After dropping the ball for quite some time, I am now going to review “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” the second in the series of Trek reboots from J.J. Abrams.
The aesthetic of the film is, as with the first, very busy. First of all, this film does not escape the signature Abrams Lens Flare, which remains pretty inexplicable and distracting. Aside from that, there are lights blinking everywhere, and they’re all very excited to be on screen. The bridge itself has a lot of these blinkies, as I’ve heard them called, but is, otherwise, very smooth and sleek, with many of the surfaces looking as though they’re made of glass. Some people might take issue with this reimagining of the iconic Enterprise command center, but I think that it works. With how sparse and plywood-looking the original was, the reboots had a choice to either touch it up with modern effects and sensibilities of The Future, or reimagine it completely (into something like CIC from “Battlestar Galactica” or the command deck from “Mass Effect”).
Speaking of, I joked when the trailer first came out for this movie that “Oh hey! They made a ‘Mass Effect’ film adaptation! Cool!” The storyline of the movie did turn out to be more in keeping with Star Trek, but the prop choices certainly do feel a little alien to the Star Trek universe. The uniforms worn on the Enterprise are still updated versions of the original uniforms, but the film takes every opportunity to get the characters out of the bright, solid colors, and into dark jumpsuits and combat gear with colored stripes indicating officer-type, or into grey wool dress uniforms. I was never too attached to the TOS uniforms (My favorites have always been the TNG movie/late DS9 uniforms), so the change didn’t bother me too much. Likewise for the updated phaser rifles (which look like something one might actually issue to a security officer).
There’s not a whole lot to say about the music, I’m afraid. It’s mostly reworkings and recyclings of the music from the first film. Don’t get me wrong: I liked the music from the first film. That theme is great. There’s just really not much that stood out as a “Duel of the Fates” or “Ride of the Rohirrim.”
The cast remains pretty good. Zachary Quinto is still a great Spock, and Karl Urban keeps McCoy’s exasperated, sarcastic self vibrant and dynamic. Zoe Saldana, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin continue to work well as the younger, hotter versions of Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov. Simon Pegg is up to his usual standards and antics, providing some good comic relief, but being able to play it straight when necessary. Alice Eve, a franchise newcomer, is not bad, although forgettable as Carol Marcus (I literally almost forgot to include her on this list). I’ve never signed on to the Chris Pine hate bandwagon, and I think that he does pretty well as his cocky, swaggering Kirk. The show is stolen, though, by Benedict Cumberbatch as the main villain (SPOILER 1), who provides all the nuance and emotional range that the other villain fails to muster up (SPOILER 2).
The plot, for the most part, is solid. There are some twists and turns, some reveals, and some neat action sequences, and, in a departure from the complete space cowboy antics of its predecessor, there are some ethical dilemmas. The film ends with a note that it is dedicated to the victims and heroes of 9/11 and its aftermath (Pretty late on the bandwagon, there, Abrams), but the movie manages to actually explore some questions about the post-9/11 world, rather than simply resort to “‘Murrikuh! Fuck yeah!” jingoism. In an added stroke of luck, the quandaries that are brought up in the manhunt for Cumberbatch after a bombing in London (Can we really justify killing someone without a trial first? Or through the use of remote controlled weapons that have the potential to cause massive collateral damage? Is security worth compromising our core principles? etc.) all are presented in ways in which right and wrong start to get lost between conflicting variables and goals, all which seem important and valid.
That said, this is a Star Trek movie, and it is eager to mine the canon for gold. A little too eager, I think. There is a somewhat forced detour that seems built around getting some franchise staples on screen, mostly just to have a rumble and then never come up again (SPOILER 3). Some scenes and backstory events are downright copies of (ahem, “tributes to”) scenes and events from earlier Star Trek films and episodes, but with minor changes. I can understand the desire to allude to the larger franchise (if they weren’t going to use the Star Trek universe, then they should have just made it a sci-fi action/adventure of its own), and in some cases, I enjoyed it, but some of it felt just a little too much like pandering, or dropping someone’s name to the doorman of a club.
All in all, I enjoyed “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” If you liked the first of the reboots, you’ll like this one. Better still, the plot and characters have developed more nuance and depth since the last time, so this movie feels more like a Star Trek movie, and less like a movie simply called “Star Trek.” And now, I leave you with some filk of the original Star Trek II
1: The main villain is Khan. This movie isn’t a remake of “Wrath of Khan,” but it does insist on redoing a few scenes from the original Star Trek II…
2: There’s also a Starfleet Admiral behind all this, and he’s hellbent on making a fleet of warships and then starting a war with the Klingons to justify commanding said fleet of warships, for no discernible reason.
3: There are Klingons. The plot is nominally about a secret plot to engineer a war with them (see above), but they only show up for one scene, long enough to show off some (weirdly redesigned) head ridges and bat’leths, and then we never hear from them again. Klingons have always been a fan favorite, but if you’re going to include them, include them, please.