Saturday, May 4, 2013



As I did with "Iron Man 3" a while back, I am going to post two early reviews of "Star Trek Into Darkness." One is positive the other is negative (and spoiler filled mind you) so keep that in mind as you read on.

Despite the reviews, I am still wildly excited to see this movie. The first film made such a huge impression on me and all the trailers look rather promising.

Anyway...Here YOU GO!


If you consider "Star Trek Into Darkness" to be part thirteen of a larger franchise, you may walk away frustrated and tied in knots if the reactions I saw after a screening were any indication. Conversely, if this is part two of a new franchise in your mind, chances are you're going to have a great time with the continuation of what JJ Abrams and his collaborators began in 2009's "Star Trek." I find myself somewhere in the middle of those two camps, ultimately coming down on the side of the film as a pretty relentless piece of summer entertainment, anchored by what I consider one of the most exciting movie star performances in recent memory. I think they make some missteps in trying to service every "Trek" fan equally, but not insurmountably.

I feel badly for the hardcore "Star Trek" fans who don't like this new version, because I know what it's been like for them in the years where there were no new "Trek" movies in the works, and I know what it's been like for them loving something that was always considered somewhat left of center, always in danger of going away forever. While "Trek" has managed to survive for nearly 50 years at this point, there have definitely been lean times where Paramount didn't see much upside in continuing to throw money at something that just couldn't cross over to be a full-fledged mainstream sensation. And now that it's finally become part of the Nerd World Order in this new age of the Geek, the most devoted of the "Trek" fans seem irritated by the whole thing.

They've had their moments of glory before this, of course. "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" was a minor miracle, a huge rebound from the debacle that was "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." Lean and fun and wildly affectionate, "WOK" became the thing that they chased from that point on. It was interesting seeing how widely loved the series was when "The Voyage Home" was released, just as I was impressed seeing how completely everyone turned on "The Final Frontier" just a few years later. Even the biggest of the "Next Generation" movies still felt like they were nerd events, not mainstream events, and when Paramount first started talking about a reboot, it seemed like a business decision with very little creative upside available.
I would argue that the 2009 film proved that supposition wrong, and in fairly spectacular fashion. What Abrams did, and what he does in everything he makes to some degree, is he reclaimed the basic archetypical dynamic that defines "Star Trek," and he used it in a way that resonated loudly with audiences. He went right to the heart of what has made that Kirk/Spock/McCoy triangle so appealing since the first series originally aired. By taking all of them back to zero and then gradually drawing them together as a crew, he's really examining where these bonds came from and what made them more than just a collection of people who are all very good at their individual jobs. What makes a crew something larger, something more powerful? If it is being tested together and responding to those tests, then these movies are indeed a look at how the Enterprise became the same ship that we saw engaged in their famous five-year mission. And while I am not someone who particularly enjoys the current trend of over-explanatory prequels, in this case, the material supports it, and it serves to not only illuminate the original series, but react to it in a way that feels playful.

"Star Trek Into Darkness" begins with Kirk chafing at the role that he's expected to play, and Chris Pine once again owns the character of Kirk completely from the opening scene to the finish. It is downright miraculous that he ended up with the role, because what he does with it is not something I can imagine any of the other likely candidates for the part even trying to do. Pine is an original, and he plays this combination of arrogance and anger and comedy in such a way that it's all sort of jumbled up together. He's not doing Shatner at all. He's playing Kirk. And the Kirk he's playing isn't Shatner yet. You can see how he's going to get there, and he takes some more steps along that path in this film, but he's not quite "The Captain" yet. The film is all about struggling to earn that identity, and part of the test that faces Kirk this time is managing all of the personalities that make up a crew. This is a team that has to trust each other innately at all times, but that also has to know that when their captain makes a choice, it's a choice that was made at least in part because of how it will impact them. They have to believe in their captain. And at points in this film, it makes sense that no one would believe in this captain at all.

One of the things that made "Star Trek" work in 2009 was the relationship that developed between Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and Kirk, and this film wisely leans on that same connection a few times. Greenwood's grounded wisdom playing off of the coiled frustrations that drive Pine in the film are a great dynamic, yielding gold every time they play a scene together. Likewise, Pine and Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock, have found a great rhythm for the way they play their exchanges. Spock's precision against Kirk's playful imperfect humanity is a big part of the appeal of "Trek" in general, and Abrams spend a fair amount of time and energy getting it right this time. If the first film was about getting everyone into one place to become part of a team, then this film is about what happens once you're a crew and you have to actually start acting like one. This test will either forge them into a team that shares a bond for life, or it will break the Enterprise beyond repair, on both a human and a mechanical level. In the film's best moments, it offers up a dramatic debate about whether Starfleet is meant to be a military organization or a scientific one. In some ways, it feels like the people responsible for making the movies are wrestling with that same notion.

