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Star Trek Into Darkness – Movie Review

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Star Trek Into Darkness – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

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While J.J. Abrams has spiced up the Star Trek series with an extra dose of action, state-of-the-art special effects, less techno-babble and more lens flare to appeal to a broader audience, he has not forgotten why Gene Rodenberry’s Original Series still resonates: the characters. Without the charm of James Kirk, the humourous pessimism of Bones McCoy and the logical thoughtfulness of Commander Spock, Star Trek likely would not have become a long-lasting phenomenon. Bringing these characters back was the best decision made by the franchise owners and Abrams has succeeded in making two great films that deserve to sit alongside the classic episodes and first six films.

 More-so than the previous chapter, Star Trek Into Darkness owes quite a lot to an earlier Star Trek film with some scenes even repeated. Whether one sees that as blatant copying and riding on the backs of already accomplished greatness is up for debate. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot is meant to accomplish a lot of tasks: make the series popular with the general audience again, continue the franchise while also presenting a new continuity to play around with and pay tribute to what Roddenberry and his associates have done in the past. With creating the newly altered timeline in the previous film, Abrams and his screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (joined here by Damon Lindelof) have more freedom in how they write the characters and their situations. This includes combining separate events and while they do throw plenty of familiar plot points at the screen, there are a lot of surprises, too.

 The villains in Star Trek Into Darkness are interesting in how they are not simply cardboard cutouts, but have large and multi-developed motivations behind their actions. Captain Kirk’s penchant for breaking Starfleet rules to save his crew is a major and well thought out inner journey for his character and the antagonists present the extreme example of those ideals. John Harrison is not merely a ruthless terrorist, but somebody with his own troubles and fears. While Benedict Cumberbatch certainly brings a wonderfully snarling performance that takes advantage of his commanding and confident booming voice, he also manages to display the humanity of his character. Cumberbatch is one of the most exciting actors working today and he definitely leaves a memorable presence. It is almost a surprise Abrams did not feel inclined to give him more screen-time.

The other villain of the piece also provides an interesting commentary on the lengths some will go to accomplish the most heinous tasks, even if it means putting the lives of loved ones in danger. When Harrison’s actions come off as understandable and more reasonable than the other antagonist, it shows how this film is more than simply explosions. Hardcore and purist Trekkers will complain about what Abrams has done to the series however they wish, but the deep characterization is still evident on screen. The strength of the screenplay’s twists makes it even more difficult to discuss the film in full without spoiling them. It seems unusual to compliment Paramount’s marketing department, but they have done a fantastic job at not revealing a single secret.

 Back to Kirk, Chris Pine has slipped so comfortably into the role, it feels like watching a younger William Shatner without the actor resorting to mere imitation. That wonderfully charming attitude is certainly there and while we disappointedly do not get another bit of Orion fun, his affection for alien species has not disappeared. However, the growth he displays in his captaining and adoration for his crew is evident in this film and more proof that James Kirk is one of the greatest science-fiction heroes put on screen. His chemistry with Spock still showcases their conflicting views, but they are certainly closer than they were in the previous film. While it will take light-years to reach the bond displayed by Kirk and Spock in the earlier films, the seeds are definitely planted here, especially during a pivotal emotional scene. Even the interaction with Cumberbatch shows Pine can showcase anger naturally when dealing with Kirk’s enemies and Harrison is definitely up there with some of the Original Series’ best.

The humour that is so pivotal in the Star Trek crew’s likeability is still very strong and with the catchphrases having been exhausted last time, the comedy in Into Darkness is less reliant on them, even when the rest of the film takes cue from previous adventures. McCoy does say his famous “Damn it, I’m a doctor” phrase, but that is a nod that will never grow old and tired. In addition to his often-quoted expression, McCoy has the funniest lines and quips and more-so than the other cast members, Karl Urban has DeForest Kelley’s mannerisms down to the perfect scowl. Meanwhile, for all of the emotional gravitas, the screenplay still manages to fit some humourous banter between Kirk and Spock, especially in regards to the Vulcan’s odd relationship with Uhura (a major plot point that ultimately finishes its arc very quickly). As expected by a character played by Simon Pegg, Scotty gets some funny bits of dialogue, but the writers have allowed him to become more than simply comic relief in Into Darkness. Most impressive is Pegg’s ability at showing the more serious and dedicated characteristics of the Enterprise engineer.

The action sequences are spectacular in their own right, creating the necessary tension, even though we know the writers won’t dare kill off these beloved characters. The opening sequence almost feels like jumping right into the very end of an Original Series episode with higher production values and fantastic makeup work on a primitive alien species. It is key to J.J. Abrams’ skill as a filmmaker that he can even make running through the Enterprise (a frequent visual in this series) look exciting and thrilling. Michael Giacchino’s excellent score further pushes the tension of the action, while also shifting the tempo and feel to fit each character.

 In the end, it’s the characters that matter the most in Star Trek, not the explosions and latest high-tech special effects. Whether they are played by Shatner, Kelley and Nimoy or Pine, Urban and Zachary Quinto, they will never be forgotten. J.J. Abrams has managed to give new lives to the original Enterprise crew, while keeping them largely the same likeable set of heroes. Seeing the tremendous job that Abrams has done with the Star Trek universe, it only makes it more clear that Lucasfilm made the right choice of assigning him the reigns to the next Star Wars film. Considering the pressure will be even higher with that assignment, I wish you good luck and hope you bring yet another science-fiction franchise back to its peak, Mr. Abrams.

Review by: Stefan Ellison


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