Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Star Trek Into Darkness" Review, Or Set Phasers To F@#*ing Awesome

When Star Trek was released in 2009, the JJ Abrams directed reboot of Gene Roddenberry's landmark series was given a new lease on life. After years of diminishing returns on TV and in theatres, many had thought that the franchise was all but dead.

But the reboot was accomplished with style and verve, the new cast managed to evoke the spirit of the originals without being impersonations. And JJ Abrams wowed with his confident handling of the material, managing to capture Star Trek's inherent adventurous qualities, but updating them for 21st century audiences.

Still, some Trekkers hated the film. It was criticized for bad science and a plot driven largely by coincidence and convenience (all those charges are true by the way, but most space opera is driven by those very same things, and I'd argue that most original Trek is driven by those things too). Finally, they really disliked what they called the Star Wars-ification of Trek. That Roddenberry's saga of peaceful exploration had been replaced by more action, more space battles and less of the "vision" that defined Star Trek.

Well, those people may not like Star Trek Into Darkness any better, but that is certainly their loss, because the sequel betters the 2009 film in almost every regard, delivering a film that is funny, thrilling, emotional, and action-packed.

The film opens with the crew of the USS Enterprise on a mission to save the primitive indigenous people of a planet threatened by a large erupting volcano. The mission goes pear-shaped, and to save Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) decides to violate Starfleet's Prime Directive, a regulation that prevents Starfleet from interfering in the natural development of a planet or its society.

Kirk's decision, while somewhat understandable, does underline a flaw in his character. As his mentor, Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) tells him, "You think the rules don't apply to you." Pike is right, and Kirk at the beginning of this film, really doesn't deserve to captain a ship. He is brash, arrogant and reckless. The early scenes of the film show everyone around him, Pike, Spock, Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), advising him to think things through. To rely less on his gut and confidence, more on reason. 

After a catastrophic act of terror committed by a renegade Starfleet officer named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, in a scene stealing performance) throws Starfleet into panic mode, Kirk is given the task of bringing the renegade in. From there, the action kicks into high gear as Kirk and his crew race to track down Harrison, uncover his true motives, and prevent any further acts of destruction.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a title that heralds a grittier, grimmer direction for the series. And while the themes of terrorism and sacrifice are certainly dark, the film never loses that spirit of adventure that is the hallmark of the franchise, nor does it ever lose its sense of humour and I'd argue that this film is even funnier in moments than its predecessor. This film is about going through darkness to arrive at the optimism and thrill of exploration.

There is a greater sense of emotion in the film as well, particularly in the relationship between Kirk and Spock, whose iconic bromance has almost fully solidified in this film. Pine and Quinto continue to standout, while Pegg, Urban and Zoe Saldana all impress.

The script gives each member of its large cast plenty to do, ensuring great moments for everyone, which is harder juggling act than most people realise. The story has less moments of odd coincidence and bad science than the previous film, though a couple do rear their head. I cannot go into them for fear of spoilers, but they're there. However, Abrams packs his film twice the usual amount of huge actions sequences that populate these kinds of blockbusters, so you're too busy trying to catch your breath to consider any inconsistencies in plotting.

Abrams has directed a spectacular film, one that fires on all cylinders, and one that proves that Star Trek's future is alive and well.

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