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strong visuals, spotty plot

  • Jun 4, 2013
Rating:
+2
I might be the only person on Earth who liked this movie more than I liked Abrams' Star Trek 2009. Unfortunately, that's partly because I disliked the 2009 Star Trek. But Into Darkness does have stunning visuals, some fun moments, and a much more compelling villain. It seems overall that viewers who don't know much about Star Trek seem to enjoy this movie and Abrams' larger take on Trek, whereas many viewers who do know Trek despise this movie. I'm more of the latter category (I've watched Trek since 1994), and while I don't *hate* Abrams' versions there are serious problems. Here are my thoughts.

SPOILER WARNING: I've included spoilers in my review. I found out about some key moments in the film before having seen it. I think in retrospect it was a good thing. There are some moments in the movie that can be maddening for Trek fans and having them spoiled actually allowed me to get my frustration out of my system before seeing the movie. I think I enjoyed the movie more having been spoiled. IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS, DON"T READ THIS REVIEW.

THE STORY

I love the beginning of this movie. Basically, Kirk violates the Prime Directive to save Spock. However, Spock reports him and Kirk gets demoted. The story connects to classic Trek and it gives the characters more emotional weight.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn't really continue with this intro. The rest of the movie follows rogue Starfleet officer John Harrison, who engages in several acts of terrorism against Starfleet. This part of the movie becomes a bit convoluted. Basically, the entire plot is an attempt by Starfleet Admiral Marcus to frighten Starfleet and to start a war with the Klingons, but what a convoluted way of going about it. When Harrison flees to the Klingon homeworld, Marcus sends the Enterprise to Kronos (yes, it's misspelt in the movie) to kill him. This part of the movie is fun, but a bit short on logic. Apparently, nobody thought to make diplomatic overtures to the Klingons to request that they return Harrison. Given that Harrison seems not to get along with the Klingons, it's hard to imagine they'd keep him.

I wish the movie had explored the consequences of Kirk's violating the Prime Directive and show Kirk actually struggle to get his command back. However, he's back in the captain's chair within a few minutes. This is fine. It gives the initial scenes a bit less emotional weight, but the second third of the movie is still fun. Where the movie really weakens though is the final third. It basically becomes a rehash of The Wrath of Khan. Things happen way too quickly, without any space to breath and let the emotional impact of events sink in.

There are a bunch of stupid plot twists that drove me nuts. Why on Earth was the Enterprise underwater in the beginning of the movie? I'm sure it was because Abrams thought it would look cool, but it makes no sense. Why would Admiral Marcus tell Kirk to fire torpedoes with Khans crew at Kronos? Why not just regular torpedoes? Sure, you could come up with contrived explanations, but like the 2009 movie this movie stretches logic.

THE VILLAIN

Given that I claim the final third of the movie borrows heavily from The Wrath of Khan, it's worth mentioning that John Harrison is Khan. Yes, despite all denials to the contrary, he is Khan. This is both good and bad. Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the few actors who can bring enough menace and charisma to the character to make a believable Khan. However, in this movie Khan's motives are pretty mundane. He just wants to get his 72 crew members back. Khan here has no ambitions to rule the galaxy, no epic quest for revenge. In fact, in one scene, Khan actually tears up when talking about his crew.

In short, while there was potential, Khan in this movie just never rises to the level of epic villain. The only reason anybody would care about Khan is because of the legacy of The Wrath of Khan. For much of the movie, Abrams could have substituted almost any other name for John Harrison without changing the villain's role. In fact, by making the villain Khan, I think it forced viewers who had seen Star Trek II to drew too many comparisons with Khan from that movie. It might have been better to just have had a fresh villain, perhaps a human or alien terrorist.

THE CHARACTERS

As with the 2009 Star Trek, I'm impressed with how well the new batch of actors mimic their counterparts from the Original Series. That said, Into Darkness is even less about the ensemble and more about the Kirk and Spock bromance. There are two problems here. First, one of the key relationship dynamics in the Original Series was the three-way dialogue between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Spock represented logic, McCoy represented emotion, and Kirk was the balance. However, in the Abrams movies McCoy has been relegated to a background character and to compensate has taken Kirk to an emotional extreme. I think there's a real opportunity missed for a band of brothers relationship between the three men.

Second, Spock is just too emotional. I don't mean that Vulcans never have emotions. However, in the Abrams movies, especially Into Darkness, Spock's default is emotional. This becomes particularly bad near the end, when Spock becomes enraged, yells "KHAAAAAN!", and goes off to chase Khan. The problem is that we never see Zachary Quinto's Spock as the cool, collected, logical Vulcan we see from the TV series and original movies. It's fine to show Spock's emotional side sometimes, but making him too emotional minimizes those moments.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

This is really where the movie shines. Abrams really knows how to paint a pretty picture. The intro sequence with the red planet and the white aliens with yellow robes was wonderful. The battle scenes are intense and when the Enterprise takes damage it really appears pretty damaged. Despite my other complaints, I do wish other Star Trek movies looked this good.

