Friday, May 03, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Being well aware that this is going to be just one of kazillions of reviews and commentaries this reaction to just seeing Star Trek Into Darkness (note Abram's lack of punctuation in that title: there's a declaration of intent for you) is going to be below average in the details. I'm a fanboy, but couldn't hope to compare with Den of Geek and their ilk. And I'm equally aware that lots of you will see this film so I've kept the spoilers to a bare minimum, limiting them to facts that already out there on sites such as IMDb.

JJ Abrams' latest addition to the franchise is almost cynically successful at building on his first (ingenious) reinvention of Captain James Tiberius Kirk and his trusty cohorts on board old NCC-1701 (see? I can be a nerd too). The action is, from the first second, ramped up, CGI vertiginous and shot through with that post-Transformers NOISE. But at least you don't get to see Shia LaBeouf, and the film's pace - while never really letting up - becomes decidedly more coherent after the first ten breathless minutes.

This time Abrams managed to include a worthy bad guy. For such a factory-line genre so few action movies seem to realise that the bad guy has to be at least as charismatic as the good guys for the film feel balanced and well-rounded. The last movie used its convoluted temporal paradox story mainly in the service of setting up the originals all over again. But the downside of such cleverness was that it lacked a really compelling adversary. Eric Bana did little but brood and blow up Spock's homeworld, apparently because he was sad about his wife and child.

But look out here comes SHERLOCK HOLMES! Well, actually Benedict Cumberbatch plays a kind of anti-Holmes here, mentally AND physically superior, but as mean as you can get. He's a Starfleet guy with an agenda that involves blowing up, shooting and generally being nasty to everyone. He's Cumberbastard. And he uses his best basso profundo to serve up all of his most chilling pronouncements. You know, the ones that link up all the bits where stuff blows up. Of course he's not what he seems at first (cf that spoilers remark). I think he nailed it.

The aforementioned first ten minutes set up a plot whereby Captain Jim can be stripped of the Enterprise, then get it back in about two minutes along with a strong thirst for vengeance. We're reunited with all the usual faces with the addition of a rather useless Alice Eve as new crew member/gratuitous alternative eye candy to Zoe Saldana, Dr Carol Marcus (there's a big clue in that name BTW). Cue a romp across the neutral zone into trouble.

It's worth mentioning here that, as before, the production team have to strive to achieve a balance between retro and futuristic because they're effectively re-imagining a modern version of an old vision of the future to make a third meta-futurism. It's a cool trick but also means that women seem to occupy a woefully retrogressive place in the future. Just like the old future. Yes, we expect old serial space shagger Kirk to leer, but it also means that the female uniforms remain woefully aimed at teenage boys. Thighs in space! And Uhura's role as Spock's sensitive touchstone undermines her more hard-headed skills as multi-linguist and comms person just as Marcus, as second science officer (specialising in weapons, natch), is undermined by her getting down to her space undies pretty smartly.

This is unapologetically a boy's movie, filled with daddy issues, bromance and mobile phone spats. But there's enough here for all of the family, really. There's a lot of love on this ship - cross-gender, cross-ethnicity, even cross-species - and who knows what they could get up to on a five year mission? It's just as Gene Rodenberry saw his original vision for ST:

“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms."

But the upgraded Enterprise 2.0 also takes into account modern politics. Just as the '60s series represented the face of liberal American imperialism, ST 2013 seems to want to make atonement for rushing into conflicts or forcing them upon us, replacing revenge with justice and saying something about the use of drones, terrorism, George Bush and WMD. Maybe. It's never that clear and it blurs the real reason that people will go and see this film. Contained in Rodenberry's vision was the idea of a disparate bunch of characters who you could genuinely love. Why else did we watch the cardboard rocks and latex silliness? And Abrams makes sure that we care just enough for these gloriously 2D characters for two hours.

Of the usual crew, Karl Urban (above) gets singled out by me, if only because his DeForest Kelly as Dr 'Bones' McCoy impersonation gets better every time. And he was Dredd (did I mention that I loved Dredd?). However Zachary Quinto also seems to have become more like Leonard Nimoy than Leonard Nimoy ever did. Even Simon Pegg manages to be aceptable as Scotty this time around.

The script's snappy, witty and (thankfully) always manages to shove the technobabble bits into segments where characters walk or run fast, thus making comprehension no longer a requisite. Machine-gunned sentences about warp cores being mis-aligned etc. only need to convey the very simple premises of fixing something within an allotted time before something very bad happens. That's how knowing this script is. Even when it throws a 'disarming a ticking bomb' cliche into the mix only to make you smile to yourself for recognising that it's a blatant use of a cliche. Make no mistake STID is put together like a well-oiled adventure ride. It also manages to slip in nods to other sci fi greats: a USS Bradbury is mentioned, while Cumberbastard's character is called John Harrison. A coincidence? Also Peter Weller's in it. You get the picture...

So STID is stuffed with enough meta references to keep the faithful happy (a TRIBBLE!) even down to at least one of the denouements. I say 'one of' because if STID really has a noticeable fault it's that it's too willing to give fans what they want. I think I counted at least five big climactic moments before I started to wonder how much more edge of seat stuff my brain could process. Abrams doesn't yet seem to have learned that you should always leave us wanting more. But in this case STID was more than enough. I loved every second.

Star Trek Into Darkness is released in cinemas on May 9th


Paheliyan said...

Another classic. A good follow through of the Star Trek genre. Awesome 3D sequence and solid performance from Cumberbatch. I have seen his acting skills in Sherlock series. And he has done fabulous acting.

Chris Jones said...

Thanks for commenting!