Sunday, May 19, 2013

Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

After a brilliant terrorist carries out multiple attacks on Starfleet, it is up to the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to bring him to justice in this sequel to the 2009 franchise reboot.
Summer movie season began with the release of Iron Man 3, but we are now into the more interesting time of competing summer movie releases. I have been looking forward to Star Trek Into Darkness since the credits rolled on Star Trek back in 2009. I grew up as a huge fan of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which I remember watching in reruns with my dad and brother all through out the 90s. I met the news of a reboot a few years ago with a mix of hesitation due to my love of the old Star Trek and excitement for the possibilities of new adventures. Before I take a look at my reactions, lets take a look at what I can tell you about the plot before we get into spoiler territory.

Plot Overview
A year has passed (as far as I can tell) since the events of the previous film, and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is trying to save a primitive race of aliens from a devastating volcano. First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) has been lowered into the volcano with a cold-fusion bomb to stop it, but is trapped when the shuttle can't reach him. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) refuses to let Spock die, but is reminded by the Vulcan that revealing their presence to the natives in order to save him would violate "The Prime Directive." Well, directives be damned because Kirk won't let one of his crew members die. After rescuing Spock and returning to Earth, Kirk is relieved of his command of the U.S.S. Enterprise due to his reckless nature and Spock is transferred to another ship for interfering with the natural order of another planet. The Enterprise is returned to the command of Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) who takes Kirk on as his First Officer because he "believes in him." This touching moment is cut short when all Captains and First Officers are then called to the Starfleet Headquarters for a meeting concerning a terrorist attack on the Starfleet archives in London by a former Starfleet Officer named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch.) Kirk comes to the conclusion that an attack of a data archive doesn't make sense and that it is actually a trap to lure all of the Captains and First Officers together in one place to be killed. Kirk is quite right, as an attack ship levels itself at the window of the meeting room and opens fire on the high ranking officials. Kirk manages to stop the onslaught, but not before Harrison beams himself off planet, to the Klingon home-world. Enraged by the attack Kirk approaches Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) for permission to take the Enterprise and bring Harrison to justice. Permission is granted.

Story and Character
That just about sums up the first act of the film, which I think opens it up to amazing possibilities in story. Don't get me wrong, the story that follows is fun, exciting, very well written and I loved it. It's around the second act, however, that it starts diving back into a story that has been told before. I will touch on this point again in a bit. I truly loved this movie, it is one of the rare occasions I remember having high expectations for a film and having them met. The story and character work done in this film is never below being on-par with the previous film but also does a great job of improving upon it in several instances. The story is not as original as the first film was, it is more of an alternate timeline story in doing a different take on a story we've seen before. There are also many occasions in which the film makes a nod to the original series with Easter Eggs for fans of the show. As a fan of the original series these were nice to see and some were even integral plot points, making them a little more than just fan-service. The story is filled with plenty of action, suspense, and truly emotional scenes as well as plenty of laughs and nice light moments to cut the tension.

We are given more insight into the emotional bonds and personal connections the crew of The Enterprise have in their year since battling Nero. We have wonderful characterization in side-characters such as Scotty (Simon Pegg,) Checkov (Anton Yelchin,) and Sulu (John Cho) and see a deeper and more fleshed out relationship between Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) since last time. If any one actor were to stand out it would be Cumberbatch. His deep and menacing voice and striking features set him apart from anyone we've seen thus far in the films and gives a real solid backing to the threatening nature of his character. He gives a performance that is sure to win him much more attention in Hollywood and makes him the center of focus in any scene he is in. However, the winner of best character arc goes to Chris Pine's James T. Kirk. Kirk hasn't really changed since the last film, and the first movie really pushed the concept that the universe needed someone more like Kirk, but this time around we see that he can't stay the same in order to thrive in the life he has now.

Every film has it's flaws and honestly the only one I found and mentioned earlier was the "remake" feeling the story has. While this is not a 100% retelling of the story we've seen before, I wonder if it was really a story that needed an "alternate timeline" telling. With the endless possibilities that a concept like "Star Trek" can offer, is there really much to be gained by telling a story we've seen before? One of the things that I feel was a real asset to the 2009 film was that it was made up of characters and concepts we know and love taken in a direction we didn't expect that opened up a whole new world of possibilities for them. I understand the temptation to retell stories from the past and see what they would be like in this version of Trek. Who wouldn't want to see Chris Pine fight a Gorn, see John Cho prancing around the enterprise with a fencing foil, or Karl Urban become frustrated with a growing Tribble problem? The issue, though, is that once we start treading on familiar territory we have negated any purpose in return to this universe. I can still enjoy the film and it's version of a familiar concept, but I truly hope it doesn't lead us down a road of just remaking old episodes or movies from Star Trek for no other reason than because we want to make them with better graphics and younger actors.

With story and character aspects aside, this film is beautiful to look at. This is yet another movie that proves cinematographer Dan Mindel is a master of his craft. I saw this movie at a Cinemark theater that offered it in XD 3-D (not quite but almost IMAX) and it was quite breathtaking in presentation. The mixing of practical effects in with the CGI gave enough of a realism to the world of the film that the CGI became less questionable. Though, that isn't really something the CGI needed, being some of the most amazing work done in recent memory. This is one of the staples of Abrams's films that places him up with the likes of Christopher Nolan and Rian Johnson as a godfather of modern science fiction film making. I'm sure many on the internet will complain about the return of the lens flair effect that seemed quite distracting to them in the previous film, but I believe J.J. Abrams took note and made an effort to cut down on it this time. That or they were placed into the film well enough to not seem nearly as noticeable this time. The sound design and music that accompany the film are really just the icing on a cake of a film I know for a fact I will be seeing again, if not just to gawk at how it looks. Every emotion is felt and punctuated with a beautiful score and it is my personal opinion that sound is what truly brings a world like this to life.

Final Verdict
A fun, beautiful, and compelling film that, while retreading familiar territory in Star Trek lore, pulls off another excellent chapter in the "Abrams-verse" franchise of Trek. How much do I need to pay to get a third film into development already?

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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