The thing about "Trek" that is trickiest is that most blockbusters deal in good guy/bad guy narratives. It's easy. It translates. Every culture understands that. Every audience understands that. Here's a good guy. Here's a bad guy. Bad guy does bad stuff. Good guy gets upset. Good guy hunts bad guy down. Bang bang. Good guy wins the day. "Star Trek" told stories that weren't built on that paradigm, and some of those are some of the most memorable of the series. The mission they were on allowed them to simply interact with various cultures, poking their way from world to world, observing, exploring. Faced with the unknown, the Enterprise struggles towards understanding. You don't need an obvious binary bad guy to have something be interesting, but they've made that choice and they've aimed for trying to do the best possible version of it.

It's just one of many possible templates, but it's a tempting one for a storyteller, and when people look at the way Christopher Nolan took that basic structure and played such a smart variation on it in "The Dark Knight," that's why you get echoes of that in "Skyfall" and "The Avengers" and any number of other upcoming films. You see it done right, it's very appealing, and people unconsciously sort of chase that same thing through a number of other movies. There's certainly potential for it to really pay off. To do that right, though, you've got to have a great villain, a truly worthy adversary. Nolan knew what value there was in The Joker, and he got everything out of the character that he could. In "Skyfall," Mendes used a completely unknown quantity, a new character, but made that part of what was intriguing. For this film, Abrams tried a solution that's a little bit of both approaches. When we meet Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison, he is an unknown, a complete mystery man. Does that mystery hide a larger secret, an identity we might recognize? That's what the entire pre-release strategy has focused on, and I think it's ultimately to the film's detriment. If he is indeed playing an iconic villain, then the whole point of that is to prime the audience. Don't you want to see James Bond show down with Blofeld? Don't we want Superman to battle Lex Luthor? If you're doing the Big Villain versus the Big Hero, and you never tell your audience you're doing it, then why do it at all?

The mystery is ultimately not about Cumberbatch's character, but is instead about whoever is pulling the strings behind the scenes. In one of those occasional occurrences where Hollywood releases several things that deal with the same ideas and that even share common story elements, both "Iron Man 3" and "Star Trek Into Darkness" deal with terrorist bombings that kill innocent people, and both feature scenes that might upset some viewers right now. Both also deal with the idea that the bombings we see serve an agenda that is not immediately clear, that violence can be a sort of theater. How they explore those ideas is very different, but it is an odd parallel between the films. There is much of "Trek" that plays grim, but Abrams also fully explores the humor and the humanity in the connections of the various crewmembers. John Cho and Anton Yelchin probably have the most thankless roles this time, but they have a few moments each. Simon Pegg does very good work as Scotty, and he's part of a few of the film's biggest set pieces. Karl Urban is sidelined to a frustrating degree this time, and I would love to see him front and center for whatever's next in the series. Zoe Saldana has some quality that makes her the center of whatever scene she's in, and she is the open beating heart of the new Enterprise crew, all empathy and understanding. She's still relegated to a supporting role, though, and does what she can with it.

This is very much about Kirk, Spock, and "John Harrison," and Cumberbatch more than delivers on his first major Hollywood moment. He makes his character a convincingly physical threat, a shark of sorts. He plays beautifully off of both Pine and Quinto, and for the most part, the way the film handles his storyline pays off. The film's most controversial moment is also the most overt homage to an earlier movie, and while I think it all makes perfect sense thematically, it's so quick, so blunt, and so mechanical that it lands with a bit of a thud. I have a feeling there will be some people who focus exclusively on that moment, and they won't be able to enjoy anything about the rest of the film. I like the rest of the film and feel like the one moment doesn't take away from everything else that works.

Besides… as this film ends, the Enterprise is finally the ship that we remember, and that five-year mission has finally been offered up. What lies ahead for "Star Trek" is unwritten and exciting, and this cast is primed to do amazing things if the material is there. I want more of these movies. I want more of these characters. "Star Trek Into Darkness" is a sober, aggressively-entertaining exploration of some of the richest characters in all of pop science-fiction, and it should cement this as one of the most potentially thrilling series running.

