Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness review

Star Trek of 2009 is an absolute masterpiece of the sci-fi genre. It's one of the best films of the previous decade and a heck of a rollicking thrill ride. I'm getting excited just talking about it. JJ Abrams brought the Star Trek series back to life and gave it a spectacular, witty, action-packed homecoming. I've watched it twice in the past week and I can confirm that it is a great film. Four years later. We're now seeing the release of Star Trek Into Darkness, the highly anticipated sequel to the original Trek. And while Into Darkness fell just a bit short of my sky-high expectations, it's still a fun thrill ride that delivers despite a horrendous 3D post-conversion.

Star Trek Into Darkness was bound to succeed. The characters are just so great and what the actors do with them is even better. This installment follows the adventures of the starship Enterprise as it explores new worlds. However, after breaking Starfleet protocol, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself in a tricky situation. But darkness is coming in the form of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a terrorist who happens to be a high-ranking member of Starfleet. After an attack on the high-ranking officials of the Federation, Kirk and his first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) find themselves on a manhunt for the terrorist responsible for the attacks.

I want to get something out of the way. I knew the true identity of the villain before I even saw the movie. And it didn't impact my viewing experience one bit. The villain of the film is Khan Noonien Singh. Anyone who really cared about that already saw the movie. It is revealed less than an hour into the film and isn't a spoiler in the slightest.

Star Trek Into Darkness succeeds almost solely on the fact that it has great actors playing great characters with a great script to work with (in terms of dialogue). In addition, this movie has some really spectacular moments, along with great special effects and some great action sequences that could have been greater. But it will always come back to the characters and I can't help but think that these actors will be playing these characters for a long time. There are great moments for every character, and they always come to save the day. During the muddy, plot-heavy second act, I started to have doubts about the quality of the film. And it's far from perfect. But all the great character moments that come from Sulu (John Cho) or Checkov (Anton Yelchin) or even Khan himself put away any problems that I had about the movie.

Once again, Abrams and his screenwriters (Kurtsman, Orci and Lindelof) create a terrific balancing act focusing on three or four characters primarily and giving the rest of the supporting cast a good amount of time on screen to shine. In 2009's Star Trek, Abrams gave more screen time to Bones to develop his character. This time it's Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) with an increased role. However, the rest of the cast isn't overshadowed and nobody feels wasted.

The performances are all great. They come through perfectly and during a more tender, sad moment in the film, I actually felt something because of what these actors have done. The standout for me is Zachary Quinto as Spock. He really is that character and he is given a lot of room to shine while his character progresses in the film. Karl Urban doesn't have as much to do as Bones, but he gives a good performance. And while Cumberbatch is a good villain, his backstory and motives are too messy for him to be truly great.

The visual palette is great again. This film has a darker, more visceral style than the glossy first installment but it works for the mood that the film is trying to go for. There are also some great action sequences. My personal favorites both involve Khan. The first one he's fighting a group of Klingons and the second one, he's flying through space with Kirk. I have to say though, this may be the last straw when it comes to me watching every single trailer for a movie. Every spectacular action scene is showcased in the film and I was disappointed by that, because I wasn't exactly thrilled.

While Star Trek Into Darkness is even better than the original when it comes to character development and witty dialogue, it can't hold a finger to its predecessor in the story department. It's a messy story that should be straight forward and it has a messy villain that should be much better. There is a long setpiece in the middle of the film with two dueling spacecrafts. Most of the time they are not fighting, but that sequence just goes on and on and on until the end of the film. While the first half of the film jumps around from planet to planet, the second half is rather stationary. Not a compliment (however that half is pretty entertaining and contains some great character moments).

Also, it takes too many unnecessary twist and turns. The plot of this film could have been really straight-forward but Abrams made it more complicated by adding a second baddie and a long and complicated section in the middle that is too messy and plot-heavy at times to be enjoyable. It also feels like a very long movie, but it's not.

Khan is an interesting villain because he is played with such frightening focus by Benedict Cumberbatch but is ultimately empty. I reference this earlier in my review and I truly think that Abrams could have created a truly despicable villain but instead you're not sure if he's a good guy or bad guy at times. I think that Abrams wanted to make him a multi-dimensional villain, but it doesn't quite work. Also, skip the 3D. I just found it distracting in a rather entertaining film.

Despite having a ton of problems, Star Trek Into Darkness is a very entertaining film nonetheless, but it doesn't live up to its predecessor. Something about that film is just magical and there was almost no way that Abrams could repeat it. Star Trek Into Darkness is a lesser Abrams film, but it still works its popcorn blockbuster charm and brings the goods in terms of fast-paced, character-driven action cinema.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                            (7.4/10)


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