18 May 2013

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness


As Star Trek Into Darkness opens, we are thrown into a Starfleet operation where James Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are actively disregarding the Prime Directive. The mission is ultimately a success, but there are consequences waiting for Kirk when he gets home. Captain Pike is livid, flying by the seat of your pants works when you're just some local farmboy, but Kirk is responsible for the lives of hundreds of officers and he can't be left in the captain's seat in good conscience.

There is plenty of reason to question the fearless leader of the Enterprise. Kirk has the requisite swagger, but there is always a glimmer behind his eyes that suggests he still doesn't know what he should do. Any chance for character growth in a summer blockbuster is appreciated, but it is handled in a devil-may-care fashion by the writers and, frankly, Kirk's perpetual combat with maturity should be resolved by now.

The time for Kirk to reflect on his leadership is not a lengthy one though, an act of terrorism occurs that shocks Starfleet to its very core. With Starfleet brainstrust searching for a suspect, the harbinger of our downfall appears in the form of a renegade former officer, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Considering the last villain had the ability to alter the future, it wouldn't have been a surprise if Star Trek suffered a little letdown, but Cumberbatch goes for gusto. Even when safely contained behind a wall of glass (a blockbuster theme at this point after The Dark Knight, The Avengers and Skyfall), Cumberbatch can raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

“I thought we were explorers,” Scotty (Simon Pegg) interjects when Kirk accepts a command from on high to hunt for Harrison in Klingon airspace. All of the sudden, a crew focused on space exploration find themselves faced with a military operation. There are no shortage of moral shadows that the Enterprise crew find themselves in and bigger political and moral ramifications are aired here, but they are largely the personal leanings of a writer who should know better.

Gene Roddenberry's cerebral series was known for equality and a sense of optimism that pervaded throughout the universe. In this rebooted franchise, none of the above is true. The women of the U.S.S. Enterprise have been left with nothing more to do than pine for their male counterparts or (in a very curious scene) strip for no presumable reason. Given that Uhura was set-up to be a strong female character, Uhura's (Zoe Saldana) lack of depth stings more than it does for Carol Marcus (Alice Eve). More disgusting is the use of 9/11 imagery to supposedly set-up moral quandaries for the crew if the Enterprise when it is merely indulging Roberto Orci's truther theories. The character of Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) may as well be named false flag. It's not only out of place, but anger-inducing.

Fortunately, Abrams handles the action side of the story well at least. A human-missile sequence witnessed in 3D is a real treat and the scale of IMAX rewards the impressive world-building of this sequel, but there are a few qualms to be had with Into Darkness though, namely, it's been done before. With the events of the 2009 film altering the timeline, the sequels zigs where other prominent Trek films have zagged and everyone can see the resolution coming.

Hope was in great supply for J.J. Abram's Star Trek series following 2009, but when the third entry of the blockbuster franchise takes off, there will be one less viewer onboard.