20 May 2013
Star Trek Into Darkness Review
SPOILER WARNING: It is literally impossible to tell you what I think of the movie without revealing what it has up its sleeve. But seeing as it's now plastered all over the Internet (it's on Wikipedia, for crying out loud), I figure that you, dear reader, are more likely to already know it than not. But for those who haven't yet seen it and wish to remain surprised, read on at your own peril...
Back when I reviewed the first the new Trek movies, I may have breathlessly extolled that JJ Abrams had the chops to become the new Steven Spielberg. With Into Darkness - and Super 8 in the interim, lest we forget - it's clear that whilst I wasn't exactly wrong, the road to that title is a lot longer than anticipated, and there are a few obstacles that he needs to hurdle before we let him grow The Beard.
On the surface, he's certainly built a thrilling experience. The Enterprise has never been so realistically depicted, with action sequences that pack an unprecedented punch - the highlight being a confrontation between two Federation ships that will be difficult to top in terms of scale and tension. It's all accentuated by terrific sound design - thunderous base helps, so choose your cinema wisely - and a beautifully weighted orchestral score. The story, too, is masterfully edited, serving to draw you in with carefully paced reveals that all tie together come the end.
But in spite of this sheen of slickness on the surface, there is a point almost precisely a third of the way through the film where you start to notice that this skin doesn't quite sit properly on its innards. From here, we're given a masterclass in how to give mediocre script work a triple-A makeover in the execution - that Abrams is able to defy the script's downward tug on the film's quality is somewhat miraculous.
Scenarios, both in terms of action and character development, are lazily recycled wholesale from the previous movie - with dialogue that sees our players openly admit on behalf of the screenwriters that they ran out of ideas. It also shares a fair few plot points with The Wrath of Kahn, though with a contemporary twist (Terrorism! We're suddenly relevant again!), and cunningly hidden inside John Harrison's unfolding character arc. Whilst this is the most interesting thing about the film, it also serves to artificially create a twist where one simply wasn't necessary. Yes, Harrison is in fact Kahn, and if you're a newcomer to the franchise, don't expect who or what he is to be properly explained, because lazy script writing. Also, do you remember how Wrath of Kahn ended? Notice any similarities? They tried to trick us by reversing the roles and throwing in some more deus ex machina - as if we hadn't had enough - but fumbled the sleight of hand. Because lazy script writing (And now lazy review writing! It's infectious!).
It's a shame, because performance-wise, there's joy to be had. Of particular note is Benedict Cumberbatch, - alternating between brooding darkly and kicking fifty shades of shite out of Kirk, Spock, Klingons, and anyone else who happens to get in his way. Cumberbatch is actually a revelation in that department - he fights here as a man possessed, scathing his way through his foes with a lithe brutality that serves to compliment Kahn's calm fixation on revenge. His showing is worthy of a newly forged character that tips his hat to the classic villain, rather than this lazy mark-two that ultimately ends up brushed under the carpet - though it's testament to the strength of the performance that it feels this way.
Zachary Quinto's uncanny portrayal of a young Spock is still excellent, and regardless of everything that's wrong with the climax of the film, he does a good job of it, managing to scream the iconic 'Kaaaaaaaaahn!' without shedding his dignity. Zoe Saldana provides the emotional core of the piece elegantly, and Simon Pegg - whilst still sporting an accent worse than Gerard Butler's Irish one - is enjoyably daft as Scotty. Rounding out the headliners is Karl Urban, providing the rest of the film's comic relief with aplomb. Sadly, Chris Pine seems to be under the impression that nobody's watching, playing Kirk on auto-pilot until the denoument, where he suddenly ramps it up to 11. The rest of the cast aren't really given much to do, ranging from painfully under-written, to shameless eye candy - but they all do more than is required of what they're given.
It's not that it's bad. Quite the opposite, there's a lot of fun to be had - as a sci-fi action movie, it more than delivers, with thrillingly kinetic action sequences, spectacular visual effects and in the few-and-far-between moments where the writers actually put some effort in, there's laughs and heartbreak to be had. But as a Star Trek movie, it falls flat somewhat - an echo in contrast to the first film's ballsy shout, meekly following in the footsteps of a now irrelevant predecessor. I'm sure we were promised different.