STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
***1/2 (out of 5)
May 16, 2013
Chris Pine as KIRK
Zachary Quinto as SPOCK
Zoe Saldana as UHURA
Karl Urban as BONES
Simon Pegg as SCOTTY
John Cho as SULU
Anton Yelchin as CHEKOV
Benedict Cumberbatch as JOHN HARRISON
Bruce Greenwood as PIKE
Peter Weller as MARCUS
Alice Eve as CAROL
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Long before J.J. Abrams rebooted the “Star Trek” franchise in 2009, I was a fan. I remember watching the original series on television after school and on lazy Saturdays. I watched all the movies in the theaters during their original runs. In college, I was a crazy “Next Generation” fan. I never considered myself a Trekker, but I come with a lot of baggage to the new films.
After seeing the 2009 reboot, I was jazzed. I thought it was the perfect mix of being true to the original concept without abandoning the fans, while at the same time being completely accessible to someone who has never seen a single frame of the original series or movies. Needless to say, I was eagerly awaiting this sequel.
On the whole “Star Trek Into Darkness” is a fine movie, featuring everything you’d need for a big-budget popcorn movie, but I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. There was something missing – some extra bit of seasoning – that didn’t make this film bad but also didn’t make the film great.
It wasn’t necessarily the story, which is nearly impossible to fully talk about without delving into spoiler material. The pre-spoiler synopsis sees Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew sent on a secret mission into the Klingon neutral zone to assassinate a terrorist who attacked Starfleet. In the process, Kirk decides to bring the suspect in, but that opens a new set of problems and reveals some dangerous secrets about the Federation.
I wouldn’t say that “Star Trek Into Darkness” suffers from sequelitis, but it does fall into some traps that plague second films. These traps beg the question of whether sequels actually need to be bigger… or darker. Conventional wisdom in Hollywood says yes, but that is incorrect.
When making as sequel, studios and filmmakers often approach it as something that has to “top” the original. Unfortunately, this can be a futile effort, rendering a movie that is a lesser film overall in spite of being bigger and darker.
Look at “The Empire Strikes Back,” for example. This is a more intimate movie than “Star Wars” in almost every conceivable way. Its goal was not to out-do or trump “Star Wars,” but rather to tell the next logical step in the characters’ lives, and that’s why it’s one if the greatest sequels of all time. It wasn’t a response to a call. It was simply what it needed to be to tell the story.
Escalation doesn’t always work, and you can tread the same path unnecessarily. For example, when the crew destroyed the Enterprise in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” it was shocking. When a different crew destroyed the Enterprise D in “Star Trek: Generations,” it seemed to be going down the same path. When they threatened to self destruct the Enterprise E in “Star Trek: First Contact,” the bit was getting old.
It’s not that “Star Trek Into Darkness” is derivative, but there are several moments where I can hear Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman saying to Abrams, “We wiped out Vulcan in the last movie. So lets do this now to make a similar statement.” I heard that a lot between the frames of this film, and that’s not the answer to making a great sequel.
The real answer to making a good sequel is to just make a good movie. Continue the characters and let it be what it needs to be. “Star Trek Into Darkness” does not circle the drain with its bigness and boldness, but it certainly tries in vain to live up to the bar set by 2009’s “Star Trek.” In Abram’s first film, he destroyed a freaking planet. It’s impossible to top the death of Vulcan and match the emotional impact. In “Star Trek Into Darkness,” there’s an attempt to do this, but it feels hollow because it’s a scene designed for a good trailer moment but not woven into the emotional tapestry of the film.
Similarly, the self-referential moments of the movie get a bit out of hand. I loved bringing in Leonard Nimoy, the Kobayashi Maru and Tribbles into the first film. They were all handled well and all made sense in the plot. There are some clever meta moments in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” but there are also several cringe-worthy moments that feel like Abrams is cowtowing to what he thinks would be an epic fan reaction rather than delivering a coherent cinematic moment.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” is still a strong summer movie, and it doesn’t ruin anything in the long run. However, it’s not a game changer like the previous film was, and it won’t be landing on my Best of the Year list this time around.
Still, this isn’t going to stop me from getting the movie on Blu-ray and intensely looking forward to “Star Trek 3.”