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Friday, May 17, 2013

(Attempted) Brief Thoughts: Star Trek Into Darkness




Star Trek Into Darkness: “It’s fine” out of 5, which is like a 3, I guess

[Note: This is more for the sake of having some thoughts on the film collected somewhere and to appease a few folks, but I know there is more insightful writing about Star Trek Into Darkness elsewhere]

[2nd Note:  Upon finishing this piece, it is way more detailed than I intended, but I wasn’t exactly going to throw it all away. I can only hope that people appreciate my perspective in some manner.]

Christopher Pike:  Do you know what a pain you are?  You think the rules don't apply to you. There's greatness in you, but there's not an ounce of humility.  You think that you can't make mistakes, but there's going to come a moment when you realize you're wrong about that, and you're going to get yourself and everyone under your command killed.

I have honestly not tried to make a big deal out of this more publicly, but my interest in Star Trek as a franchise is almost non-existent.  Do I respect what it has brought to the world?  Sure.  Do I enjoy the work of many involved in the making of this newest entry?  Of course.  Do I begrudge anyone for liking this series?  Of course not.  My relationship to Star Trek is similar to food I don’t like, because of the taste.  It may not be bad for me and others may enjoy it, but it just isn’t my thing.  Do I need to be as clichéd as possible to state that I’m a Star Wars guy?  I would not think so, but it is true, and even my father informed me that ever since I was very young that was the case, after I rejected a Starship Enterprise toy, because it wasn’t something Star Wars.  So with this ridiculous disclaimer out of the way, my assessment of Star Trek Into Darkness is pretty simple – it’s fine.  If you like what J.J. Abrams did with the 2009 reboot, than I would say that ‘Into Darkness’ offers a lot more of the same, except bigger.




Despite the mystery surrounding the plot and characters in this film, Star Trek Into Darkness has a pretty simple story, which is bafflingly stretched into a 132-minute film.  A terrorist attacks Starfleet, which leads to the deaths many people.  Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is angered by this and has his chance to take the USS Enterprise to the Klingon home world of Kronos, where this terrorist is hiding, with a directive to terminate.  We come to learn that the terrorist, known as John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), has a larger agenda in mind, which will continue to challenge the Enterprise crew and others to no end.  Loyalties and bonds are tested, namely between Kirk and First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), as everyone’s favorite Starfleet team are taken into darkness and forced to fight for their lives.

I only want to touch on a few points, but at the same time, I want to assure everyone that I am not trying to be the guy who sat with his arms crossed, instantly disapproving of the film.  I came in open-minded enough, which, if anything, gave the film the chance to really impress me.  While it certainly is impressive from a visual standpoint (IMAX seems like a must for those who really are excited for the film), I also can’t say that the sense of awe provided by the filmmaking made me overcome my predilection towards being indifferent to the franchise.

 
Still, as far as the positives are concerned, this movie looks fantastic.  Director J.J. Abrams puts all the money on screen and the film has plenty of exciting visuals to enjoy throughout, particularly the opening sequence, which has a wonderful use of crimson landscapes, matched with an exciting chase sequence, as a volcano is about to erupt, establishing a sense of urgency.  The action is strong in the film, regardless of how much action may seem like too much.  Additionally, the creative use of sets, particularly when the Enterprise’s gravity goes offline, was a nice piece of entertainment.  I can also continue to admire the use of humor in these films, as the cast has a nice level of chemistry that makes this work, keeping the film from ever becoming too dour (it doesn’t hurt that Kirk seems like less of a dick this time around).

Getting to my issues with the film, which I think can honestly be justified for anyone, regardless of their thoughts on the franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness does seem to be more about being a bigger film, as opposed to a true move forward.  Many characters are relegated to the background, as the film focuses on Kirk, Spock, and John Harrison.  Sure Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is featured, but does she really do anything, besides whine about her relationship with Spock?  Even a pivotal scene involving her skills are pushed aside to make room for action with the guys instead.  Simon Pegg maybe comes off the best here, as far as the rest Enterprise crew goes, but at least my favorite character of this franchise, Bones (a character I literally had no knowledge of, before the 2009 film, played by Karl Urban) had some fun lines.  Also, don’t get me started on Alice Eve, who has rightfully become the most meme-worthy aspect of this summer.


