A movie review of Star Trek Into Darkness with
Direcow, Kakita and Korgath
Four years after director J.J. Abrams successfully rebooted the Star Trek universe with a fresh, young cast, he’s back again directing the first sequel and the pressure is on him to prove that he’s not a flash-in-the-pan, especially since he’s also helming Disney’s Star Wars movie franchise.
We’ll be going into some spoilery goodness below, so if for whatever reason you haven’t watched it you might want to stay away, there are some surprises in the show that we won’t spoil like a national broadsheet. We go into a lot more detail here, but long story short my feel is that Star Trek: Into Darkness (STD? STiD? STID?) is a great summer action movie that you’ll just have to leave your head and your heart checked at the door, which is a pity, given that it’s a Star Trek film. One of the few times I feel strongly enough to give a rating – 6/10.
This über Star Trek fanboy was so often distracted by the movie’s blatant plagarisation of much of the source material that it was hard to enjoy most of the movie. Still, it managed to scratch an itch four years after its predecessor, and honestly, we have seen worse Trek films. 7/10
I liked it. It gave me enough fanservice, action and character development to scratch my itch. However, plot holes and some poor character writing (and maybe tooo much fanservice) stops it from being great. 8/10.
Spoilerfest under the cut. SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS.
I think I’m (un?)fortunately the biggest Trek fan among the three of us so my perspective will be biased and unrepresentative of all but a miniscule minority. This is especially when you consider that I enjoyed the 2009 reboot so much I went back to watch it another two times in the cinema and about two more times on HBO.
You won’t be alone in that, of course – after all, being a geek site you’re bound to have at least one Trekker around who’s invested in the franchise in one way or another. In me, of course, you have the Star Wars guy who hasn’t had enough reason to get all excited and fanboy, inasmuch as the first Star Trek reboot by Abrams did get me pretty excited.
Hey! I’m a Trek fan too! Although admittedly I’ve always been more of a TNG and onwards sort of person; and I haven’t really been keeping up to date recently. Personally as a Picard fan I’ve always been against the Kirk style of cowboy federationism, although I have to admit that will probably attract more mainstream viewers than diplomacy.
The movie’s opening sequence had already been presented almost entirely in the nine-minute preview that was included with the IMAX screening of The Hobbit, and was enough to whet our appetite and convince us that we had to watch Star Trek Into Darkness in IMAX (which two of us did). Unfortunately, watching it again as part of the movie proper failed to elicit the same adrenaline rush. In contrast to the opening sequence in the 2009 movie, which arguably helped then-unknown Chris Hemsworth get noticed by international audiences, this opening sequence on the planet Nibiru was nothing more than frenetic action filled with illogical plotholes and was utterly devoid of any emotional hook. What it did do was simply set the plot in motion, but with as much purpose as two or three lines of exposition.
All told, all it aimed to do was to find a way to get some drama going, whether it was between Kirk and the Federation or between Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana). It’s one way to get the show rolling, especially when spears fly all around you in 3-D, but it’s also one thing that exemplifies what is for me the movie’s main weakness – that the problems, while excitingly resolved, seem more forced than organic.
Sadly, it was also to be the most action Sulu (John Cho) was to see in the film. Admittedly, there is one excellent bit later, when Sulu takes the Captain’s chair and proves to be a natural – a clear reference to George Takei’s Sulu in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, when he takes command of the USS Excelsior.
But it has to be noted that it is a large ensemble cast, and that means that some are going to end up getting the short end of the stick. I think the writers (Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof) did try to figure out a way to give each player a day in the sun, but in the end this was truly the Kirk and Spock show.
As a long-term Trek fan, I have no issues with the new cast they have assembled. Unlike Marvel, Paramount seems to have no problem keeping each of the cast members onboard for as many sequels as is profitable. It was an absolute treat to see each of them again, albeit for just one or two sequences, and there were moments when I actually did a double take because they resembled the original cast so much.
Indeed. The cast really has very strong chemistry going, and I’d only argue that Chekov (Anton Yelchin) was the weak link in this. Still, whether it’s the constant quipping by Bones “I am the law” McCoy (Karl Urban) or the Spirk dynamic, you would almost believe that they were, at the very least, fast friends.
Seriously. All Chekov was paid to do this entire movie was appear in Engineering at the opportune moment and reach a hand out. Chekov was a gun. Which is sad.
Poor Chekov. When they put him in a redshirt, I thought he was done for.
I’d argue that Uhura was also given a pretty dismal role in this movie, which I find ironic. The whole point of the original series was the gathering of racially diverse characters working together for the betterment of humanity, which was the point of a Russian and an African-American as the bridge crew. Unfortunately, apparently the plot didn’t think of them that way and relegated them to more or less 2-dimensional plot devices.
I totally agree. Uhura was a source of constant consternation for me – and beyond what she was meant to represent, she was also plainly just an extremely needy person that was more that willing to put one’s feelings ahead of one’s job – an utmost lack of professionalism. Having her being the foil to Spock is one thing, but this, if anything is about servicing plot above character.
