Saturday, May 18, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Is Bad As A Film, But Even Worse As A "Star Trek" Movie

This review will be split into two parts. The first will be my critique of the film from my perspective as a movie lover and self-proclaimed film aficionado. The second will be my observations as a Star Trek fan (which means swearing will happen). I do this because I don't want one perspective to seem like it's heavily influencing the other. I also do this to argue that Star Trek Into Darkness fails in both arenas.

The worst thing that can be lobbed against a summer blockbuster action movie is that it's boring. Unfortunately, Star Trek Into Darkness (candidate for worst title of the year) is exactly that. A meandering pace, undefined characters, and damaging serious tone doom the film in almost every department.

After a terrorist attack at a Starfleet building, Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are sent by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) after the man behind the attack, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). But, the mystery behind this fugitive may reveal even darker secrets and force the crew into a head-on battle with their greatest foe yet.

Now, I know that readers like to have some kind of synopsis about the film when they read a review, so that's why I provide them. But, that synopsis up there makes the movie sound far more exciting than it actually is. What the film actually consists of is a lot of characters standing around and talking, while falsely manufactured tension surrounds them. The pacing of this film is one of the worst I've seen this year, with scenes feeling much longer than they actually are. It doesn't help that the action bits are all too short and feel wholly unoriginal, either cribbing from previous incarnations of Star Trek or even this film's progenitor.

Considering this is a sequel, I don't think it's unfair to invite comparison to its predecessor in order to highlight what this film does wrong. Both 2009's Star Trek and its sequel are extremely dumb at a script level, but the original succeeds in overcoming its weak storytelling with a fun and playful tone. Star Trek Into Darkness abandons that for a sense of self-seriousness that makes the bad story decisions far less easier to dismiss. That tone infects the entire cast and turns these new iterations of these classic characters into self-important caricatures, making nearly everyone either unlikable or incomplete as a fully realized person. That's unfortunate for the actors, who all do decent-to-good work, but the tone and script fundamentally handicaps them from giving a well-rounded performance. The only one who barely escapes this fate is Simon Pegg as Scotty, but that's more to do with his natural charm and comedic talent than anything the film actually provides him.

It should be noted that the production side of the film is unsurprisingly spectacular. The effects are fantastic and look gorgeous, but that means nothing if there isn't any emotion behind them. Seeing a cool spaceship or lush alien world has no effect if the story doesn't give those things any weight. Still, the designs of nearly all the science fiction elements are great, especially the undeveloped alien race seen in the film's opening.

Speaking of weight, another thing lacking it is the film's antagonist. While no one is going to argue with Benedict Cumberbatch's acting chops, the script fails to give him a properly imposing presence by sidelining him for too much of the running time. The film also has trouble deciding who it wants its antagonist to be (more about that in the "Fan" section of the review) and that uncertainty deflates any kind of menace the movie could hope to cultivate.

There's also a broad reaching appeal the movie is going for that takes away a lot of what makes the particular brand of Star Trek special (again, much more in the "Fan" section). Specifically, all the laughs in the movie feel cheap and unearned, especially for our second outing with this particular cast of characters.

But, the most damning piece of the movie (structurally) is it's anti-climactic ending. Star Trek Into Darkness has to have one of the most abrupt denouements in recent memory, utilizing a cut to black at the most inopportune moment. I was actually taken aback by the way things were wrapped up and felt completely robbed of a satisfying conclusion.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a major disappointment. It'll please the most cursory movie-goer (a group of MTV types were chuckling along while texting and checking their Facebooks on their phones) simply because it's loud and big, but that's all it is. It's has a plodding pace, characters with no weight, and a tone that steals away any chance at experiencing the film as a fun roller coaster ride. It's pretty to look at, but that wears off within the first ten minutes. I hope J.J. Abrams has better luck with that other space franchise everyone is so crazy about, because this one is a big letdown.

Fan Review: This section will contain what some may consider "spoilers." However, if you aren't aware of Benedict Cumberbatch's identity, then you aren't smart enough to visit Also, things could get mean down here. I really didn't like this movie.

Star Trek Into Darkness (ugh, I hate even typing that awful title) is one of, if not the worst Star Trek film in the entire franchise. Yes, I'm even counting the TNG movies. Not only is it a poorly constructed film, but it gleefully shits over everything that makes the property unique and interesting.

