Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Boldly Goes Nowhere

Do not let the title fool you; Star Trek Into Darkness is no dark brew, but rather a light frothy concoction with a wafer-thin plot conjured up by not one, not two, but three scriptwriters, who all seem rather Lost on how to pen a good Star Trek story.

Star Trek Into Darkness is by no means a bad movie; it is entertaining, the special effects are simply gorgeous to look at, replete with director J.J. Abrams' trademark lens flare, but the script is terribly weak and filled with plot holes the size of meteoric craters. Think painfully weak tea that is brewed by steeping and re-steeping the same old tea leaves. Why, if Abrams and his writers went through all the trouble to reboot the series and create a whole alternate universe in Star Trek (2009), do they choose to limp back into the past and basically go for a remake of an older Star Trek film?

It is paradoxical how the scriptwriters were able to write a movie that is so reverential to the original Star Trek series and yet and so missing the whole spirit of Star Trek. Easter eggs abound in the film with every earnest intention to pay fan-service to the Trekkies, yet the story is as unlike a Star Trek film as can be. My movie companion, who was a fan of the original TV series, moaned that the plot was all too predictable and then mournfully declared that what she just saw was not a Star Trek movie at all, but rather a movie about teenagers fighting, albeit in a galactic arena. And she is not alone in her assessment. Time Magazine's Richard Corliss complained that "with the emphasis on its hero’s adolescent anger, the movie turns this venerable science-fiction series — one that prided itself on addressing complex issues in a nuanced and mature fashion — into its own kids’ version: Star Trek Tiny Toons. At times, the viewer is almost prodded to mutter, 'Grow up!'"

Within the story is some social commentary on the United States' use of drones in the War on Terror and how America treats its suspected terrorists; one of the film's darkest scene involves a character who, despite having surrendered, still has the crap beaten out of him. However, the critique is barely skin-deep and hardly penetrates beyond the surface, seemingly present so as to allow audience members the opportunity to pat their backs when they recognize the political allegory and not much more.

A Star Trek film is only as good as its villain. I hate to say this, but even with the mesmerizing Benedict Cumberbatch as the utterly savage and yet still sympathetic John Harrison, which feels like a revelation after Eric Bana's insipid angry tantrum-throwing Romulan Nero in the previous movie, I like the first movie better. One of the major problems is that Harrison's true identity has been unnecessarily steeped in secrecy. While Abram's customary cloak and daggery style may serve him in lesser-known films like Cloverfield and Super 8, here the effect is crippling. Rather than using the time to flash out Cumberbatch's character, Abrams instead chooses to spend the first half of the movie focusing on the Enterprise crew's efforts to try and dispel the smokescreen behind who Harrison really is, with the tepid result that Cumberbatch's character ends up being severely under-utilized.

A bright spot in the movie is the continuing bromance between Chris Pine's Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto's Spock, who share a real palpable chemistry onscreen. Other characters who were given time to shine in the first movie are unceremoniously shafted here. Karl Urban's Dr. Bones is reduced to quipping sarcastic one-liners while Simon Pegg's Scotty most serves as the movie's main comic relief. John Cho's Hikaru Sulu and Anton Yelchin's Chekov are given little to do, and while Zoe Saldana's Uhura gets to wield a gun and speak Klingon in this installment, her presence here seems to be to function mostly as Spock's exasperated and nagging girlfriend. New addition Alice Eve as Carol Wallace feels like a bit of miscast (for some unfathomable reason, her British accent sounds out of place alongside the rest of the Enterprise crew. And the scene where she strips down to her undies, as depicted in the trailers? Totally gratuitous and completely unnecessary.), while Peter Weller unfortunately strays a little too far to camp in his portrayal of Admiral Marcus.

Would I recommend seeing the movie? Yes. The movie is indeed entertaining and works quite well as a standard summer popcorn blockbuster movie. In other words, try not to think too much about the clumsy and clunky plot. Just take a seat on the captain's chair and enjoy this 133-minute space ride. Oh, and be sure to leave your brain at the door.

3 and a half stars out of 5 stars for me.

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