Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: "Stark Trek Into Darkness"

A cheap, shiny whizbang toy, "Star Trek Into Darkness" is essentially a remake of an earlier, better film from the same franchise. I won't tell you which one because of spoilerfication and all, but if you've paid the least amount of attention to the hype surrounding director J.J. Abrams' sequel to his 2009 hit film, you already know. And even if you hadn't, you can guess pretty easily.

Benedict Cumberbatch -- most British name ever! -- is the new mystery figure, an arrogant and brilliant fellow who seems to have it in for Starfleet in general and Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise in particular. He also possesses superhuman strength and reflexes, a genius intellect that transcends the ages, and ... well, I've already said too much.

As regular visitors to this page know, I was a lonely voice in opposition to Abrams' first film, finding it an over-caffeinated amusement park ride lacking any pretense toward the cerebral heft that has been a hallmark of the Trek universe, even in its silliest moments.

I will say that this film, written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, takes its time from a narrative sense, and doesn't feel like it needs to have its characters in constant motion, perpetually in peril. The first hour or so is quite engaging, as the filmmakers carefully move the pieces into place.

It's still a preposterously doofy take on the Star Trek oeuvre, with a "reboot" of the universe that allows Abrams & Co. to keep the bones of the dynamic the same while changing around the outer layers liberally.

Thus if you'll recall: Captain Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) is now a shoot-from-the-hip punk with a troubled past, yet somehow placed in charge of Starfleet's newest, most advanced starship. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is still an emotionless Vulcan, but is more in touch with the potential for feelings. In this iteration, Kirk and Spock are constantly at odds, with the first officer questioning his captain at every turn.

Uhura, Bones, Scotty and Sulu ... well, they're pretty much the same (played by Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg and John Cho, respectively).

One of the biggest annoyances is the continuing, unlikely romance between Spock and Uhura, which has all the emotional weight of a feather duster. They repeatedly have couple spats, even right on the bridge of the Enterprise or in the middle of a mission, in front of other officers and crew. I find it highly illogical that people who have pledged their careers to Starfleet would behave so unprofessionally.

As for the plot, suffice it to say that Starfleet is threatened when a key facility is attacked by a rogue officer named John Harrison (Cumberbatch). Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), the commander in chief, reluctantly dispatches Kirk and the Enterprise into Klingon territory to kill him.

He also insists that they take with them a load of super-secret torpedoes that they fire indiscriminately at Harrison. The torpedoes come with their own perky weapons specialist (Alice Eve) who, like everyone else in the cast, looks like she stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch ad.

What, does Starfleet weed out all the fat and fugly recruits early on?

The torpedoes are shielded so the crew can't see what's inside them, which makes Scotty very nervous. With that set-up, if you can't figure out what's the secret of the weapons, then this must be the first science fiction movie you've seen, ever.

Once "John Harrison" reveals his true identity around the halfway point, the film lost me completely. From that point onward, I knew everything that was going to happen, exactly as it would go down. Granted, I like to think I'm pretty good at seeing the pitches before they're thrown, but this is Pee Wee-level foreshadowing.

A tribble even shows up in Bones' laboratory to provide a laugh and set up an obvious plot point.

This entire movie is a consequence-free zone. Nothing that happens has weight. For example, early on Kirk is demoted and loses command of the Enterprise ... and then gets it right back a few minutes later. The Enterprise also gets seriously damaged in combat. That had an impact back in "Star Trek III," but since then how many Enterprises have been destroyed or seriously effed up? Half a dozen, it seems.

The Enterprise, once a distinct character in the films, is now just another ship. Blast it with phasers, punch holes in its side -- it's just hardware to be repaired or replaced.

I'm not necessarily opposed to the idea of someone else remaking the Trek movies I loved as a youth. But I don't like it when they're slick and intellectual lightweight like this one and its predecessor.

It's funny to me that so many people attacked the second trilogy of "Star Wars" as soulless and cynical corruptions of an original purity, but see the new "Star Trek" flicks as a bold return to form. For me, I don't need to see the best moments of "Trek" repurposed for a younger audience with a short attention span.

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