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Movie Review: “Star Trek Into Darkness”

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Star Trek” has always taken itself very seriously.

Benedict Cumberbatch as the bad guy

Khaaaaaaannnn!!!!! Wait, no, I mean Joooohhnnnn Haaarrrrrissssonnnnn!!!

 

Ever since it was created for television consumption in 1966 by Gene Rodenberry, the franchise has been considered a super-serious and intellectual property. It never had to resort to transforming the space western (as Rodenberry called it) into a fluffy, watered-down product just to gain the favor of small children.

I checked the records. Nobody named Yoda ever joined the crew of the Enterprise – neither did Jar Jar Binks, Chewbacca, or Wicket W. Warwick.

That being said, “Star Trek” also happened to miss out on all the marketing revenue that Yoda and Company generated for this franchise that shall remain unnamed. Okay, fine – it’s “Star Wars.” Anyway, 10 movies in and 6 different TV shows with hundreds of Starfleet members and it was evident that the franchise needed a change.

That’s where JJ Abrams and his production company Bad Robot came in.

In 2009, Abrams (cocreator the then-just-concluded Lost) was named as the next director to occupy the captain’s chair and take it to the final frontier. In other words, Abrams rebooted the franchise and gave it a fresh start and created a world that not only made hardcore Star Trek fans happy (they’re called “trekkies,” in case you didn’t know), but also brought in a slew of new fans as well. Abrams’ “Star Trek” (creative title, huh?) was an entertaining, mile-a-minute, popcorn flick that took in over $250 million in the summer of 2009.

Now it’s 2013, and Abrams has reunited with the cast that played the crew of the Enterprise for “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Joining Abrams for another voyage is Chris Pine as brash on-and-off captain of the Enterprise, James T. Kirk. Zachary Quinto plays Kirk’s unfeeling best friend Mister Spock and Zoe Saldana tags along as Spock’s girlfriend with too-many feelings Uhura. Also back are Karl Urban as wisecracking doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Simon Pegg as the ship’s engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, John Cho as…well… as, uh, Sulu and last, but this time definitely least, Anton Yelchin and his awful Russian accent as Chekov. Bruce Greenwood also returns as Kirk’s mentor Captain Pike, while Peter Weller (Robocop, where ya been?) and Alice Eve join the fray as the father-daughter team of the Admiral and Carol Marcus.

Also along for the ride is Hollywood’s bad guy-du-jour Benedict Cumberbatch as the evil John Harrison. Yes, you read that right. The big villain of “Star Trek Into Darkness” is named John-frickin’-Harrison.  Or is it?

The script from mega movie go-to-guys Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who co-wrote the 2009 “Star Trek,” as well as countless other lucrative films) plays around with the definition of what makes a villain and why he does what he does. The story is good at portraying both sides of every argument – which includes a glimpse into the mind of a “terrorist,” as the film opens up with the Starfleet Archives being blown up by a father who was forced by John Harrison to do so, after Harrison helped cure his comatose, bedridden daughter by supplying the distraught father with a sample of his blood.

Right from the start, we’re forced to put ourselves in the Dad’s place and while it doesn’t make it right, the father bomber still gains our sympathy.

This is a reccurring theme in the movie, as characters constantly have to look at issues from both perspectives, which eventually causes quarrels and rifts between characters in the film – both on and off the Enterprise.

Even in the opening scene – in which Kirk and McCoy are running for their lives through the fungi-like plants on some distant planet, while indigenous tribesmen are throwing spears at them; a la “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – this “two sides to every coin” argument comes up.

See, Spock is supposed to get lowered into an active volcano, while the tribe is distracted by Kirk and McCoy, and detonate a freeze bomb (or something like that) so he can keep the lava and molten rock from destroying the planet. A big problem arises when Spock gets stuck on a magma rock in the middle of the lava lake – after his cable snaps – and, according to the Starfleet rules and regulations (which Spock repeatedly quotes), the ship (which is hidden on the ocean floor) cannot risk being seen by the primitive, ignorant natives and should let him get melted alive in the volcano.

Of course, this is a problem. For one, Captain Kirk says screw the rules and, “I’ma

Zachary Quinto as Spock

I might not be able to feel love, but searing hot pain…that I can feel.

comin’ in after ya.” Spock says, “No, Jim, you’re a fool to break the rules.” And Uhura – who was already mad at Spock for apparently showing no emotion in the first place when certain death is imminent, before he got himself stuck in the volcano – is now an emotional wreck…on the inside, at least.

I’m not gonna tell you what happens…okay, Spock lives…but he is now pissed at Kirk for breaking the rules – even if it was to save his Vulcan-ass – and ends up filing a report with the powers that be.

Yadda-yadda-yadda… Pike yells at Kirk for being reckless and breaking the rules… yadda-yadda-yadda… Kirk tells Pike that he wasn’t about to let his friend die… yadda-yadda-yadda… Kirk is relieved of the rank of Captain and demoted back to Starfleet Academy. Bummer, dude. Like I said – two sides to every story, but Pike’s not hearing it and now Kirk and Spock are at odds and on different ships altogether.

