Sunday, 12 May 2013

Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Director: J.J. Abrams
Writer: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban and Simon Pegg

Hollywood must be a small place. Who’d have thought there were two film makers named J.J. Abrams? There’s one guy who infused so much action, tension, and thrills with his direction of Mission: Impossible: III and the 2009 Star Trek reboot, and the creative mind behind Cloverfield and Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol... and then there’s this other guy who made Star Trek Into Darkness.

Someone needs to change their name because the good J.J Abrams would hate what a underwhelming event this Star Trek sequel turned into; the 2009 film was near-perfect as a sci-fi film, as a Star Trek film, as a blockbuster, and most importantly as a piece of entertainment. Into Darkness isn’t even one third of that films greatness.

This film suffers from a severe case of ‘sequelitis’ from the very start in that everything has to be bigger, louder, and on a grander scale yet never threatens to quicken the pulse or convey any realistic levels of threat. The addition of ‘Into Darkness’ to the title couldn’t have been less appropriate as the film’s tone constantly shifts from light-hearted comedy to brooding drama and back to comic relief and gags with no real investment in boldly going where no one has gone before, rather remaining content with self-referentialism to paper over its many cracks.

The opening sequence sets the tone and the film never recovers. We see Kirk running through a red jungle-like planet chased by the alien inhabitants in a blatant Raiders of the Lost Ark rip-off/homage (depending on how much you enjoy seeing Abrams copy from Steven Spielberg yet again) minus any of the build up which led to that iconic scene’s impact. Here, we’re just thrown into the action and are supposed to be instantly thrilled just because the film says so, not because it has earned it. The tone of the opening scene turns from over-the-top thrills to instant near-death drama faster than composer Michael Giacchino can wave his baton, with Spock in a volcano and we’re supposed to switch emotions just as quickly... but the scene has not earned that emotional investment. Compare this with the opening of the 2009 film and the difference is painfully clear.

As the title card appears and we’ve had each of the crew say a line or two, one would be forgiven for expecting a sitcom style 30 second sequence where “I’ll Be There For You” plays as Kirk smiles at a girl, Spock frowns, Uhura dances, and Scotty slips on a banana skin. Moreover, the likes of Bones, Chekov, and Sulu are given very little to do despite the previous film really taking time to flesh them out as characters and essential members of the crew. Sadly, Simon Pegg as Scotty is given the task of providing comic relief with nearly every line, and he features a lot more here than he did in the 2009 film. The character is a burden on this film in nearly every scene and takes any hint of ‘darkness’ and paints it in luminous yellow.

At this point any hope for an equally strong follow up to the 2009 film are hanging on by a thread, but it’s the handling of the introduction of John Harrison, the evil, ruthless, sadistic, heinous man, where the Into Darkness puts to rest any claim to be a superior film. How do we know he is all of the characteristics above if he’s only been on screen for a matter of seconds? It’s because Giacchino’s score, so often exemplary in other films, tells us so in no unsubtle terms. No character development, no arc, no actions, just a DUN-DUN-DUHHHHHHHHH musical queue is all this character apparently requires. He is evil because the score says he is evil.

As Harrison, Benedict Cumberpatch is as good as his character is underwritten and hollow; and he is really very good. The problem is, for all his superb line delivery about ‘world’s ending’ and ‘walking over corpses’, Harrison never has any depth of character and is merely more than sound bites for the trailers and TV spots. Yes, there is more to him than this spoiler-free review will delve into but unless the viewer is a Star Trek fan, his revelation means nothing and he continues to be nothing more than talk. Even if the viewer is a fan of Star Trek, does his reveal actually make the character into anything more than what is on the page, or is it just a cheap way to tie itself back in to the Gene Roddenbury universe because that’s what it thinks fans want, rather than having an identification of its own? I’d hope not.

The fact that Harrison is nothing more than sound bites for the trailer is never more prominent than at the film’s finale when he crashes his ship into San Francisco; there is no threat or danger here, just buildings getting destroyed and people running away. We’ve seen this countless times before and a sequel to the excellent foundations laid out from 2009 deserves so much more than this tension-free ending. Like any good film of this kind, it lives and dies on the strength of its villain, and Harrison, ironically, ultimately ends up being one of the weakest aspects, even though Cumberpatch is one of its strongest.

The film does have its plus points; the set design and costume design are faultless, adding depth and realism to a fictional world. It looks all of it $185 million budget and everything is up on the screen to enjoy and from a purely visual perspective Into Darkness is a success, and even although nothing here tops the first sight of the Romulan Narada and the skydiving sequence (annoyingly repeated in this film to lesser success) from 2009, Abrams shows again he can always be trusted to make CGI work as part of the scenery, and he knows how to make a spectacle jump off the screen.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Ultimately, Star Trek Into Darkness feels rushed and too happy to please the mass-audience need for explosions and destruction, than taking the opportunity to carry on where the last film finished and to tell a convincing and intelligent story where Star Trek fans and non-fans alike can revel in the experience and adventures of the USS Enterprise. The third film, for there will undoubtedly be one, needs to learn from the mistakes made here or it’ll be reboot time again.


  1. I disagree with pretty much every point. Star Trek Into Darkness is brilliant.

  2. this review is totally bullshit

  3. Wel I thought the film was totally bullshit

  4. wow, are you me? you voiced every single thought i had about this film

  5. I enjoyed the movie, added to my fave stories and desperately waiting for DVD to came out.
    But I agree that this movie was a bit of disappointment and is weaker than movie from 2009. As you wrote, there are not many scenes with core of the crew, Scotty, Bones, Chekov and Sulu. Second thing - I never thought that Kronos, home world of Klingons is so close to Earth. Additional scenes in space, about 10 minutes would do so much better for this movie.

    About Cumberbatch... Let's just say that when first time I went to cinemas, it was all about yet another Star Trek movie. Second time was only for Cumbetbatch's performance :]
    Overall, he was just too good. Eric Bana and his role in previous film was good because he didn't dimmed his colleagues.

  6. Didn't like what they did with Harrison. Cumberbutch is such a powerfull dude, he should have been he's own brand new bad ass. That alone would have made a big difference for me. No need to force everything together from the original series.
    I do like this new Star Trek treatment. 1st was great, 2nd was good and I got high hopes for the future. Just go to space allready, make the crew more professional and add more side boobs. Can't have too much side boobs.