Thursday, June 6, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness: occasionally problematic, but mostly enjoyable

With a title like "Star Trek Into Darkness," you would expect some serious shit to be going down in the sequel to the 2009 reboot. JJ Abrams is back at the helm and he's brought back the entire cast. But is this film darker than the first? Not exactly. Is it a mostly fun, entertaining ride with some great action sequences? Yes, as a matter of fact. But so was the first Star Trek. It doesn't feel as though the stakes have risen in "Star Trek Into Darkness" and, because of that, it can tend to dip into "business as usual" territory.

What remains a weakness in both of the Star Trek reboots is the villain. Again, the 2009 "Star Trek" was a lot of fun to watch, but do you remember much about the villain? Remember? Nero? Played by Eric Bana? Exactly. And while the first film was able to get away with it more because it was still exciting to see all the familiar characters back in a modernized blockbuster element, the second film needed to up the ante and give us a reason to continue on this journey with them. If it was just to hang out with Capt. Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty, that's one thing. But ultimately, there's a story to tell here, and the story for "Star Trek Into Darkness" just feels so... by the numbers.

When we meet Kirk, Spock, and company in the beginning of "Into Darkness," the Enterprise ship attempts to prevent the eruption of a volcano in order to protect a planet's civilization. A number of things go wrong, leaving Spock in harm's way. But Kirk breaks code in order to save him, leaving the Enterprise to be exposed by the primitives who inhabit the planet. Kirk gets reprimanded, loses his rank as Captain and then has to go back to the Academy. He's not ready to be a captain.

...For like five minutes. A series of events occur and then suddenly Kirk is back in the chair of the USS Enterprise. Just like that. A mysterious man named John Harrison has been making things very difficult for the Federation. He convinced someone to blow up one of their HQs in London and now he's a fugitive. Kirk and his team then make it their mission to go after him, they capture him in Kronos (where the Klingons live), and then imprison him in one of those fiberglass prisons that you see all the time in movies like these. There's really only two ways this scenario plays out: either Harrison tricks them all and manages to escape and then we spend the last third of the movie trying to find him. Or, they actually need Harrison and decide to "use" him to get what they want. This movie goes for the latter option.

The film's been out for about a month now so I guess it's no surprise at this point to reveal who John Harrison really is. If you still haven't seen it, don't read past this POINT.

But, honestly? Revealing this isn't that big of a deal. I knew John Harrison was Khan before I saw the movie and it really doesn't matter, to be honest. So he's Khan. And he's played by Benedict Cumberbatch who does a superb job with what he's given, unfortunately, he's given very little to do. While Khan has brief moments of evil badassery, it's too brief. Ultimately, considering how hard they tried to keep this character reveal under wraps, the way his storyline plays out is unimpressive.

That said, the movie is fun because the principal characters are fun. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto do a great job as Kirk and Spock. Simon Pegg is given a chance to shine as Scotty. Karl Urban and Zoe Saldana are enjoyable to watch as well. When these characters are together and are bickering or fighting together, they're a great team. The chemistry is definitely there. It's just a shame they have yet to be given a great plot to really stretch these characters out. They have great moments here and there, but honestly, there's very little character development among any of them. It's just more of the same.

While it was fun to see Mr. Robocop himself, Peter Weller, in the film as Fleet Admiral Alexander Marcus, the character of his daughter is utterly useless. Alice Eve plays science officer Dr. Carol Marcus and sneaks onto the Enterprise because... why exactly? Who is she? How did she get there? What? Who is this person? She doesn't play an important role in the film. It just seems like she's there for eye candy. Is she a love interest? No. Is she evil? No, but that would've been more fun. In a film where there's already plenty of characters, her presence in this film was a head scratcher.

Again though, "Star Trek Into Darkness" does the best it can despite a weak script. JJ Abrams does a great job from a technical standpoint and also in the way he gets to cast to play off each other. If there is going to be a third film, let's hope they get better writers because this franchise deserves better. With a great script, one of these Star Trek films could wind up being a classic. For now, it really does seem like it's just business as usual.

Grade: B-

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