Let's take a moment to reflect on J.J. Abrams initial reboot of the franchise, because I actually liked that movie. Why? Because even the though the script was horrendously stupid, the tone they decided to go for was downright swashbuckling adventure. The energy and verve in that film far outweighed the few stabs at seriousness (Nero's revenge and the destruction of Vulcan), and it helped save the film from itself. STID (that's better. Makes it sound like the disease it is) dropped that attitude in favor of taking itself completely serious. This immediately brings all the stupid aspects of the script to the forefront and makes them impossible to ignore.

Okay, so I kinda already covered that in my first section, but it bears repeating because it gets to the core of what is so wrong with STID: the makers of this movie either don't know what Star Trek is or just don't care. Now, since they've rebooted everything, the argument is that this doesn't need to be like your dad's Star Trek. It can be it's own new thing! Well, then why is STID a blatant and lazy attempt at indirectly remaking The Wrath of Khan?

Oh yeah, Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan by the way. Spoiler alert.

But, that's not the only thing this movie lifts wholly from the best Star Trek movie. In fact, it's not even the best thing it steals and misappropriates! In this movie, Kirk is the one who sacrifices his life instead of Spock, and direct lines from Wrath of Khan play out during Kirk's death scene. There's also the concept of two Federation starships doing battle against each other, which was one of the highlights from Wrath of Khan. In this film, it feels and even looks silly. Ooooooo a bigger looking Enterprise that is painted all black. Soooooo intimidating.

However, the worst thing this movie does is try to "please" fans by not only lifting a lot of things from the best movie in the franchise, but it goes so far as to take William Shatner's career defining shout of, "Khan!" and give it to Zachary Quinto to scream right after Kirk "dies" (I put that in quotes because he's dead for about 5-10 minutes before being magically revived, taking away any possible impact his death would've had). It feels like the worst kind of parody in that it hopes to be sincere. It made me physically cringe during the movie.

It feels like J.J. Abrams wanted to make a movie that appealed to the broad movie-going public (most of who are those MTV types I mentioned earlier) but insert things that only the fans would get. It backfires miserably and makes the movie feel like a sleight against Trekkies (or Trekkers, or whatever term you want to use to define yourself), almost like it's making fun of those people who have stuck with this franchise through multiple incarnations, including Abrams'.

Anything even remotely Star Trek is out the window now. The characters are not at all what they should be. Kirk was always kind of boorish in his original incarnation, but now he's an outright dick and even blatantly stupid. As soon as he finds out one of the officers on his ship is the daughter of their attacker, Admiral Marcus, he doesn't immediately contact the admiral and say, "Hey, I've got your daughter. Stop shooting me!" He runs around for a little longer and lets his ship get blown to pieces, killing a bunch of his crew. Then, he decides to let her communicate with her father. Idiot.

I guess this is a good point to bring up the character of Admiral Marcus, who I darted around in my review of the movie because he's the real antagonist, or at least should be. He's the one that thawed Khan out of cryo-sleep in order to use his tactical mind against an imposing Klingon threat. Yeah, the Klingons are in this movie and they are utterly wasted. They don't feel like a threat at all. Anyway, Marcus is planning to go to war with the Klingons, but wants to secretly initiate the war and get things rolling. Peter Weller actually is really good as a bad guy, but the movie doesn't want him to be the bad guy. It wants Khan to be the bad guy, so you have this awkward transition between Khan being the antagonist and then Marcus for the majority of the film and then back to Khan. It's a tonal nightmare and sucks any tension out of the proceedings. If the movie could have committed to Peter Weller being the villain and actually turning Khan into something of an anti-hero, that would've been a saving grace. But, it doesn't. Because it sucks.

What else is wrong with this movie? Oh, the science part of the science fiction. Now, I know that Star Trek isn't a textbook for scientific application, but it always tried to be. From the very opening scene of this movie, that's thrown out the window. The Enterprise is submerged underwater (which makes no logical sense at all) for what reason exactly? Then, when the Enterprise is at warp speed, Marcus' ship catches up with them and... knocks them out of it? Warp speed isn't a water slide, J.J. Abrams! You can't just slip out and not jar your entire ship.

Ugh, I can't even write anymore. That's how much this movie irritated me. In summation, I'll only say this: I would rather watch a back-to-back showing of Star Trek V and Star Trek: Insurrection than sit through this dogshit again. That's how bad it is. I'm gonna go watch some Deep Space Nine.

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