That said, the movie just doesn't slow down. There's no room for viewers to breath and absorb the emotional impact of events. Nicholas Meyer, director of Star Trek II & VI, says it's important to make some scenes special and some scenes mundane. However, in Abrams' movies, all of the scenes are so bold and busy that viewers really don't get a sense of which, if any scenes, are special (perhaps except radiation chamber scene). It's like a roller coaster ride with lots of ups and downs but to straightaways.

THE ENDING

As I said above the final third of the movie was the biggest disappointment. There's a situation where Spock grieves for Kirk. It's pretty much a direct rip on Wrath of Khan. I'm fine with a subtle homage. But what really frustrated me was that the end sequence is just a big fistfight between Khan and Spock. The scene lacks any tension and moreover takes place on a moving transport shuttle on Earth in broad daylight. While I think Abrams usually gets the visuals right, here the visuals were not only silly but also didn't provide a climax for the final battle. There was no battle of wits, just a pedestrian brawl.

One reviewer (I think the Transporter Room 3 podcast) said it best: at this point, the characters haven't earned this ending. We've only had one movie before this one with Kirk and Spock. It's not clear how that emotional became so deep. It just doesn't work when viewers know that Kirk will be resurrected. I think the ending could have been just as effective if Uhura had died, and made more sense.

THE VERDICT

Overall I give Into Darkness 1.5-2 stars. It's better than the 2009 Star Trek in my opinion, but Abrams still doesn't seem to understand Star Trek. This is all popcorn movie with little intellectual or emotional heft. More importantly, Abrams seems a bit too willing to make large leaps in logic and to fall back on action sequences rather than develop the plot. I'd still recommend seeing it. Despite my complaints, I did enjoy the movie and I'll buy the blu-ray. It just lacks the thoughtfulness of Star Treks II and VI, and that's a shame. If Abrams does make another sequel, I'd recommend he watch Star Trek II and VI, but not just to copy the plot twists, but also the thoughtfulness in those films.

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June 06, 2013
that alternate timeline thing sure gave Abrams all the excuse he needed to change what had been established in Star trek. I think he made it too much into a popcorn flick with little imagination, I am sure an alternate timeline should've provoked more innovation than something more like an action adventure flick (and not an imaginative one at that)
June 06, 2013
I think the thing Abrams never understood is that an alternative timeline doesn't just mean you ignore everything else in Star Trek and do whatever you want. Rather, changes should be traced back to the change in the timeline. Character changes should be deliberate rather than just to serve the needs of the movie.
June 06, 2013
I agree. Sometimes, I feel that this alternate timeline is a dumbed-down timeline LOL! And yeah, most of my Trekkie friends argued about this movie hahah.
 
June 04, 2013
Yeah see, this review... I can dig it.  I still enjoyed the movie a lot but I still think it's a good thing to point out some of this stuff.  In particular, I actually agree with the Khan thing.  It was probably what annoyed me most.  Especially o my second viewing.  See, I never understood why Abrams made it such a mystery.  The villain could've been ANYONE and it wouldn't have mattered.  Him being Khan only means something if you watched the second film or TOS.  So I was trying to figure out why hiding who he was was such a big blasted deal.  As I mentioned in my comment... it doesn't really matter who he is.  It's not like he and Kirk have a past.  Khan barely has a past with Star Fleet in this film.  I couldn't figure out why the Revelation of John Harrison actually being Khan was a big thing.  From a marketing standpoint it certainly has appeal.  But from a story one?  There's no context for it.  It's played off like a twist but... it's not.
June 04, 2013
Thanks. I probably would give this a 1.5 or even 2 on the Lunch scale if I'm generous. It was fun, but the ending and Khan stuff left a bad taste in my mouth.
 
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Dominic J Nardi ()
I am a recent law school grad with an interest in Southeast Asia legal issues. Unfortunately for my checkbook, ever since high school I have been addicted to good books. I have eclectic tastes, although … more
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A good portion of Trekkies (or Trekkers, depending on one's level ofStar Trekobsession) have special affection for episodes of the original TV series that related to Earth and other-Earth cultures visited by the crew of theEnterprise, version 1.0. Some of the shows unfolded in distorted forms of the past, some in the present day ofStar Trek's future reality. Director J.J. Abrams recognized the importance of this relationship in his origin-story reboot of the franchise in 2009, and inStar Trek Into Darknesshe has made it an even greater touchstone to the roots ofStar Trekcreator Gene Roddenberry's defining philosophy from nearly 50 years ago. The human home world is key to the plot of this spectacularly bold leap intoStar Treklore, which cleverly continues along the alternate path that was established as separate from the "original"Star Trekuniverse in Abrams's first whiz-bang crack at advancing the mythology. But it's not just Earth that is cool and imperiled in this rendering of adventure in the 23rd century;Into Darknessalso plays with the original conceit that Earthlings were member to a multi-species United Federation of Planets ruled by a "Prime Directive" of noninterference with other civilizations. The conflict comes when rogue elements in the Earth-based Starfleet Command hunger to shift focus from peaceful exploration to militarization, a concept that is anathema to the crew of theEnterpriseand her ongoing mission. The new cast...
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