Really, shoving the others to the background would be less of a concern if the film had a lot of interesting things for the core three featured to do as characters, but what do they really accomplish, aside from moving the plot forward?  Kirk is less arrogant this time around, but Pine only does so much with the character that has not seemed to evolve much since the fist feature.  Spock fares better, as Quinto really sells this part to me, given the conflicted state of his being half human.  And then you have John Harrison, and it’s a great pleasure to see Cumberbatch delivering menace on screen in the most evilly British way possible, even if the actual character he is playing is very thin.  He is very angry and has one of those Hannibal Lector scenes that every villain seems to have these days, as he carefully calculates his next action from an imprisoned state.  But what is his overall goal?  Along with the recent Iron Man 3, I continue to be underwhelmed by these villains who raise the stakes without delivering a clear endgame that expands upon one or two sentences.

This brings me to why the film stops short of being nothing but spectacle (and I will completely accept being called a hypocrite, if I end up writing a review that praises Fast and Furious 6 next week).  I think the film falls victim to not bringing real surprises to its viewers in terms of the major twists that occur.  Now, I hesitate in saying that from a general point of view, but hear me out.  As a frequent filmgoer, I can understand why it would be easy for someone like me to know who the bad guy is, based on casting alone (and I’m not talking about Cumberbatch here).  At the same time, the climax of this film features a character making a certain choice that leads to a certain level of drama that could be surprising…except this comes in the form of massive amount of pandering to an audience that more or less gets the idea.  I say “pandering”, because even I, who is not all that familiar with the universe, could easily recognize exactly what J.J Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were doing in its botched third act.  As a result, the dramatic weight, which could have been quite interesting, feels undermined, given the adherence to mixing up concepts of what fans have seen before.  I realize how vague this statement is, but fans of the series can likely understand what I am referring to.  With that said, it is a moot point for those who are otherwise unaware of this franchise’s history, however, being that I have so little connection to the franchise, it seems notable that I can call out said pandering so easily.


The interesting thing to consider is what if J.J. Abrams decided to handle marketing this film differently?  Rather than go with his super secrecy tactic, when it comes to allowing people advance insight into what is going on his upcoming film, what if the word was out on one of the presumed secrets of the film.  This could have taken some of the weight off of the expectation versus the reality, when it came to said time to reveal pieces of information in the film and in turn created more of an impact for the other aspects that this film presents, which are less based on details purposefully being hidden and more on what it means in conjunction with what has already transpired in the film.  This is all subjective speculation of course, but given how much the “surprise” aspect of this film fell flat for me, I am more curious for what could have been the case.

Let me wrap up with some more niceties, because the film is one I would still easily recommend people to go see in IMAX (as it features large scale sequences shot with IMAX cameras), despite all my pussyfooting around actual straightforward praise.  For fans of J.J. Abrams’ take on the franchise, they should at least like this movie, even if they don’t think it’s better than the first.  For people simply seeking spectacle, it sure is pretty damn spectacular in moments that really count.  And just because I need to say it somewhere, Michael Giachinno’s score for the film is all kinds of awesome.  Star Trek may just not be my bag…baby, but the effort is there and the movie is fine as crowd-pleasing entertainment, though I still have issue with how much pleasing for which crowd this movie tries to do.  Regardless, for a movie that I had no strong desire to see, compared to other films this summer, the obligation certainly did not harm me in any way.  I may have remained indifferent to the franchise, but I saw some cool stuff and got to put out a piece of writing that I was happy to boldly go forward with.  

John Harrison: No ship should go down without her Captain...





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