After the success of 2009’s Star Trek and with a large and loyal fan base waiting eagerly, there was no doubt that another Star Trek film would follow the recent reboot. The film picks off pretty much where the first one left off, thematically and cast wise at least and finds the crew of the USS Enterprise on a previously unexplored planet, attempting to save a primitive civilisation. Several set pieces and un-followed directives later and Captain J.T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is stripped of his captaincy while his first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is reassigned. When a rogue officer attacks Starfleet in London, Kirk is given command once more and tasked with tracking the extremely dangerous Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) to the Klingon home planet and ordered by his superiors to set phasers to kill.
For about an hour I was really enjoying this second updated Star Trek movie and had few complaints but into the second hour the plot begins to sag and then fall away completely. There is a set piece, which is also in the trailer, and shows the Enterprise hurtling to Earth in an uncontrollable spin. For me this was an apt metaphor for the film as a whole following a second act reveal. Up until that point I was engaged and intrigued but once the torpedo truth was made known, the film hit a brick wall and relied on admittedly excellent special effects and action set pieces to see it to its soppy conclusion.
I don’t want to give the impression that Into Darkness is a bad film because it isn’t. But it isn’t a great film either. The movie blends traditional Trek with modern twists to create some exciting scenes and there are knowing nods to the original series littered throughout which will please Trekkies. I have to wonder though whether the hard core fans will really go for this movie as aside from the character outlines and occasional references, it’s far removed from the 1960s television series. Because the story isn’t strong enough, the film relies too often on running around, battles and explosions. While I’m no huge Star Trek fan, my memories of the TV series were of philosophical and theoretical discussions on strange worlds with Spock’s logic and Kirk’s heart driving them towards worthy conclusions and decisive moral victories. Of course there was action too and fighting both in space and on terra ferma. Here though there is far more of the fighting, explosions and shaking camera, holding onto chairs, rocking from side to side stuff. For me that fails to separate the movie from any other Hollywood blockbuster whereas the TV show’s intellectual side separated itself from everything else on TV at the time.
Although I got a bit fed up with all the fighting and running about, it at least looked very good. The special effects were absolutely fantastic and both in space, on Earth or on foreign worlds, the landscapes, beings and ships looked wonderful. There’s some very nice set design, especially in some of the Enterprise’s engine rooms and London and San Fransisco looked realistically futuristic. J.J. Abrams’ direction is recognisable in both its quick zooms, lens flare (I know, I shouldn’t mention it, but its everywhere) and general assured quality. The screen pops with interesting and exciting visuals and I have no complaints in any aspect of the film’s design. The 3D isn’t terrible either. It is particularly effective early on but becomes gradually worse and some scenes are a little fuzzy. Overall though it didn’t impact massively on my experience either way.
The returning cast is mostly solid and in a couple of the actors I saw flashes which I failed to notice in the first film. Karl Urban has grown into the role of Bones, seeming both more like DeForest Kelley than before but also bringing his own take on the character at times. Chris Pine lacks some of the charisma of William Shatner but holds his own as the focal point. Zachary Quinto once again impresses as Spock, bringing depth and humour to the role and John Cho is also very watchable. I have a problem with Simon Pegg though and feel as though he is miscast. I think (and hope) that his terrible accent is a loving nod to James Doohan’s Scotty but overall his acting style and portrayal of the character just doesn’t work for me. Zoe Saldana is an actress who I like but in this film her character is reduced to a pastiche of a girlfriend with the hump. New to the series is Alice Eve who added nothing of note bar an unnecessary lingerie scene and Benedict Cumberbatch who shines brightly as the film’s villain. Cumberbatch has immense screen presence and brings a brooding darkness to the role and the film as a whole. He is wonderful when spitting out complex and often skull crushing dialogue and shows that he is no slouch in the action scenes too. He’s a highlight of the movie.
One of the problems with the film for me is that because the story was so thin, I was more attune to picking up little inconsistencies and plot holes. Little things that wouldn’t have bothered me had I been more engaged also became more problematic. In addition to this, the plot was often so predictable that I was able to second guess much of it, thus taking away a lot of the fun and excitement of its discovery. I want to avoid spoilers so won’t be too specific but Peter Weller’s character development was painfully obvious from the start and as soon a someone takes over from Kirk as Captain, you know their days in that role are numbered. A daughter’s English accent also jarred when her father spoke broadly in an American one and Spock’s refusal to break directives (rescue) while breaking others (interfering already) should have been spotted by the writers. Something else that bothered me was the availability of transporting which flickers between working and broken with annoying regularity and for no other reason than to stop the script from taking the simple, non action orientated way out.
Overall for all the effects and fire and crashes, Star Trek Into Darkness is a bit underwhelming. It looks brilliant and the direction is very good but the story comes off as rushed and ill thought out. The writers are well known to movie fans and have penned some very popular movies but with the likes of Cowboys & Aliens, Transformers 2, Prometheus and The Island amongst their screen credits, a pattern emerges of films that are attractive, big in scope, often big on ideas but ultimately flimsy and full of holes. Star Trek Into Darkness continues in that vein and although starts out promisingly it eventually boldly goes into the incidental, also ran category.
- Nods to the original include the appearance of a tribble and a small cameo from a farmiliar face.
- Director J.J. Abrams didn't want to shoot in 3D and preferred to use IMAX cameras. A compromise was made with the studio and the film was shot in the IMAX format and converted into 3D in post production, a world first.
- Benedict Cumberbatch was recommended to Abrams by Steven Spielberg.
- Michael Dorn, known for playing the Kingon Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation was contacted about appearing in the film but in the end the film makers decided against his inclusion.