Star Trek Into Darkness Review # 3

Here is the second crew review of Star Trek Into Darkness.

These of course are the opinions of the members themselves and do not represent anyone or anything else.

Submitted by Mike Maginnis (member since  6/08)


J. J. Abrams latest big-screen Star Trek spectacle hit theaters this week, and it’s safe to say that as a Trek fan, you’ll probably want to go see it.  Whether you will like it is another question.  “Into Darkness” hits the ground running and, with only a couple of momentary exceptions, doesn’t really slow down throughout its 132 minute running time.

Abrams brings us into the action as Chris Pine’s Kirk flees a tribe of local savages.  You might think that he’s angered the chieftain for an indiscretion with yet another green-skinned slavegirl, but in this case there’s method to his madness.  While he draws the angry mob away from their village at the base of a volcano that’s just about to erupt, Spock is busy employing the Treknology Plot Bomb to save their species.  One might wonder if an indigenous people so stupid as to live at the base of an active volcano should be spared in the first place.  One might. But not Abrams.  And it doesn’t really matter – this is all a big plot device to deprive Kirk of his command at the helm of the Enterprise for violating the Prime Directive.

This isn’t as spolierific as it might seem at first, because Jim gets his captain’s chair back a few minutes later.  And herein lies the problem with, well pretty much everything in the film that isn’t a set piece battle, high velocity space jump, or lens flare effect… God… the lens flare.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Kirk’s demotion is meaningless because it never becomes an obstacle.  Nothing is on the line for him, or his crew, and he does literally nothing to earn it back.  He doesn’t have to grow as a person, or as a Starfleet officer – no difficult decisions faced, no hard sacrifices made.  There’s a death that happens as part of the setup which is supposed to provide Kirk the impetus to act, but really as a Starfleet Captain on the bridge of the fleet’s flagship, shouldn’t following orders be motivation enough for any action you take, right or wrong?  The death is meaningless, because it didn’t have to happen.  Then again this is Hollywood and, as J.J. reminds us on several occasions, Starfleet are explorers, not military.  But things blow up real good, bad guys are menacing and there’s a lot of running from station to station on the Enterprise.

And so it goes.  There isn’t much character development here.  “Star Trek” works because of the depth and believability of its characters.  We identify with them and care about them.  We cry in their moments of despair, celebrate with them in triumph.  In “Into Darkness” members of Starfleet not named Kirk, McCoy or Spock are mostly props, their storylines wasted or ignored entirely.  I’ll have to check next time I see it, but I don’t think Sulu or Checkov’s combined screen time adds up to more than about fifteen minutes.  Yes, I know they’re secondary characters and didn’t always have a lot to do in the TOS movies, but here they’re almost glorified extras.  Simon Pegg’s wit and charm are left to idle as well.  Other than to pay homage to a few of Jimmy Doohan’s classic lines, Scotty is given little to do, and in fact isn’t on the Enterprise at all, save for a few minutes in the first and third acts.

There are some crazy lapses in logic – why do we have to go to such effort to get our hands on something the villain possesses as he flees through the streets of San Francisco, when we’ve got a bunch more more just like him who also have it, frozen on the hangar bay deck?  Well, because it’s fun to see Spock lose control over his emotions, and fist fights on the roof of high-speed drones are just cool.  Yep, Spock cracks in this one.  Big time.  Remember, we’re intended to share with him in his anguish.  But again, there’s no real payoff so it’s meaningless.  He’s supposed to learn something about himself, but it never goes anywhere, just like when Kirk loses his command.  The love story between Spock and Uhura returns, but only to serve as comic relief.  We learn little about either character through their interactions and the intense on-screen chemistry between Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana, like so much in this movie, is wasted.

I won’t really go into the story or plot here, because I don’t need to.  It’s a Star Trek movie.  If you don’t know the beats and rhythm of the stories by now, you haven’t been paying attention.  You’ll have figured it all out about ten minutes in anyway.  “Into Darkness” is *completely* predictable, right down to “The Scene,” a much-ballyhooed sequence that could have been a masterstroke, played as a touching homage to the “Star Trek” of another time.  Instead, it comes off as heavy-handed and almost unintentionally funny.  Two excellent performances keep it from descending into awkward parody, but just barely so.  The frustrating thing is knowing that it *could* have been an amazing moment in Trek history.  Abrams is a genius and his character development and exploration skills, especially in his early work, are unparalleled.  But here, they seem to be missing entirely.  Perhaps Abrams himself didn’t pen this particular scene, or maybe … well, I don’t know.  There just doesn’t seem to be any reason for why it played out like it did.

But it wasn’t all bad.  For a summer action flick, it was pretty decent.  Just turn off your brain for a couple of hours.  We get our first look at Abrams’ vision of Klingons and they’re really cool.  Granted, they’re just there to be shot to pieces by the villain and their time on screen is over in a flash.  I think I glimpsed the re-designed Bat’leth I’ve been hearing so much about, but I couldn’t really tell.  A few blurry frames in the firefight are all we get.  And that reminds me – this whole mission Enterprise is on involves a covert, illegal incursion onto the Klingon homeworld, Qo’noS itself.  And they get caught.  By the Klingons.  And yet, we don’t see them again in the movie.  There are no repercussions, no fleet of Birds of Prey in hot pursuit as they escape across the neutral zone.  Apparently one can visit Qo’noS whenever one wants in this Trek universe.  Maybe J. J. is saving that for the next movie…  One can only hope.

The battles in space are awe-inspiring spectacles that will shake your seats and the hand-to-hand combat, complete with enhanced bone-crunching blows, is intense.  The new warp effects are slick and there’s a visceral satisfaction to watching a starship crash at terminal velocity into a crowded metropolis.  The Enterprise herself gets several breathtaking hero shots.  I applaud Abrams’ decision to eschew the vertigo-inducing super close-up, shaky-cam jump cuts that Michael Bay used to disguise the crappiness of the Transformer series, and which an army of imitators seem to favor so much these days.  You can actually follow the action and still feel like your right there in the thick of it.

I should mention the lens flare here.  There’s a lot of it.  Everywhere.  And it’s so intense at times that it actually washes out actors’ faces and interferes with performances.  It has almost become its own character.  Like the annoying Cousin Oliver of the movie, it is always showing up at the worst moments and irritating everyone.  The lens flare’s agent deserves a big raise, because it gets a ton of screen time.  In the 3D version of “Into Darkness”, it even gets its own layering.  Maybe J. J. read all the fan forums criticizing the overused effect in the last film and decided to bait his trolls by really upping the ante and going completely overboard.

I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I actually liked this movie.  It felt more fun than Abram’s first Trek film, probably because he wasn’t saddled with having to redefine the rules for us like he did in the 2009 reboot.  Free to explore the universe he is redefining, Abrams serves up intense action and an interesting, if predictable, story.  Enterprise herself is gorgeous here, inside and out and I like the new look of the uniforms.  But all these come at the expense of story and character and this especially sad given the deep well of material and incredibly talented cast Abrams had to work with.  The few tongue-in-cheek fan service moments – “red shirt” references, familiar names with new faces, a certain furry sight gag – do little to make up for what “Into Darkness” lacks.  Benedict Cumberbatch’s turns in a chilling performance.  His menacing Starfleet officer turned rogue oozes malice and plays much better than Eric Bana’s silly, over the top Nero from the previous film.

“Star Trek Into Darkness” is big, it’s loud, it’s gorgeous and it doesn’t mean a thing.  On the scale of Trek movies, with ‘1’ being the abominable, “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” and ’10’ being the nearly perfect “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”, “Into Darkness” rates a solid 7.