May 20, 2013

Movie Mondays: Star Trek Into Darkness

Something tells me this is going to get pretty dark (couldn't resist the pun)

Something tells me this is going to get pretty dark (couldn’t resist the pun)

Title: Star Trek Into Darkness
Director: J.J. Abrams
Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Based on Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Distributors: Paramount Pictures
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Karl Urban, John Cho, Leonard Nimoy
Release Date: May 16, 2013
MPAA: Rated PG-13

Star Trek has been around since 1966, covering half a dozen shows, countless video games, even more countless books, a dozen movies, and forays into every medium imaginable.  In 1967, Star Trek became a comic book, and has been in print up to the present and still has ongoing series even now.  This includes comic book adaptations of the aforementioned movies as well as comic book prequel and sequel stories.  Even the new rebooted series has its own comic book tie-ins.  With that being said, let’s jump right into Star Trek XII aka Star Trek Into Darkness!

I know it's a "new" series, but what is she wearing?!

Lycra bodysuit: Going where no Star Trek wardrobe has gone before.

Much like the 2009 reboot/prequel/sequel (time travel is a hell of a plot scrambler), one thing you’ve got to remember is this isn’t the same ol’ Star Trek we’ve all grown accustomed to.  This new style of Star Trek is less character-driven slow-paced space adventure, and more character-driven fast-paced thrill-packed action fest.  It’s got all of the slam-bang, ‘splosion-heavy feel of a modern summer blockbuster (think Marvel’s The Avengers), but with the nice character nuances of… well… Star Trek.  Take that for what you will; either this new style is for you or it isn’t.  Hopefully, the next film in the series will have a chance to slow things down a bit.  Now, don’t misunderstand; this is in no way an indictment of the new film, as this latest entry is a nice slice of terrific, but it’s not perfect.

This is starting to look eerily familiar

This is starting to look eerily familiar

All of the cast returns, and true to form they all knock their performances out of the park, not only capturing the essence of the portrayals they are hearkening back to, but bringing something new to the table as well.  For example, Chris Pine may not look a lot like a young William Shatner, but he sure as hell acts like he did in the shows and films.  The cast performs as wonderfully as they did in the previous film, with major kudos to Karl Urban for not only perfectly portraying Leonard “Bones” McCoy, but dropping the muscles from previous films to actually do a decent job of looking the part as well.  One should take a moment to mention Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of Christopher Pike (which is completely different from his appearance in the original series) as an example of this new series doing great new things with the franchise.  Greenwood’s Pike brings a much needed feeling of gravitas, heart, and verisimilitude to this film.  The two standout performances in this film, though, are Zachary Quinto as Spock and Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain, managing to bring out as much raw pathos, anguish, and power from their characters as possible (and it’s weird saying that about a Vulcan, I assure you).

Spock and Cumberbatch frantically stroking each others hair

Cumberbatch frantically stroking Spock’s hair.  Spock is not pleased.

In fact, that description of the acting performances in this film can be used to pretty much describe every aspect of the latest film.  From Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as the film’s villain, to Michael Giacchino’s musical score, the costuming to the story line, every element of this film starts firmly grounded in the universe that came before it, and then, much in the spirit of the series as a whole, boldly goes where the series hadn’t gone before.

Giacchino’s score is in need of serious praise here folks.  He manages to create a new musical feel for the series that doesn’t really feel like any Star Trek entry that has come before, while still providing a strong emotional undercurrent for all of the action and character scenes.  Also, one should point out that he’s the only other composer for Star Trek to incorporate a piano into the score since Cliff Eidelman (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).  He also gets major points for featuring a Klingon choir in one of his pieces (and the fanboys go wild).  And as before, he integrates the original Star Trek Theme Music (by Alexander Courage) into his new Theme Music for the series.

In space... No one can hear you gush over how pretty space looks

In space… No one can hear you gush over how pretty space looks.

The special effects are terrific, utilizing a wonderful combination of practical effects and top of the line CGI.  The aliens in this film are done using practical effects and make-up with only a few creatures being rendered in CGI (look out for the big fish… pretty funny).  And the CGI models for the ships are all excellently detailed.

Sadly, it can’t be all praise.  One cannot just gush for the entire review.  There had to be some bad, unfortunately.  So, here it is.

The USS Enterprise. The ship that dies more than a teen in a horror film... or a redshirt in Star Trek

The USS Enterprise. The ship that dies more than a teen in a horror film… or a red shirt in Star Trek.

Homage to the previous series is great, but if one does it too much or for too long, something winds up being lost in the translation.  And there are a lot of homages, some feeling perfectly natural while others, though welcome and enjoyable, feel a little forced.  And some plot elements border on going past the point of homage and straight into remake/redo territory, which is something the previous film managed to avoid.

As with the previous film, there are few minor gripes with convoluted plot-contrivances that you just have to overlook or you’ll be too busy shaking your head to enjoy the rest of the film.  Also, the level of action (for this critic at least) seems to have gotten a little out of hand.  The majority of previous Star Trek films were much slower paced and focused a lot more on quiet, somber, or even cute and quirky character moments.  While these are still there, in a somewhat diminished capacity, they feel more like place holders until the next big action scene.  In fact, you can chart a fairly predictable time-table for this film’s formula.  Action beat, character beat, action beat, character-action beat combo, comedic relief from the tension, repeat.

We just had a nice character beat... I feel an action beat coming on!

We just had a nice character beat… I feel an action beat coming on!

Admiral Marcus telling Starfleet they need to "get this son of a bitch!"

Admiral Marcus: Starfleet is Navy-esque, so why not curse like a sailor?!

One minor (or major depending on where you stand on the subject) gripe must be made toward this new Star Trek’s predilection for profanities.  Now, I’m not talking about the occasional use of “damn” or “bastard”, which the series had featured before, but this film, and the 2009 film, feature a liberal usage of obscenities.  Now, this isn’t some moral objection.  In the fictional setting this movie takes place in, it had already been established that the general use of profanity was a long forgotten practice.  Time travel may have altered the timeline from the onset of the previous film, but that would not have changed the overall characteristics of this culture.

And last but not least on this list of grievances…the goddamn lens flares!  There seem to be far less of them this time around than in Star Trek XI (the reboot-quel), but there is still an excruciatingly absurd number of them.  It’s not so bad that it majorly detracts from the film itself, but it’s one hell of an irritating distraction.

One of those character moments I mentioned

One of those character moments I mentioned.

All in all, the newest Star Trek is spectacular in every sense of the word.  While it’s not the greatest entry in the series, it is certainly a fun action-thrill ride from start to finish, with enough homage to entertain old fans and enough modern sensibilities to bring in new fans.  It’s still the hope of this critic that the next installment features a bit more exploration and adventure, and a little less all-out non-stop action.  And seriously, no more lens flares!  Overall, Star Trek Into Darkness merits an 8 out of 10.

Aaron Nicewonger



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