Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) Movie Thoughts

When a series of direct terrorist attacks jangle the nerves of the Federation's Starfleet on Earth, a now estranged from command, James T. Kirk(Chris Pine) finds himself torn between his role as the Enterprise's still green (often reckless) leader, and an emotionally compromised avenger. With the core suspect behind the attacks, the once-considered high ranking officer, John Harrison(Benedict Cumberbatch) on the run, it is up to the newly re-assembled crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to either render the criminal turncoat dead or alive. Meanwhile, Spock(Zachary Quinto), Uhura(Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), and the rest struggle to grapple with the now volatile captain as aims are blurred, and stakes are dire in JJ Abrams' massive follow-up to the 2009 re-envisioning of the Gene Roddenberry classic. A sequel that ends as breathlessly as it opens, by doing as much nodding to Treks of the past, whilst adding all the sound and fury expected out of a lumbering summer entry.

When we last saw our favorite crew, the fatherlike Captain Pike(Bruce Greenwood) granted the upstart Kirk with the keys to the newly minted Enterprise and her crew, with a hopeful smile and romance for the unpredictable. But what was shone so bright not so long ago has shown its luster, and now sees the often foolhardy young captain at odds with those who saw so much promise. Kirk has yet to fully understand the temerity of leadership, and seems more likely than ever capable of leading his crewmates into certain doom. And no sooner that this comes to a head than when things are shattered so far, leading him on a path at odds with virtually his entire crew (who often have enough of their own things to contend with-IE Spock/Uhura difficulties) as he finds himself at the head of a massive Starfleet manhunt for a man with apparently deep knowledge of secret activities, and apparently a battery of combat ability the likes noone has ever seen. And once again, the heart versus the mind core of the series; the central relationship between Kirk and Spock is taken to new limits as rules are questioned, and feelings of loss are examined. Feelings that could be a harbinger of difficulties yet to come. The Enterprise's darkest hour may very well be at hand.

While one can just explain away the remainder of the film's plot, it would be detrimental to go any further as the entire aim of the film shifts after what feels like a pretty solid two thirds. Early on, Kirk's arc is well-established as he finally must contend with his own worst qualities, and is placed in a fog that could just as easily bench him as allow him to rise into the captain we know and love- with his entire crew in the balance. So when the philosophies of the characters work wonders in many sections throughout the film, there lies the secret to the success of the often clumsily-plotted, yet likeable first outing. Whether they run afoul of a young planet's primitive inhabitants in lieu of the Prime Directive, or find themselves in the belly of the Klingon beast, the chemistry across the board of palpable. Even as the action reaches absurd levels of wannabe Star Wars/Indiana Jones, it's the cast that makes so much of it delectable. Most importantly a more nuanced series of performances by Pine and Quinto, who very much make these legendary characters their very own, with cadences that have their own fun and effectiveness. New to the tale, aside from the mysterious villain, are the additions of Admiral Marcus (played by Peter Weller), and Science Officer Wallace(Alice Eve) who both offer up thinly veiled wrinkles of possibility. And then there's Cumberbatch's occasionally frightening Harrison, a man so single-minded in his aims and yet so shady in his motives, that it is rather unexpected when we find him to be almost sympathetic and exciting to watch as a broken soul in a lean truck of a form that's intimidating to put it lightly.

And now we come to the part of the review where the film really swerved left when it should have rode the shoulder. There have been a number of instances where I have found myself at odds with what the internet has dubbed "spoiler culture", an overall avoidance of early news often perpetrated by the movie geek blogosphere and beyond where early information is leaked to the chagrin of the production staff, often done for little more than site bragging rights. And while I myself can see why some would rather go into a film cold, it is dispiriting to see films derail themselves in hopes of proving the wonks of the internet wrong, if only for a few moments. Which is where Into Darkness hits a bit of a wall come the pinball-ricochet finale. It's a move so overt, so informed by fandom, that it in many ways robs the entire new series of its initial potential. Even when the plot of 2009's Trek carried with it many unsolved contradictions, puzzling behaviors, and so on, it often found itself buoyed by the characters. And this time around the bulk of the problem comes at a most crucial section, and finds the remainder of the film unable to regather the same stability. There is actually no reason for the choices made here, and become more baffling with each moment I write this. Especially when the most reasonable explanation for said decision can only be in hopes of both derailing and kissing up to a contingent that the previous film seemed only peripherally interested in, the old guard fans. It's a move that proves to be less clever than it so pretends to be, and lacks the kind of freewheeling sense of fun that had been promised by the first half. Outside of a majority of the LOST television series, rarely have I felt so bothered by this creative team's fallback posture of relying so heavily on familiarity to save what could have easily worked out more organically. This lack of faith in the setup, leads the new film into places that while remain boundlessly amusing, feel more than a little empty.

So with all of this said, there is quite a bit to admire about Star Trek Into Darkness as the now-familiar "dark middle chapter" film of an already well-established new franchise. It delivers the melodrama and spectacle where needed, and the cast is more than up to task this time.(Not to mention, Michael Giacchino's score that outflexes the original in pure emotive power) It's just far too bad that faith seemed to find itself lacking where it needed it most. When will we learn that it isn't spoilers are the problem, but rather the attitude inherent in the delivery? There are sincerely moments here I wish to keep with my lifetime of Trek memories, but it's going to be hard to overlook a final act that insists on the franchise's most beloved film for prestige. Even new fans deserve much better.

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