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Star Trek Into Darkness Review

star-trek-into-darkness-review
RATING:
(2.5 STARS)

Overstuffed and overly serious, Star Trek Into Darkness fails to capture the magic J.J. Abrams brought to Star Trek, his 2009 reboot of the popular sci-fi series. It’s far from a horrible summer movie; On the contrary, its almost overwhelming imagination and brisk pace mean you’re in store for nearly two hours of sheer breathlessness. But breathing is a good thing, and there’s no time for it here. Abrams has directed a well-oiled machine, but all the digital wizardry, elaborate world-building, and witty repartee between the crew members of the Starship Enterprise can’t distract from the fact that there isn’t an ounce of heart in this motion picture.

The film opens mid-mission as Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto), are attempting to quietly defuse a potentially volcanic situation on a distant, uncivilized planet. Nothing goes according to plan, however, and while everyone survives the ordeal, Kirk is relieved of his post, and Spock is transferred.

It’s Kirk’s mentor, Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who assumes the command of the Enterprise, and he and Kirk join every other Starfleet commander at an emergency meeting in San Francisco to discuss the bombing of an archives building in London. John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a former covert agent for the organization, is the culprit, but this first attack is just the beginning of his plan. He opens fire on this meeting, kills a number of men, escapes to the Klingon home planet of Kronos (where Starfleet is forbidden to go), and infuriates a real hot head in Kirk.

Star Trek Into Darkness‘ problems start right away. On this gorgeous red planet, stone-colored cavemen fire arrow after arrow at a fleeing Kirk and Bones (Karl Urban, who steals every scene he’s in). They survive. Spock dangles out of a spaceship over bubbling lava before his life line is cut and he falls. He survives. If it weren’t for a well-placed cliff (Kirk and Bones’ escape) and a magnificently sturdy rock (Spock’s salvation), there wouldn’t be a Star Trek Into Darkness.

Of course, we’ve gotten used to creaky plot machinations like these in blockbuster movies over the years, but Abrams stretches this frustrating trend beyond acceptability. Everything that happens in Star Trek Into Darkness is the product of its screenplay. It’s as if these great characters have no agency, yet one of the film’s biggest themes is that of leadership and the importance in trusting one’s gut. Sadly, screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof never give Kirk and company a chance to do that. Abrams choreographs everything to death and ratchets the pace up to an 11, hoping his giddy audience won’t notice the film’s soullessness.

If there’s one thing the film does right, it’s introduce us to Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison. The man’s performance is quite good, but the character is a fascinating one. He’s involved in a pretty huge third-act swerve, and from there, it takes a long time to nail down his intentions and true allegiance. There are hero/anti-hero/villain dynamics at play in this film that will truly surprise you and, if you’re lucky, guide you through some of the screenplay’s clunkier moments.

Abrams’ biggest asset, as with his 2009 original, is its stellar cast. Chris Pine’s work as Kirk is assured, even if it doesn’t feel as fresh as it did in the previous film. Ditto Zachary Quinto. It’s Simon Pegg (whose Scotty has much more to do than he did last time) and the aforementioned Karl Urban who steal the show. Their comic timing is simply spot-on.

The film looks gorgeous, even if the cities of the future are a little nondescript. Abrams’ visual style is very much identifiable and very much appropriate for the setting. And ultimately, the film is fun, but some of its story beats fall incredibly flat. Anyone who’s seen a movie like this know these characters are untouchable, and as such, there’s next to no tension in Star Trek Into Darkness. It’s a far cry from the last time Abrams visited this world, and while there are more than a few enjoyable elements, you can’t help but leave this film a little let down.

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