8-bit poster by Jesse Eisemann. Movie release date not final!
It can be a challenge to review something that so many people don’t want to know anything about before they go in – save whether it’s good or not. I’m not one who believes in giving away major revelations, and plan in the body of the review to dance around the big surprises as deftly as possible. For those who wish to be maximally protected, however, here’s all you need to hear:
Star Trek Into Darkness is the most visually spectacular film in the franchise, thanks both to Imax 3D and Scott Chambliss’ intricate production design, which brings us the most elaborate future Earth to date, another alien planet best left unnamed for now and lots of great space-debris fields. Narratively, however, it’s more problematic – for a film series that attempted to so “boldly go” in a new direction last time around, its incessant references and cribs from predecessors are a disappointment, making many aspects of the tale all-too-sadly predictable.
I still liked it overall, but it has issues I cannot overlook.
Want to know more? I promise not to be too spoilery, but even hints of things may clue the savvy Trekker in. Click onward if you’re sure…
Using Vulcan-style logic (because I do have the eyebrows to pull it off) I am 90 per cent certain that people who don’t like the movie will accuse me of bending over backwards to make excuses for it because (a) I’m clearly on the take and/or don’t want to piss off Paramount for some reason or (b) I’m not allowed to offend anyone buying ads or even (c) I’m doing/not doing the same/different thing than/as Rob would do; but mainly just (d) every time I give something a mixed review, that happens. But here’s the thing – I genuinely like a lot of the movie, and that’s largely because I think the new cast is great and captures the spirit of the old. Chris Pine has managed to incorporate more hand gestures and dramatic pauses into his repertoire without making them showy, forced or a direct impersonation. Zachary Quinto’s voice still feels too un-gravelly, but his chemistry with Pine is stronger and their dynamic here more like the friendship we remember.
Karl Urban’s Bones has lost some of the novelty, and is the closest to direct impersonation – I hope he gets more to do in the next one that develops him a bit further, but there are some funny lines to be had. Simon Pegg’s Scotty – still with his tiny oyster-faced sidekick – has a nice character arc that intersects well with that of Anton Yelchin’s Chekov, while Zoe Saldana’s Uhura gets one great save-the day moment gone wrong to show off her skills. When it comes to John Cho’s Sulu, however, I’ll say this – he gamely delivers a ton of in-jokes about George Takei wanting Sulu to be a Captain. Non-diehards won’t notice, but anyone who remembers the years Takei spent trying to pitch a Captain Sulu TV show will feel beaten over the head in every scene Cho has.
And then there’s Benedict Cumberbatch. He makes a great adversary (“villain” seems like the wrong word to use, as it’s more complicated than that) with his ice-cold stare and line deliveries…I’m just not sure he works as this particular adversary. Indeed, as we all suspected, “John Harrison” is but a pseudonym masking a name fans will find more recognizable, and honestly, the secrecy was needless. Nonetheless, I’ll keep it, but the scene in which his true moniker is uttered is such an anticlimax, reasonably early in the film, that just about all of your recent speculations were superior. Why not just have him be a new villain called John Harrison, since he’s so different from who he’s supposed to be anyway? Well, therein lies the movie’s biggest problem…
Okay, so here’s how it goes: I’m with the movie, I’m liking the story, but I’m afraid they’re gearing up to wrap things up too soon. Then something else happens. Then another thing. Then just when you’re sure things are really done, there’s a whole ‘nother action sequence that’s like something out of that PS4 demo of Killzone: Shadowfall. Cool enough, but somewhere around there, we get to…
“Here’s my number. Call me, maybe.”
Remember the early Next Gen episode “The Naked Now,” patterned on original series episode “The Naked Time”? The show was new enough that it was still cool to see a new crew and better special effects, but kind of a bummer that they went to the well of, “This happened before to another ship named Enterprise! Let’s see how they dealt with it! Then we can do a thing that is almost the same, but not quite.”
Yeah. Something like that. I’m all for “fan service” stuff like showing how Kirk first met Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), or showing the good Captain very literally getting tail from some alien twins, not to mention the opening sequence in which the crew brazenly violates the Prime Directive because of a gut feeling. What gets tiring very quickly is “Hey, you remember that one classic scene you love? Here it is again…with a twist!” In a new continuity that tossed out the old rules, this sequel feels curiously beholden to them. Initially, this made me think JJ Abrams might be the wrong guy for Star Wars, but then I remembered that George Lucas was so fond of gratuitous callbacks that he blew up the Death Star twice.
George Lucas looks better in plaid, too.
By the way, JJ, what’s with your Klingons not having beards? THAT’S where you decide to depart from continuity? Also, it’s written Qo’noS, not “Kronos.”
Story issues aside, though, Abrams’ direction is generally good, with action sequences that are tense and exciting without being too incoherent. I wasn’t a big fan of the one moment that plays like space 9-11 (Harrison is described as a terrorist, and acts like one though he’s not what he seems – this is a recurring summer movie theme now, I suppose), and it must be said that massive amounts of people die in this without much emotional weight at all. There are a couple of deaths that do matter, but even those are undercut; Abrams can sure make things look cool, but he hasn’t displayed much skill at breaking my heart the right way (lifelong Trekkie Julia was in tears by the end, though, so perhaps it’s my Vulcan blood talking, and it may as well talk now before she kills me upon seeing a less-than-stellar review by my hand). When he’s not simply copying older stuff is where things get good – you think, based on the trailers, that you know a Skyfall/Avengers “villain wants to be captured” moment is coming, for example, but it plays out differently.
I do recommend seeing this on the big screen; I also recommend keeping your expectations low. If you do both, fun can and should be had.
Star Trek Into Darkness opens May 16th. Out of courtesy to others, please refrain from posting spoilers in comments until there’s a spoiler thread.