Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Star Trek Into Darkness" (2013)

Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Benedict Cumberbatch
Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof
Directed by JJ Abrams
Rated PG-13 - Sci-fi action/violence and language
Running Time: 133 Minutes

While conducting a survey of a primitive civilization on an alien world, the crew of the USS Enterprise discovers a volcano eruption will likely annihilate the indigenous people. A plan is concocted to save them by rendering the volcano inert, but when Spock (Zachary Quinto) becomes trapped inside of it, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) breaks the Prime Directive, Starfleet's highest rule, in order to rescue his friend. But while Kirk ignores the incident in his reports, Spock, being an honest Vulcan, does not. As a result, Starfleet Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) removes Kirk from command of the Enterprise, demotes him, and gives the ship back to its original captain, Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood).

But before the Enterprise can ship out again, a secret Starfleet research facility beneath the streets of London is attacked by a terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Marcus organizes the commanders of all Starfleet vessels in the region to hunt down Harrison, but the the bombing was merely bait to set the trap: Harrison attacks the meeting of Starfleet captains, killing Pike and wounding the others, leaving only Kirk and the Enterprise in any shape to chase down Harrison.

With Kirk back in command, the Enterprise will head deep into Klingon territory to locate this dangerous fugitive. Kirk's mission, one which his entire crew desperately pleads him to abandon, is to fire an experimental torpedo at Harrison's base in an abandoned city on the Klingon homeworld. Risking all-out war with the vicious Klingon Empire on a mission of murder, Kirk must make difficult decisions to rise above his desires for vengeance, and become the hero and commander his crew, and the Federation, deserve.

After the wonderfully fun 2009 reboot of "Star Trek," high expectations were heaped upon the producers for a sequel. It took four years, but "Star Trek Into Darkness" finally arrived in theaters with the promise of more adventures of new crew of the starship Enterprise. And make no bones about it, this is quite an adventure. Like its predecessor, "Star Trek Into Darkness" rockets from one action sequence to another, with lots of jokey exchanges to move things along even quicker. The film never feels over-long, which is good for a film clocking in at over 2 hours.  But there are flaws.

Once again, what this new version of "Star Trek" gets so very right is the essence of its characters. The cast does not ape the performances of the original actors; Pine is Jim Kirk because he has that attachment to his ship and his crew and that drive to succeed, not because he tries to talk like William Shatner. Likewise, Quinto nails the constant struggle to suppress emotion in the half-human Spock. These two actors have wonderful chemistry together, highlighted in a couple of great scenes, such as one toward the beginning of the film where Kirk is frustrated with Spock's seeming obliviousness to why he tried so hard to save Spock's life in the opening sequence.

These characters are at the heart of the film, once again focusing on Kirk and Spock and their relationship (clearly becoming much more of a bromance this time around, too, with a lot more naked emotion than "Star Trek" usually displays - a late scene is a tear-jerker). Here, Kirk is brash and arrogant. Pike dresses him down early in the film as a fool, a man with no respect for the authority he holds, believing that because he's so awesome that the rules simply don't apply to him. It's this attitude, this blind adherence to his own sense of "I can't fail" that is exploited by his enemies in the film's central conspiracy.

There are several great scenes of the Enterprise crew vocally disagreeing with Kirk, and his growing frustration with them. He's used to getting what he wants and suddenly he's realizing that what he wants isn't actually the right thing. That's the "Darkness" the title refers to, an emotional one for Kirk. It's here that the film highlights that optimism that "Star Trek" is so famous for, where we have a heroic character rising above his desire for vengeance and choosing justice instead. This feels particularly prescient in the wake of the recent bombing attacks at the Boston Marathon. I can't recall the number of Facebook status updates I saw during the manhunt for suspects from people I know and respect, calling for blood - which made my flesh crawl.

Since the events of the first film skewed the timeline entirely out of whack, the writers feel themselves free to muck about with a lot of concepts that are familiar to "Star Trek" fans that give greater depth to the proceedings, even if they are fleeting... mostly. The Klingon homeworld Kronos, for example, is shown with its obliterated moon Praxis, and large swaths of it appear to be uninhabited, perhaps as a result of that catastrophe. There are a couple ideas in here that are integral to the film, and to its climax. These ideas are kind of a hard sell, and I heard more than a little grumbling from fans coming out of the theater. It took me all day thinking about it to decide how I felt. Your mileage may vary.

There are some minor issues at work in the script. One thing that sticks out to me like a sore thumb, as a fan, is the way the film treats warp speed. In no other incarnation of "Star Trek" does it take mere minutes to go from the center of the Klingon Empire to Earth's orbit. There's also very little a sense of the size or disposition of Starfleet. Where are all the other ships when the Enterprise is engaged in battle over Earth? These are technical considerations that the script seems to gloss over because they're just inconvenient.

On a technical level, "Star Trek Into Darkness" is once again a brightly-colored, very detailed sci-fi action film. Alien worlds are rendered gorgeously in bold colors; the entire opening sequence seems to be constructed almost entirely of primary colors. The bridge of the Enterprise is awash in red highlights and blue computer screens as characters walk about in their brightly-colored uniforms. There are alien creatures walking around in the background of every scene. It's a joy to watch, so I recommend catching it on a big theater screen.

If you enjoyed the 2009 reboot of "Star Trek," you'll find that "Star Trek Into Darkness" runs right along those same lines and you will likely enjoy this film just as well. Tonally, it does go a little bit darker with its depictions of characters trying to justify outright murder, but the script still moves quickly and there's plenty of joking around in the dialogue. Kirk and Scotty get a lot of big laughs in this film, always well-placed so that they never feel like the jokes are in the wrong scene.

See Also:
The Star Trek Franchise

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