Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review: "Star Trek"

Based on the original Star Trek series by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek Into Darkness returns to the alternate crew of the Enterprise some time after the events of the original reboot.  For those who are just getting acquainted, Star Trek is the story of the crew of a starship in the far flung future who are part of the federation of planets.  It is a future where humans have made first contact with and become allies to, alien life and the federation is UN of sorts when it comes to the near galaxy.  The original series became a cult hit on the backs of larger than life characters like William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Winters and Nichelle Nichols.  It was notable, not only for its lack of spirituality (Rodenberry felt it was silly to think that in the future most people would not be atheists) and for its inclusion of a variety of cast members of various ethnicity.  Perhaps most notably Lieutenant Uhura as played by Nichelle Nichols, who at the time was one of the only African American actresses on television who played a major role in a television series.  The series accomplished many firsts on network television and is often touted as being the first onscreen interracial kiss in scripted television.  The story goes that it was so controversial at the time that the network wanted it filmed two ways: once with the kiss and once without.  However Nichols and co-star Shatner deliberately flubbed each take that did not include the kiss so it would have to be used.

Nearly fifty years later, after many subsequent series and a HUGE following, we have the latest movies from JJ Abrams, with flashy starships fancy weapons, and a crew that could model for vogue (seriously, how are these people SOOO pretty?).  Amidst it all we meet the original crew of the Enterprise, now lead by Chris Pine's James T Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Commander Spock (he's quite good).  In Star Trek Into Darkness they are but fledglings in their quest, not having left on the five year mission which comprised the original series as yet, but find themselves thrown headlong into combat (they are meant to be a science vessel) when Earth is attacked by 'one of their own.'  In true blockbuster fashion the crew bands together and does their damnedest to save the day, Earth, and the millions of other planets that will be destroyed should this John Harrision (Benedict Cumberbatch) be let loose.

 My main issue with the film is not that it wasn't enjoyable, because it was very engaging and reasonably funny, the main problem I have is that the filmmakers seem to have forgotten that they were "re-imagining" the original Star Trek and not "re-doing" it.  So much of what we see in this film ends up being caricatures of previous actors.  Karl Urban struts around yelling, "Damnit man!" and generally scowling at everything while Simon Pegg (looking a little worse for wear) continues to throw out one liners in his (barely) passable Scottish accent.  As with the last film, some actors seem to successfully transition into the roles with Quinto and Saldana specifically choosing to simply act rather than attempt to mimic their predecessors in the roles.  Pine is a difficult one, as I've had it said he mimics Shatner a great deal but I myself feel that it is more a case of him being an actor who acts very similar to Shatner instead (have you seen the trailer for This Means War)?  Overall however the need to mimic outweighs the needs of the story and as it's much more pronounced in this film than in the last, I worry that this trend will continue.

In Benedict Cumberbatch I find we have an underused villain as the man has the acting chops to be a TERRIFYING villain but ends up as a sort of "Sherlock gone mad," sort of person.  While he manages to be a believable villain and a formidable scene partner for Pine (I really think being in scenes with Cumberbatch brings his acting up a notch), ultimately it felt like they could have done more with this character.  As with the main crew, I worry that with the shadow of a previous storyline hanging over their heads, perhaps the filmmakers felt they couldn't change too much about their villain without incurring the (legendary) wrath of the Trekker nation.  To their detriment I believe in this particular case.

Overall there's not a whole lot of substance here but is that really what you're looking for when you go to see a summer blockbuster?  Not so much.  If you're ready to see some really cool action, some great CGI and some REALLY killer lens flares (they've paired down the lense flares here to great affect) you will enjoy this movie.  Will you know what's coming? Yes. This thing telegraphs its plot points so far ahead it's hanging off the edge of space, but the important part is whether you will care and the answer is, "No."

My rating: 3 out of 4, it's worth seeing but I wouldn't rush out to the theatre unless you've really got a hankering.  Oh, and see it in 2D.  The 3D was added in post and given the amount of close-ups there are you'll spend most of the film with Pine's nose, or a lens flare in your face.

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