STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Review: To Bombastically Go Where They’ve Gone Before
Customer: I’m looking for this movie. It’s about a guy who is killed and he’s kind of stuck in limbo, and he watches over his girlfriend.
Me: Oh, that sounds like Ghost.
Customer: No, no. That’s not it. It also has this woman in it who is a fake psychic, and these creepy kind of shadowy people.
Me: No really. You want Ghost.
Customer: No, I don’t think so. So, it turns out that the dead guy was killed by someone who he thought was his friend.
Me: Sir, I’m serious. You want Ghost.
Customer: I know it’s not Ghost, but it’s LIKE Ghost.
And that’s pretty much how I felt as I sat through the closing credits of Star Trek Into Darkness, director J.J. Abrams‘ second installment in the rebooted franchise: I hadn’t just seen a Star Trek movie, but I had seen a movie that was LIKE a Star Trek movie.
Because he’s ever the one to disregard rules, the brash Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) has once again found himself in trouble with Starfleet Command, thanks in large part to Spock (Zachary Quinto). In fact, Kirk is in so much trouble, he is demoted to First Officer and his mentor, Pike (Bruce Greenwood), has taken over the captaincy of the Enterprise. After the bombing of a Starfleet installation, Pike, Kirk, and the other captains and first officers meet to discuss next steps. At that meeting, they are attacked by ex-Starfleet agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), and many, including Pike, are killed.
This moves Kirk back into the Captain’s chair of the Enterprise (sound familiar?), where he is authorized by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to hunt down and kill Harrison. With help from his usual crew – Spock, Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and newcomer Carol (Alice Eve) – Kirk is ready and willing to take on the mission and avenge his mentor’s death. But will he be able?
I am not a Trekkie. I am not a Trekker. I am not a Trekkian or a Trekkudite.
I am not Trekkish or Trekksome or Trekkulous.
In addition, I am not a Kirkle and I am not Spockly.
Allow me to be more clear: As much as I liked growing up watching the reruns of TV’s original Star Trek, and as much as I loved Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and as impressed as I was with, and thrilled by, Abrams’ 2009 reboot/origin story Star Trek, if the world of Star Trek leaked its own red matter and opened a black hole upon itself and was destroyed, never to be seen again, I would pay my respects and move on.
I mention all of this to make clear the fact that when I say this film is not very good, I say it as a lover of movies, not as some scorned fanboy who blogs his disdain because they got the point sharpness of Spock’s ears wrong or something like that. I wish the issues with this movie were that trivial. It would make this part of my day easier.
When you look back at sequels of successful action or action-heavy films, you find a trend that illustrates a very base way to approach making sequels: if something works in the first film, then more of that something should work even more in the next film. Car chases beget faster car chases. Explosions beget bigger explosions. Stunts beget crazier stunts. And Star Trek Into Darkness is no exception. Upon comparison to its 2009 predecessor (and you really can’t compare these two to any of the other 10 films in the franchise), this film has a bigger feel all the way around – bigger set pieces, bigger action sequences, a bigger (in presence) villain, and so on, much of which is executed to excellent effect.
But the filmmakers didn’t stop there. They make their characters and their characters’ situations bigger too, and that’s what I mean when I say that this isn’t a Star Trek movie so much as it’s a movie that is LIKE a Star Trek movie, where the characters constantly remind you of exactly who they are supposed to be, but bigger.
Pitch: We need a macho guy like Kirk, but with more Kirk! He needs to be more brazen, more insubordinate, and more go-with-his-gut than the actual Kirk. Oh, and remember that scene in Star Trek where Kirk is in bed with that green girl? We need another scene like that, only lose the green girl and get me TWO hot alien-looking women he can sleep with!
Pitch: We need a logical guy like Spock, but with more Spock! He needs to be more cold, more calculating, and more talk-to-Kirk-until-Kirk-wants-to-leave-the-room. And complicate his storybook romance.
Pitch: We need a curmudgeonly doctor like Bones, but with more Bones! He needs to be more cantankerous, more negative, and, most importantly, he needs to say his catchphrase – “Damn it, I’m a doctor, not a (noun here)!” – as many times as we can possibly fit it in!
All of these things actually happen in Star Trek Into Darkness, and each of these characters comes with his own dreadful plot contrivance.
As for other elements, the humor that was so organic in the first film goes for bigger laughs here, and it feels forced and intentional. That’s not to say there are no funny moments, because there are, but there was enough humor in this for the film to come close to adding ‘comedy’ to its sci-fi/action genre description. There’s even some clunky self-referential humor concerning Bones’ endless use of metaphors that they managed to slip in.
Despite how cute it is, the love story between Uhura and Spock strains credulity in the first film because of Spock and his emotionless ways. But because everything here is all about more, it strains it more here, and the lovers find themselves on the outs … and bickering. I think it’s supposed to give us insight into Spock’s emotionlessness, but it mostly serves as a breeding ground for punch lines and unnecessary personal conflict. Speaking of Spock and love and conflict, Kirk and Spock bicker about logic versus instinct throughout this film so much (certainly more than in the first film), you either want them to get a room or get a divorce. We understand: Kirk + Spock = passion + logic = oil + water, but this is well-established in the first film. We don’t need to be reminded endlessly throughout this 2-plus hour jaunt.
But I think my greatest disappointment is the inclusion of Alice Eve to the cast.
By the end of the film, it is clear that her character is ultimately unnecessary (yet another contrivance), but, in the holy name of more-is-better, if a quick glimpse of Uhura in her underwear was good enough for the first film, then surely a longer look at a half-dressed hot blonde will work for the sequel. It’s that base. Don’t get me wrong; I’m no prude. I like to look at the Alice Eves of the world as much as the next guy. But the whole thing just wreaks of pandering to the young male crowd that, guess what, would have bought the damn tickets anyway, with or without the Maxim tie-in.
There are redeeming qualities to Star Trek Into Darkness, all of which involve the technical aspects of the film. But the price you have to pay for suffering though the bombastic characterizations is simply not worth the trip to the theater. I’ll see this film again when it is released on home video, but until then, the filmmakers have gotten enough of my money; this is one thing more they won’t get from me.