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Star Trek: Into Darkness - Review
This review contains spoilers. Read at your own peril.
Back in 2009, J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek for the modern movie goer. Backed with a hefty budget, Star Trek revived a series that had been left in the dark, (no pun intended) following numerous failed Next Generation films. With a resetting of the series' timeline, emphasized with the epic destruction of the planet Vulcan, the commitment to this being a clean slate for the series was loud and clear.
With the origin plots out of the way, Into Darkness would seem to be in a perfect position to push ahead with a completely new story. This is, primarily, what Abrams' film fails to do. Rather than create something original, there is instead a hefty nod to the series' past; Klingons, Tribbles, The Prime Directive, these are all things that people recognise as Star Trek, so they're thrown in. It comes across as a huge lack of creativity, not to mention a slightly miscalculated move. Mainstream cinema enthusiasts will have some of the references go over their heads, whilst Star Trek aficionados will likely roll their eyes at the constant pandering.
The worst part about this is that Abrams' is a solid director, and the cast that has been assembled is spot on. The chemistry between Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, as Kirk and Spock, is fantastic, whilst Simon Pegg puts in a great performance as Scotty. It's the writing that ultimately damages Into Darkness. Trapped between pleasing the hardcore fans, as well as delivering something for popcorn-munchers, the film frequently ends up on the wrong side of both.
Still, as a basic action movie plot, Into Darkness does improve on the 2009 attempt. In that film we had the incredibly bland Nero, whose motives were basic, and sketchy at best. He wasn't fleshed out well at all, since the film already had so much to do setting up all of the origin plotlines. Here, we have Benedict Cumberbatch hamming it up as *spoiler* Khan; cool and calm on the exterior, but it's very clear that there's an angry side simmering just below the surface.
Whilst the movie doesn't go as far as the previous film with its bizarre number of coincidences, (Kirk just happens to land on a planet that both Old Spock and Scotty also just happen to be living on?), it's still a rather muddled. There's a lot of weak writing that bogs the film down; Khan's plan seems bizarre at times, it's never adequately explained why he has a ring that, when in contact with water, explodes, or why his comrades are stuffed inside missiles. Again, the flaws are not in the film's presentation, it looks fantastic, albeit with a huge fascination with lens flare. It's in the film's plot that things need improving.
What's most frustrating about Into Darkness is that it is never a bad film; at a most basic level it's rather satisfying as an action movie. The set-pieces are framed well, and there's a good mix of CGI alongside practical sets. It's step up from barrage of computer-generated nonsense that's prevalent in Bay's Transformers films. Where the film does share a similarity with Michael Bay's series is in their screenwriters; both Into Darkness (and the previous film), were written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the same guys who co-wrote all three Transformers movies, noticing a pattern here?
What the next instalment of Star Trek is in need of is a new writing team. With Abrams off working on Star Wars: Episode VII it might just get this, along with a new director as well. Of course, there's also the sense through both this film, and 2009's Star Trek, that Abrams wasn't the best fit for the movies, and he's certainly a better fit for Star Wars. These 'Trek movies are great actions films but not great science fiction ones. Compared to say, Joss Whedon for example, you get the sense from Abrams' movies that he's not necessarily a geek that loves all the little details about nerdy fandom. Instead he enjoys working for the mainstream, making films that are a cut above the typical action shlock these days. Bring on the next Star Wars.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is currently in cinemas.
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