Read more at 


J.J. Abrams’s STAR TREK wasn’t just a “reboot”; it was an exhilaratingly heartfelt resurrection of a forty-plus-year-old franchise that had seemingly outlived its usefulness. While it didn’t exactly rekindle an interest in boldly going where no human has gone before (manned space travel isn’t much of a priority nowadays), it did evoke the hope and swagger of Gene Roddenberry’s original series. It also created an alternate timeline in which Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise could explore the universe anew, thus allowing old-school Trekkers to enjoy the new movies without losing their Vulcan minds. Given the well-documented zealotry of the series’ fans, this was a not-insignificant miracle.
So if you were to ask me what one thing Abrams and his screenwriting brain trust of Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof could do to erase the goodwill built up by STAR TREK ’09, my answer might very well be, “Bring back Khan, get him caught up in a silly conspiracy that involves going to war with the Klingons, then rush through a surfeit of nonsensical incident as you mechanically build to an unforgettable moment from someone else’s better movie.”
To that end, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is a rousing success.
The film starts promisingly enough with Kirk and Bones fleeing a body-painted tribe of aliens as a massive volcano spurts and shakes in the background. Kirk and Bones are disguised so as not to reveal themselves to the planet’s indigenous populace (in accordance with the Prime Directive), but they’re running out of time; so, in a masterfully handled piece of parallel action, is Spock, who’s been inadvertently stranded in the pit of the volcano with a bomb designed to quell its life-obliterating fury. Once back onboard the submerged Enterprise, Kirk is faced with a no-win situation: let Spock die alone in the volcano, or violate the Prime Directive and transport his Vulcan buddy to safety before the device detonates. Kirk, being Kirk, chooses to do the latter.
Nicholas Meyer’s STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, to which STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS openly invites comparison, was about an aging Kirk contending with his own mortality, and learning, via his best friend’s sacrifice, that you cannot cheat death. It is about accepting the ultimate no-win situation. It is also a finely crafted screenplay that draws on seventy-nine television episodes, one feature film and two classics of literature (A TALE OF TWO CITIES and MOBY DICK) to give the central conflict and, most importantly, the Kirk-Spock friendship an emotional resonance that, at the time of its release, was both surprising and well-earned.
From the moment Zachary Quinto’s Spock, facing death in the volcano, blurts out “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” we know the reference, and, as a result, we’re pretty sure we know where STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is headed. But these life-or-death concerns feel premature for this still inexperienced crew. Little has changed since the first movie. Once Kirk is back on Earth, he’s bedding a couple of extraterrestrial females and brashly talking about getting his five-year mission. He’s still a cocky, flyboy pussy-hound in dire need of an ass-kicking. Obviously, Abrams and his writers are setting Kirk up for the ultimate teachable moment, but this portentousness doesn’t mesh well with the gee-whiz energy Abrams has brought to the franchise. The stakes needn’t be so high so soon. Let Kirk be Kirk for a movie or two before you have him play chicken with his own mortality.
Unfortunately, this film is hell-bent on solemnity. Immediately after the opening titles, we meet Benedict Cumberbatch’s mysterious John Harrison at a London hospital, where he offers a distraught father a miracle cure for his dying daughter. The price: papa has to perform a suicidal act of terror against Starfleet. This necessitates an emergency command meeting back at Starfleet HQ in San Francisco, which is precisely what Harrison wants; moments after convening in the top-floor conference room, Harrison pops up in a heavily-armed aircraft and opens fire. Kirk, who’s present despite having been relieved of his command for violating the Prime Directive, loses someone dear to him, which places us squarely in the realm of a revenge film. But it’s Kirk who’s overcome with bloodlust this time, not… that Harrison guy.
By now, you know Harrison is Khan, and the film’s narrative drive is hampered by Abrams’s decision to make this a mid-film reveal. It’s completely unnecessary. Fans will work out the mystery immediately, while non-fans simply won’t care. The moment Khan hisses his true identity at Kirk - from behind a glass partition ala Hannibal Lecter, one of several visual tropes Abrams has lazily borrowed from other films – is played for maximum “Holy shit!” effect, but we’re only relieved that the characters can stop referring to the bad guy in relentlessly banal terms. That they have to go to go to such superfluous lengths to build up this suspense is troubling in that it suggests Abrams and company are more concerned with fan service than telling a compelling story.
Indeed, fan service is the film’s gradual undoing, to the point where a main character’s fate actually hinges on it. Though Abrams pulls off a couple of thrilling set pieces throughout the course of the film, you’re never completely immersed in his Trek universe because he’s constantly making cutesy callbacks to the original one from which he so deftly, respectfully separated four years ago. For a filmmaker who’s been so vocal about expanding the Trek brand to international markets (where the franchise has traditionally struggled), he seems overly concerned with not alienating the base. As someone who’s been a member of that base since childhood, I can assure Abrams he has nothing to worry about. He bought himself unlimited leeway when he established an alternate timeline. 
Whereas the first film ably defined its core characters through non-stop action, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS reduces them to squabbling, preoccupied bores. The Spock-Uhura relationship is Bickersons-level comedic business (overall, the banter is nowhere near as snappy this time out), while Bones is all but relegated to the periphery. The only crew member who really gets to shine is Simon Pegg’s Scotty; his frantic fumbling with a closed airlock as Kirk and Khan rocket toward him at terminal velocity is one of the film’s few high points.
Along with the opening sequence, that set piece reminds us that Abrams can deliver invigorating big-screen entertainment; sadly, the rest of the movie is a hectic, flatfooted grasp for greatness. The problem is right there in the title: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS insists on its own weightiness. That it forces its hand by shamelessly pilfering from the greatest big-screen TREK of them all is unforgivable. It’s so misguided that, frankly, it makes STAR TREK ’09 look like a lightning-in-a-bottle accident.

Faithfully submitted, 
Mr. Beaks

Wow. Two totally different takes on the film. Two depth filled reviews. All I can say right now is I can't wait for this to get released. Which will be on May 17th 2013


No comments:

Post a Comment