Film Review Sci-Fi

Weekend Wrap-Up Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

May 21, 2013Ben MK

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Warning: The following review contains spoilers.

Well, the weekend has come and gone (long weekend for us in the true North, strong and free), and if you were lucky you managed to make it out to the multiplex to catch the newest big film release. In this installment of Weekend Wrap-Up, we review Star Trek Into Darkness.

There's an early scene in Into Darkness where, faced with the decision of whether to do nothing or violating the Prime Directive to save his friend Spock from a life or death situation, Kirk asks McCoy, "If Spock were here and I were there, what would he do?" and McCoy answers, "He'd let you die." Although it's not apparent at this stage of the film, this is a pivotal scene, and one that sets up the central arc for the film.

Like 2009's Star TrekInto Darkness is all about Kirk and Spock. Well, Kirk, Spock and one other very important character. It's a pity that the rest of the crew are largely relegated to supporting roles. Most of Uhura, Sulu, McCoy, Scotty and Chekov get short shrift, while a few are lucky enough to get minor character arcs. What this ultimately means is that some of the principle ship's crew come off as caricatures of themselves. The McCoy-isms ("Dammit man!") and Scotty-isms ("I canna guarantee!") occasionally tread dangerously close to parody. But at least they don't derail the film's momentum.

Into Darkness barrels along at a brisk pace, jumping from one action scene to another, each one bigger and brasher than the last. Even with a healthy run-time of just over 2 hours, it sometimes feels like the film isn't given enough room to breathe. But it's hard to complain when we get such epic, large-scale action pieces as we get here. This is production design on a grand scale. There's an initial action sequence on an alien planet called Nibiru, but the film spends a good deal of time exploring the giant cityscapes of the Federation homeworld (aka, Earth) and even takes viewers to Kronos, the Klingon homeworld. We finally get to see the re-designed Klingon Birds of Prey and even the Klingons themselves (who, in the previous film, could only be glimpsed in the deleted scenes). Nitpickers may have qualms with the shortage of space action scenes, but the ground-based action scenes are executed in spectacular fashion. A climactic chase scene late in the film triggers memories of the epic New York battle sequence from last year's Avengers.

And what of that other, central character alluded to earlier? That would be none other than Khan. As in Khan Noonien Singh. Space Seed Khan. That Khan. In what was probably the worst-kept secret in Hollywood, speculation that Khan would be the film's main villain ran rampant for months, as soon as Benedict Cumberbatch joined the cast. Now we know the truth, and Cumberbatch (best known for his roles in BBC's Sherlock and 2011's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) lives up to the role with ease. He masterfully plays Khan as imposing, threatening and unpredictable, even besting Eric Bana's Nero, from the previous film.

Into Darkness, like The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight, follows the unspoken second sequel rule of being a darker film than it's predecessor. There are scenes depicting terrorism and their aftermath that may be uncomfortable for some audiences, in light of recent news stories. We also see the death of a familiar character, bringing their ultimate fate in line with the original Trek timeline. There's no shortage of death and destruction here. It's fairly dark  for a Trek film, at least for one not involving the Borg.

Much has been made about this being a Trek film for the general public. As Spock would say, that is a logical statement. There's action and humor here for the masses and a storyline that anyone unfamiliar with Trek lore can ease into. But those with a deeper investment in the franchise will find more to smile about. From the nods to the original series (a fleeting reference to "The Mudd Incident", the appearance of a Tribble, and a capper featuring Kirk's speech and the theme song from the show's opening) to the references to earlier films (a third-act reversal of fortune between Kirk and Spock that mirrors the final act of The Wrath of Khan and the inclusion of alternate timeline Carol Marcus) this is a love letter to Trek. Hearing Spock scream, "Khan!" will induce schoolgirl giggles in hardcore Trekkers, much like what the Aston Martin reveal from last year's Skyfall did for 007 devotees.

It's fair to say that J.J. Abrams is now 2 for 2 with the Trek franchise. We'll have to wait and see if his third Trek outing completes the trifecta (assuming he returns to the series, now that he's also involved with the rejuvenated Star Wars franchise). It's logical to assume, but I canna guarantee. [★★★★]

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