Thursday, May 23, 2013

Let's Review Something: Star Trek Into Darkness

I’ve never considered myself a Trekkie.  In fact, I make fun of those people.  That doesn’t erase the fact that I wore Vulcan ears to school for Kindergarten show-and-tell, referred to myself as Spock for at least a year or two and told everyone to “live long and prosper”.  You see, I’m one of those old school ‘Star Trek’ fans.  I haven’t seen any of the spin off shows outside of ‘The Next Generation’ and I don’t know any of the names of the countless characters that float in and out of the ‘Star Trek’ universe.  I know the original characters, the ones that started it all, and I have seen all of their movies (not all of their shows).  I may not have seen them since my childhood, but the memories are all there.  So, while I don’t consider myself a Trekkie and while I shamelessly laugh at those who can speak Klingon and who can name all of the alien races and actually hold full conversations of which alien race they’d like to part of (yes, I know some people like this), I hold a very special place in my heart for Captain Kirk and Spock and the rest of the crew of the Starship Enterprise because they were such a special part of my childhood.

Back in 2009, J.J. Abrams unleashed a whole new look at these characters with his Blockbuster rebirth of the popular franchise.  I was wholly excited to see these characters brought back to life on the big screen for a new generation.  In a way, it felt like coming home.  Finally I could feel alright about letting this particular universe back into my life. 

It felt acceptable. 

For me, ‘Star Trek’ was one of the highlights of 2009.  With a rich cast (that ensemble is phenomenal) and a beautifully fleshed out storyline that took the important facets of an ‘origin story’ and allowed to be embellished with a backstory and history that felt fresh, exciting and new, ‘Star Trek’ exceeded my expectations.  Yes, it betrays in a way the very fundamental core of what the ‘Star Trek’ universe was based on, tonally at least, but it made it more human and thus more accessible to today’s culture and society. 

It made ‘Star Trek’ cool again.

With ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’, Abrams and company continue down their slope of huge action set pieces and compelling chemistry to create another Blockbuster film that draws in the audience and keeps us at the edge of our seat awaiting the next frame.  As far as stringing us along within the scope of the genre, this newfound exploitation of science fiction and action in a way that explodes from scene to scene, Abrams still nails it.  He brings so much to the table in terms of style and visual impact that it is hard to fault that aspect of the film.  He knows how to keep you watching and enjoying what you are watching.

Sadly, for me, ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ just doesn’t live up to its predecessor, and when you factor in the obvious inspiration for the film (the legendary ‘Wrath of Kahn’) you have even more to ‘nitpick’ about. 

Crash and burn?
The question then rises is; is it really nitpicking?

The sad thing about this new edition into the series is that it just doesn’t have the same heart and soul that the first film did.  It lacks that passionate humanity that laced the original film (and ‘Wrath of Kahn’ as well).  While the snappy dialog and the chemistry between the characters is still there (I still love this ensemble and find it borderline perfection), the backstory element that helped make the 2009 reboot so successful is lost here in favor of a sloppily structured story revolving around a familiar character (Kahn) and a not so familiar one (Marcus).  Now, one may say that the origin story is done and so they need to move on, but by keeping the development of Kahn and Marcus’s backstory so skeletal it made their plight feel uneventful despite being rather ‘eventful’.  Worse than that, as the film tries to explain the backstory it so recklessly threw together, it becomes sadly obvious that little thought was given to plot development at all.  It makes little sense and feels only half developed.

I also found the shameless referencing to ‘Wrath of Kahn’ without the same depth of character and circumstance to be disheartening.  The finale concerning Spock and Kirk in a very familiar scene (swapped roles, but mirror image) has a veneer of emotion and yet it all feels so manipulative because you already know how the film is going to rectify the situation, since no one has the balls anymore to give us a downtrodden and honest ending.  Sure, in the midst of the film’s intense gravitational pull I wasn’t truly concerned with my emotional detachment, but upon reflection it is obvious why I nearly shrugged when leaving the theater.  It was intense and visually impactful and yet emotionally flaccid. 

Yeah, we went there...
This is a big rift in the film for me.  Despite containing crowd pleasing elements (those techs are undeniably outstanding) and some true depth of performance (Cumberbatch makes so much out of his generalized villainy), as a whole I just cannot love this movie.  I liked it and yet it is truly flawed in a way that took me by surprise considering the depth brought to the 2009 film.  I expected so much more, and deflated expectations can be a hard thing to get over.

I give this a C+ bordering on a B-.

As far as Oscar potential, I see this getting in with Makeup and Visual Effects at the moment (both deserved).  It also has a shot in the Sound categories, and that would also be deserved (the sound of Kahn squishing those faces is enough to warrant consideration).  I wish that Cumberbatch could get some traction here.  It is nice to see a genre performance get such technical depth.  He reminded me of Michael Fassbender in last years ‘Prometheus’, using his voice and body movements to convey a character that is deeper and more profound than the film allows him to be.

It's a shame, but Oscar will ignore me!


  1. Yeah, I was slightly let down after the brilliant first film, but I'd still give this a B+. I wish this cast would win some awards. It's one of the best ensemble casts I've ever seen. The actors have great chemistry and give fine individual performances.

    Cumberbatch was a good villain, but when he did the "blink to get a big tear to stream down my cheek" trick, it kind of took me out of the film. That's me nitpicking though. It's a pet peeve of mine. (Seriously, Pine had two crying scenes and didn't have to blink to get the tears flowing.) Still, I wouldn't mind some awards traction for him.

    1. In retrospect though, that blinking tear scene felt like another moment of manipulation and kind of makes sense once you realize the main emotion Kahn feels is that of rage fueled revenge.

    2. That's a great point! Didn't think of that.