Of course, none of this lasts long as a major plot point occurs about ten minutes later and Kirk is given his ship back by Admiral Marcus and is sent to the far ends of the galaxy to go find Harrison and take on the Klingons while he’s at it. Yes, that’s right. There are Klingons in this film. However, don’t get too excited by the notion of Klingon/Federation warfare – the Klingon threat does not last long at all. But, they do look pretty badass, if that’s any consolation.

The film, on a whole, is pretty standard action movie fare. However, there are a few moments within the second act where some plot twists and story deviations occur, but overall, you’ll pretty much see everything coming. The movie’s biggest supposed surprise is one that I personally had already heard about as a casual Star Trek fan, so I wasn’t shocked in the least when it happened. Regardless, I’ll assume that readers are luckier than me and haven’t come across the same spoiler info I did, so I won’t ruin it here. I can’t keep the secret… Spock is Pregnant! And the future Spock/ Leonard Nimoy is the father!

I kid, I kid. In all seriousness though, Nimoy’s future Spock does make an appearance here, which I wasn’t too psyched for – considering that the whole future Spock angle was, in my opinion by far, the weirdest and most implausible angle from 2009’s “Star Trek.” But the audience clapped, so apparently they like seeing original Spock come back and play the role of Nimoy-stradamus. So… there’s that.

Quick Side Note: I will never fully comprehend the act of clapping in a movie theater – to me it’s like trying to call a pre-taped, TV talk show to attempt to win a prize. It’s pointless. They can’t hear your applause. Who are you trying to acknowledge with the applause? Or, are you just conveying an emotion of joy? Kind of like how laughter conveys a notion that something is funny. Or, do you just like being a weirdo who claps at the movies? Ahh…life’s little mysteries.

From a trekkie’s perspective (as the buddy I took to see the film was a self-proclaimed Star Trek fanatic), the movie delivered enough “fanboy” goods that he was satisfied with the final product. One thing that he pointed out, regarding the story line that Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman concocted, was their proclivity to flip-flop minor details from past Star Trek projects – that hardcore fans would notice and, sometimes, expect to see – which, in turn, gave trekkies something to (dare I say) clap for – metaphorically, of course. To explain it better: say these three rebooted “The Wizard of Oz.” They would give Dorothy “yellow brick slippers” and have her follow the “Ruby Red Road,” as she was followed by the brainless Lion, the cowardly Tin Man and the heartless Scarecrow. Oh, and Toto would be a cat.

These little switch-ups were welcome, as it kept most of the audience on their toes and kept the story fresh. Even I picked up on a few of the more blatant references.

As for the performances: Chris Pine as Kirk continues to express every emotion using his ridiculously-blue eyes. I still don’t know how he can say so much, just by shifting his eyes back and forth, but he manages to do so. Zachary Quinto has now established himself as the guy to go to if you’ve written a robotic, emotion-free character into your script – as he portrays these characters perfectly, every time. His Spock manages to be deadpan, even when it calls for slight emotion.

Spock even gets some humorous lines here and there, as well and Quinto takes full advantage of every single one. The supporting cast is adequate, although Pegg’s Scotty continues to be an exceptional character, although not an especially deep one. There is one cheap scene in the film’s second act, although I’m not really complaining THAT MUCH about it, that involves Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus

Alice Eve in her skivvies as Dr. Carol Marcus

I told you it was gratuitous….tsk tsk… for shame!!!

character and a quick shot of her in her skivvies that seemed to be blatantly included…well…just as an excuse to show Alice Eve in her skivvies. Again, I’m not terribly upset about it. However, like I said, it seemed cheap, gratuitous, and really out-of-place to me.

Cumberbatch’s performance as Harrison is meant to steal the show, but I wasn’t impressed. I understand that some villains are meant to be grandiose and larger than life, but this was TOO much. It was almost as if the Shakespearean-esque Cumberbatch was auditioning for Theater in the Round. I felt it was WAY over the top and it didn’t add to the character’s menace. Cumberbatch’s eyes and facial expression were scary as hell, though. This goes especially for his eyebrows, which he can slant downward on command – like a cartoon villain – whenever he wants to. It’s an awesome spectacle that I quite enjoyed. He should’ve played it like Eric Bana’s Nero from “Star Trek” (2009) or Ben Kingsley’s superb portrayal of The Mandarin in “Iron Man 3” and gone with a creepy American accent. That would’ve been a bold choice for Cumberbatch to take on; at least I would’ve dug it.

All In all, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is a good summer popcorn flick, but not a great one. It had too many missed opportunities and not enough of that flare of originality that Abrams’ first attempt at the franchise had. That movie filled you with a sense of awe, like in the scene where Kirk sees the shipyard where they’re building Starfleet vessels for the first time. It made me it seem like anything could happen in the movie I was watching and that the filmmaker understood what the Star Trek franchise was all about – in a subtle way.

In ‘Star Trek Into Darkness,” Abrams has lost that magic and is now trying to get you to clap at the screen for the trekkie-aimed inside jokes, instead of gasp in awe at the scale of the action and set pieces. He seemed to forget that all of his audience doesn’t have an intimate knowledge of the previous 10 films and six TV shows – and that’s a shame.

With “Star Trek,” Abrams managed to move away from the franchise’s serious and intellectual tones long enough to gain new fans. However, with “Star Trek Into Darkness,” those fans might start to feel slightly alienated once again.

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