately fails to carry out, a focus on Spock's character rather than Kirk, Starfleet as a Lawful Neutral secondary enemy (though it's much more Lawful Evil here, of course), and overuse of dialogue from Wrath of Khan. Unlike The Search for Spock, which was passable all the way through, this has an absolutely stellar first two acts, that crashes and burns in the third. The first hour or so of the movie makes it well worth the price of admission: Emotional, dramatic, grand in scope, funny, and largely original (the shuttle on Kronos, which I've christened the "Decade Chickenhawk", notwithstanding). Also, I've noticed an amount of Shout Outs that higher that Trek has ever had until now: References to 47 have been replaced by 42, the warp core obviously resembles the Omega-13, a few bits seem to reference comments by Mr. Plinkett and several comments by Scotty repeat grievances that fans had over the 2009 movie.
Ignore the Unpleasable Fanbase, it's great
Note: this review contains some general spoilers about the plot. Star Trek Into Darkness is an all-around excellent action movie with a classic Trek emphasis on character development and the staple moral subtext for contemporary audiences. The narrative pace is a substantial improvement over the 2009 film, which attempted to cram several character origin stories, a save-the-world plot and (re)establish an entire sci-fi universe in the space of two hours. Freed from the constraints of having to introduce the audience to the quasi-rebooted world of Trek, STID lavishes attention on a taut, coherent (if somewhat derivative) plot and excellent character interactions which show how the main crew of the Enterprise are growing into the beloved tight-knit team from TOS. The action sequences are fast-paced but never gratuitous, and you won't mistake Kirk, Spock etc. for phaser-toting space marines. All of the actors turn in excellent performances and are believable in their roles. The "War on Terror" allegory which forms the crux of the plot is as relevant and meaningful as anything Trek ever produced. Of course STID has attracted the typical array of Trekkie naysayers who automatically deride it as simplistic action garbage. Unfortunately there is little Abrams (or any director) could have done to appease such "fans". None of the more "philosophical" (read: self-important and plodding)Trek episodes would ever translate well to a feature-length film, plus they were largely contained to the TNG era anyway. In fact, Trek has rarely if ever been so profound as many of its long-time nostalgia-filled fans seem to believe. For every Twilight Zone-worthy plot was a "Spock's Brain". This is not to say by any means that the TOS was bad; it simply wasn't a perfect art. The controversial casting decision for Khan is more deserving of criticism. Cumberbatch turns in such an amazing performance that it's almost impossible not to overlook it when you watch the movie, but it is strange that STID never even attempts an explanation for why a white, British man appears to have replaced a Sikh Indian warlord. Has he genetically-modified his appearance to better blend in? Is "Khan" merely a codename? Who knows. That noted, it's not worth letting it ruin the film for you.
Half of a Great Trek Movie, but still Enjoyable Enough
STID is a mixed bag. An overall enjoyable mixed bag, but it could have been better post-Qo'noS. The cast's chemistry is excellent, and everyone besides McCoy is given something to do besides a "nuclear wessel"-esq reference. McCoy is sadly stuck almost being homaged to death. That scene is notable for how it fails Kirk's supposed character arc. While he's set up to learn about how his reckless disregard for risk and rules will get people under his command killed, post-Qo'noS nothing supports that arc. In the torpedo surgery scene, Kirk is a bystander. He makes no decision to either beam out Carol or risk her life to save McCoy's. Luck and inaction saves the day. Compare this to when Kirk trusts Uhura's effort at diplomacy when going out guns blazing will surely get them killed (before Harrison suddenly appears as backup). I did like the War On Terror element to the first half of the movie, which continued Trek's long tradition of using science fiction trappings for coded critiques of real life issues. The 2009 movie had no such aesop. STID's first half is very much about drone warfare and whether terrorists should stand trial in court, and the movie comes down stridently on the anti-drone, anti-Gitmo side of that debate. Alongside the Uhura bit, Kirk's decision to arrest Harrison was solid character development for a loose canon. Too bad post-Qo'noS it's luck and recklessness that save the day instead. Still, the first half of the movie is a classic Star Trek morality tale married to its equally classic reputation for fisticuffs. It's the second half of the movie that doesn't work. Kirk is still reckless, still relies on luck. Kahn makes no sense in his role as a weapon designer; he was a charismatic leader of men, not a scientist, and even then his scientific expertise would be badly outdated. It'd be like bringing Horatio Nelson to 2013 and asking him to design an aircraft carrier. Sure, he was a naval genius in his own time, but the gulf of his knowledge and modern experience would be immense. That gulf was a key point in Kahn's previous downfall. Here, it's somehow a virtue. It's lazy fan service. Let's not even get started about the Enterprise getting sucked into the Earth ten minutes after being in lunar orbit. Overall: B average. The first half and great cast chemistry carries a risible second half.