Star Trek Into Darkness
The response to this film is going to be divisive, it will likely split the blockbuster film audience into two camps: those who are fans of Star Trek and those who thank god they aren’t. The latter will likely like it like they did the first film four years ago, but they’re response won’t be a passionate one; the Trekkies however will have a strong reaction to the events that unfold over the film’s two hours and given the history of fandoms with films in the past I daresay it will be a negative one. Personally I’ve never seen a single second of the series and so for this opening day session I sat myself in the section of the cinema free from all nineties-inspired novelty T-shirts and replica rayguns, surrounding myself instead with people who shovel popcorn and gesticulate at the screen during action scenes. I wasn’t expecting the world, just a journey to a strange new one that would wile away the morning in that cinema-magic way.
During the first few scenes I thought that this might be exactly what the strangely unpunctuated Star Trek Into Darkness would deliver, opening as it does with what a fan will surely tell you is a direct homage to episode something of season this or that as Kirk and the crew cleverly maneuver through a chaotic mission on some strange, primitive planet. You don’t have to know the old show to feel the glee with which the chase sequence is constructed, winks and nods are still noticeable even if you’re not in on the joke, but there are references in there to Indiana Jones and Butch and Sundance both just in case certain cineastes feel that they are missing out on the fun. I want to stress that word, fun, because that is exactly what this sequence is: it is heavily sci-fi, has some serious moments of mortality an even hints at pseudo-philosophy but first and foremost it brings the kind of adrenaline to the screen that each episodes adventure must have to the audiences of the past.
Then the opening credits roll and that may as well have been an unaffiliated short screened before the feature for all its tonal connection. We open back on earth with a stunning sequence of a very different sort, a slow, silent orchestra scored story of a man and his dying daughter. It’s an effectively sad and stylish slice of cinema, stylish in a sense that means more than mere visual trickery, which is what JJ traditionally brings as director; but then it introduces Benedict Cumberbatch with an over-held close-up and sinister string work of a strength that would make Bruce,the shark from Jaws, blush. At this stage he has done nothing ‘evil’, he hasn’t even suggested the capability for it; the film is simply aware that we have heard who was cast in the role and decided, ‘Why then bother doing all that leg work?’ This kind of assumptive storytelling plagues the film’s script more and more as the story progresses.
That said Benedict Cumberbatch is pretty good here, charismatically monotone as always, but the direction that his character takes was for me the least interesting of all available possibilities while also being, for the fans, perhaps the most pernicious. His identity is a poorly kept secret but I still won’t spoil it here, I will now however suggest some spoilers through reduction. Had the film done as it almost suggested and had him play a straight ally versus Peter Weller’s admiral, Iron Man 3 style, I would have been much more interested. Instead they play a card meaningful only to half the audience in attendance an for them a potentially aggravating one at that, so the character was only ever Cumberbatch’s delivery of the dialogue, nothing more.
There is another, similarly telling sequence early on in the movie that showcases its other big problem. The first film was, as so many are these days, an origin story; a tale told to get the band together under the banner of Captain Kirk. This one then should simply start off loaded but instead there is an insipid series of events that regresses us back a step by removing Kirk from the ship and disassembling the crew, only to get them all back together again two scenes later; expecting the same slapped high-fives this second time around without putting in any of the actual work.
Chris Pine and the rest of the cast are again quite acceptable in their roles: his dual-shouldered relationship with Spock and McCoy resulting in some strong walk-and-talk scenes in the sleek white corridors of the modern Enterprise while Zoe Saldana gets more to do than expected. Pegg is loveable but little more, the laughs he gets low and murmured when he usually elicits so much more; funny mainly if you enjoy Scottish accents. Their arcs though are interesting only in comparison to prior movies whose plots are here inverted (in my best estimate, though maybe repeated is actually accurate) in what may well be a clever move, but its never a very satisfying one.
That story, while admittedly intriguing at times, ultimately doesn’t amount to very much and I mean that quantitatively as much as I do qualitatively. The film is long but the story rather short, the film itself taking place essentially over the course of a single day in a mostly stationary ship. I might have said that for this second outing they made a sort of bottle-feature but the fact is that the film was still far more expensive than a movie should be, it didn’t bolster anyone’s budgets. All that money though is, as they say, on the screen. Visually the film is huge: high spectacle in high definition. Unlike Oblivion though the effects here catch your eye because they are deafening rather than deft, they wrestle you into ocular submission through their expense and extremely detailed rendering rather than the skillful way in which they are employed.
Overall my biggest problem with the picture, why it didn’t work for me even as peer-through entertainment, was its cowardice. Into Darkness doesn’t boldly go where no-film has gone before, it’s afraid of final frontiers and so it constantly cycles back on itself; undercutting any bold moves made and replacing them with ones that were proven to have worked in the past. The film is too much like Spock and not enough like its tempestuous captain. So sure, I’ve never seen the show but I’ve still seen all this before and Trekkies really have seen it before and better, so I wonder just who this film is for. We can, I think, be united in our vague disappointment with and disenfranchisement by Into Darkness.