Friday, May 17, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine
Star Trek Into Darkness
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch and Zoe Saldana

Back in 2009, J.J. Abrams (aka. the current Master of Geek Pop Culture) reinvigorated a once-tired franchise with a cast of relative unknowns. A risky venture, to be sure, but new audiences and long-time fans benefited greatly. Like The Dark Knight before it, Star Trek is considered a prime example of how to rebrand a flagging franchise, injecting new life into something that had grown stale over the years.

Now, four years after his first foray into deep space became a box office smash, Abrams once again returns to the Star Trek universe as producer/director.

Abrams, with the help of new head writer Damon Lindelof, continues to tweak the Star Trek canon, yet still manages to appease both the majority of diehard fans and newcomers to the series. And, while Star Trek Into Darkness lacks the excitement and freshness of its predecessor, it's still the type of rousing blockbuster you look for around this time of year.

The latest installment is set approximately one year after the events of the first film. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is tenuously hanging onto his control of the USS Enterprise after angering his higher ups during a botched mission on a primitive planet. However, Admiral Marcus (the overly campy Peter Weller) is willing to brush off Kirk's rookie errors when a new threat reveals itself in the form of embittered former Starfleet crewman, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Harrison's attacks are grand in scale, meant to draw attention to his true motivations -- all of which is gradually revealed as the film progresses (although, as is so often the case with blockbuster super-villains, his plan is elaborately and unnecessarily complex). With Spock (Zachary Quinto) by Kirk's side, as his usual logical and truthful self, the young captain gathers together his crew and sets out to eliminate this latest universal threat.

There's some interesting commentary on terrorism and the use of weaponry to achieve a certain outcome brimming just beneath the surface. Unfortunately, the script only lightly touches on these themes and, while Kirk and Spock occasionally spar over codes of ethics and the role of vengeance, their conversations quickly dissolve into yet another CGI-laden action sequence. But, in the end, isn't that all we really want?

Just as was the case with the first film, Into Darkness boasts an entertaining and likeable cast. All returning characters are on top of their game, including the disappointingly underused Dr. "Bones" McCoy. How Karl Urban manages to make his incarnation so memorable despite very little screentime is a credit to his comedic chops. The rest of the cast from Zoe Saldana's Uhura to John Cho's Sulu make due with significantly reduced screentime.
Benedict Cumberbatch

It's Kirk and Spock, and their complex relationship, that is the heart at the centre of Into Darkness. Quinto, in particular, has really matured into the role, ably conveying Spock's conflicting nature -- does he give in to his human side and reveal his true emotions or does he remain the stoic Vulcan that everyone (sometimes grudgingly) respects? It's ultimately his friendship with Kirk that leaves Spock grappling with how to react to the chain of events occurring around him, and audiences will appreciate his blossoming relationship with Kirk. Pine, although not as strong an actor as Quinto or even Cumberbatch (more on him in a minute), embodies the role of Kirk with a balance of gusto and arrogance. While he's still quick with a one-liner, his Kirk has evolved from the pretty, swaggering playboy he portrayed in the first film. He's more world-weary, with the weight of his new role as captain resting heavily on his shoulders.

As John Harrison, Cumberbatch uses his British baritone to full effect, slowly spitting out his evil intentions with a snarl and a gleam in his eye. A talented actor, Cumberbatch clearly relishes his new role as a villain after two seasons as the anti-social anti-hero on the wildly successful BBC series, Sherlock. Yet, despite Cumberbatch's best efforts, Harrison doesn't quite live up expectations. Perhaps its the dedicated fanbase that built up anticipation around Cumberbatch or the months of speculation as to his characters' true identity, but John Harrison isn't given enough screentime to completely solidify him as one of the greatest threats the crew of the Enterprise ever faced.

That being said, Star Trek Into Darkness boasts a dazzling array of CGI battles and chases, which should serve to satisfy most moviegoers. It's a fast, entertaining adventure. It's just a shame that the final script is somewhat of a muddled puzzle in spots.