19
May
2013
Review: Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek Into Darkness
Jordan
When I watched J.J. Abrams first Star Trek film four years ago (and reviewed it, in my first ever review for this site), it felt like I was watching a great television pilot. It was fun, quippy, smartly paced, brilliantly cast, and generally a very solid blockbuster. I'm still no Trekkie, but Star Trek was a very solid blockbuster film, a blast of cool in the summer heat. Star Trek Into Darkness brings the fabulous cast to bear on much, well, darker material, and the results are far more mixed than its predecessor as a result.

Where that film felt like an expertly crafted blockbuster, this one shows the seams. Character work, and to a large extent even plot mechanics, are set aside in favor of lots and lots of explosions and set pieces, some of which don't even bother to make sense (at one point, I found myself wondering how the Enterprise had moved hundreds of thousands of miles without power and without a single character mentioning it). The film feints at the ethical complexities the franchise is known for, but only just--it is far more interested in fight sequences than in the reasoning behind them, and its most fascinating quandaries are usually brushed over by James Kirk's (Chris Pine) quick decisiveness, to the film's detriment.

This outing finds the crew of the Enterprise, still including Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Karl Urban, and a woefully underused Zoe Saldana, tracking a rogue Star Fleet agent (Benedict Cumberbatch) who has attacked Star Fleet. Things go about as you'd expect, really, to the point where I imagine you could construct this movie in your head without paying the price of admission. Cumberbatch is pretty magnificent, equal parts malevolent calculation and brutal efficiency, but his plot is so haphazard it undercuts his supposed brilliant tactical thinking. It's as if Abrams cut pages of exposition out of the script to ensure the next punch was thrown as quickly as possible, and while it doesn't ruin the fun of Cumberbatch's performance, it does hurt the movie as a whole.

The film is at its best in the opening sequence which showcases the Enterprise at work, attempting to prevent a volcano from exploding and killing off a primitive species without violating Star Fleet's Prime Directive against revealing themselves to other civilizations. The sequence is zippy, tense, and a lot of fun, set on a well realized world with some surprisingly cool looking aliens. Basically, it feels pulled from that television show the first film felt like a pilot for, and the film never tops it, despite attempting to by making everything that follows larger, more ominous, and more pseudo-operatic. Stakes are heightened almost immediately in a way that is so cliched its basically blockbuster shorthand for "this time, its personal," and we're off to the races, leaving most of the quipping, and nearly all of the character work, behind in the process.

Those set pieces work, for the most part. They are inventive, well shot, and often tense. Watching Kirk be treated as a human missile between ships or trying to navigate an Enterprise that's been turned on its side is a lot of fun, and for these sequences, the movie basically delivers what its aiming for. They are the candy we all go to summer blockbusters for, but without the sustenance of a working plot or strong character motivations, they left me queasy just as often as I was satisfied.

Ultimately, Star Trek Into Darkness feels too constructed to ever resonate, to the point where I spent what is clearly intended as its emotional climax virtually rolling my eyes at Abrams' cloying re-imagining of a moment from the series' history so iconic even I am familiar with it. This is a film that only feels comfortable going where many, many others have gone before. And there's nothing particularly bold about that.

Grade: C+

Read more of Jordan's Film Criticism here
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