Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness ★★

Visually Exciting; Illogical on Almost Every Level

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Remember Kirk, Spock and Bones? Remember the Enterprise and its five year mission? In case you're rusty: "To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before." Star Trek was about a future in which different nations and other worlds worked together. The Federation had its enemies, sure, but for the most part it was about the wonder of space and its endless possibilities. It was ahead of its time, to say the least, and sadly, the latest entry in J.J. Abrams' version of the series hints that we may never see that vision of the future again.

Star Trek Into Darkness has not only a bad title, but one that completely undermines what Star Trek was always about. It's as if Mr. Abrams watched the series and understood none of it, or, if he did, simply didn't care. Into Darkness is a film in which the director forces himself on the material, rather than let the material speak for itself. I was a fan of the first film, which wisely created an alternate timeline and even included the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) so that the audience would know that the stories we all loved from that original series still existed. This also meant that Mr. Abrams was free to modify the characters, slightly, which made their introductions fresh and new, while still retaining what we always loved about them. In other words, he seemed to care when he made Star Trek. I'll say this for his directing of Into Darkness: he has a talent for creating breathtaking visuals during pulse-pounding action sequences, but when you strip that away you discover that this film is all style and no substance. You don't really have time to breathe when watching Into Darkness, and it's only after watching the film in its entirety that you begin to see its many flaws.

Into Darkness begins, promisingly enough, with Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) racing through a red forest trying to distract a race of aliens while Spock (Zachary Quinto) attempts to neutralize an erupting volcano. When things don't go as planned, Kirk has to save Spock by violating the Prime Directive, which states that Starfleet cannot interfere with the development of alien nations. As a result, Kirk is demoted to first officer by Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and Spock is assigned to another ship. At this point it seems that Mr. Abrams and his screenwriters (Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Damon Lindelof) actually get Star Trek. Kirk could not allow a civilization to be destroyed and thus had to intervene, exposing the Enterprise when his friend was in danger.

I was optimistic about where the film was going right up until the villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), is introduced, at which point the film truly veers into darkness. Kirk resumes command and pursues Harrison into Klingon territory which, if Kirk is careless in his quest, will cause a war with the Klingons. From here, Mr. Abrams commits the biggest sin when he attempts to remake The Wrath of Khan, easily the best entry of all the Star Trek films.

The Wrath of Khan worked for a variety of reasons: it dealt with questions of mortality, friendship and above all, sacrifice. Once again, it seems as though Mr. Abrams watched that film and understood none of it. His Kirk is much more cocky and somehow managed to forget everything he learned in the first film. His friendship with Spock feels forced, not earned (let's remember, they only became friends in the first film because the older Spock told Kirk they needed to be), and Bones is barely even a character this time around. (The three of them and their clashing personalities were what made the original series, as well as Wrath of Khan great.) Thus, everything that happens feels false and does not achieve the emotion Mr. Abrams was hoping for. During the screening I attended, people in the audience were actually laughing at what was supposed to be the most moving scene in the film.

A lot of imagination is missing from Star Trek Into Darkness, which is unfortunate given the admiration and excitement I had for the first one. What does work comes in small doses - namely the opening, some of the action sequences, and perhaps the two best scenes in the movie, which feature conversations between Kirk and Pike. Overall, Into Darkness feels lazy and, at times, disrespectful, not only to the fans of both the original and the new incarnation, but to Gene Roddenberry's original vision of the future. The first film had the marketing slogan "This is not your father's Star Trek", which was true, but still had the heart of the original series. Into Darkness, however, feels like it's no one's Star Trek.

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