The female roles were REALLY poorly written in this movie, and it definitely was a HUGE step back in terms of the whole series. Marjorie Liu, who did enjoy the film, perhaps said it best in her tweet:
I knew some dudes scripted Star Trek when the brilliant Uhura chose THE WORST MOMENT EVER to talk about her relationship with Spock. #cringe
— Marjorie Liu (@marjoriemliu) May 20, 2013
Oh yeah. Gratuitous Kirk with random catgirls and Carol Marcus in lingerie just because.
Surely we have only Kurtzman and Orci to blame – what with them having done a great job with Megan Fox and Rose Huntington-Whiteley.
I do want to point out at this point, however, how much I enjoyed seeing Uhura finally speaking Klingon confidently. It was the role’s originator Nichelle Nichols who protested about a scene in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country where she frantically pored through reference books in order to come up with a simple request in Klingon. The scene was played up for laughs, but Nichols felt it was at the expense of Uhura’s character who, as the ship’s communications officer, should’ve been fluent in the language of the Federation’s long-time enemy. If nothing else, that one scene of Uhura negotiating with Klingons face to face convinced me that there was still hope for the diverse cast.
And speaking of diverse characters – what’s up with all the random popping up aliens that just appeared once and disappeared? At least show them walking around the deck, maybe?
I don’t recall the Trek history, but I’m pretty sure during TOS there weren’t that many aliens in the Federation. I think they’re there just because. Star Wars council session syndrome (which I guess will tell us how many aliens we’ll see in the next Star Wars).
Exactly. The one setback about setting the movies in Kirk’s early career is that there is no explanation why Starfleet is suddenly so populated with aliens. Even in the movies, which were set some 20 years after the original series, most of the aliens depicted were ambassadors, not Starfleet officers. Though having done some research, it would appear that a couple of these aliens were already established as being in Starfleet in the 2009 movie, so I suppose there’s a tip of the hat for continuity.
Which brings me to another point – Abrams seemed more than happy to set his own path at the first Star Trek reboot, but in this case you wonder if he owed too much to the original series – was it Abrams or the writers who were bereft of ideas, and why did they leave it to the inconsequential moments to add a new dimension to the movie? In fact, most of the movie seems to tread old ground, whether in terms of predictable plot or just plainly reminding me what was going to happen in the ending halfway through the movie, all thanks to the return of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock.
From what I’ve read in interviews, it would seem that Orci/Kurtzman felt somewhat beholden as fans of the original stories.
Then why blow up Vulcan in the first one? This is what brings me to my incredibly conflicted feelings with this movie. As a fan, I am incredibly happy that they had so many homages in this movie. The return of Khan, the shout, it was what I was hoping for. Granted, my hope didn’t include the fact that they lifted the last quarter of the movie from the original movie to begin with. It’s one thing to homage, sure. 2009 was as much a homage as it was a new story. The creative process for Star Trek Into Darkness felt more like this: Oh, we’re going borrow this scene, and this scene, and this scene from the original movie, because the fans LOVED those scenes, but we’re not going to bother with the logical explanation for why those scenes happened in the first place.
Which seems to imply that as a non-fan I’d be pretty alienated, no pun intended, and I’ll have to say I was, mostly because it didn’t feel like these characters were real, that they existed instead purely to quip, push a button or throttle the plot along. The climatic scene actually left me amused rather than distraught, which I guess you can take to mean that I enjoyed myself in some sense. Still, there was a lot of full throttle plot developing – which meant for a breakneck speed, never-boring movie, and it feels like the action was written first, and then the plot used to fill in the blanks between the sequences.
Which I guess is the source of my confliction. When I was watching the movie I really loved it. I was ready to stamp it with my approval of awesomeness. It pressed all the right buttons, character development in the people I cared about (Kirk and Spock), fan homages and fun action. It’s only when I sat back and thought about the movie (and discussed it with the rest of the guys) did I realize that as great as it was, it was still something that could be improved.
Throughout my viewing, I was constantly aware that if I had not watched 1982’s The Wrath of Khan a million times, convinced myself that it was truly the best thing to ever come out of Star Trek – a view shared by arguably all Trek fans, actually – I could actually enjoy this movie. As it is, I was happy that the movie existed at all, and that so many non-fans seemed to really enjoy it, and this gives me hope that the source material – the original series episode “Space Seed” and the aforementioned The Wrath of Khan will earn Trek a new legion of fans.
I was a fan that DIDN’T watch Khan! Maybe that’s why I loved it.
But hey! Still, Abrams did a fantastic job with all the action sequences – if you would put all the plot and characterisation flaws aside you’d be having an amazing ride – think of it like that roller coaster ride at Disneyland you queued hours for, and even with the hokey plot all the dressing and design just made it such a fun ride, and you’re with friends! The ride’s never going to be canonical, but hey it’s fun. Except this movie is canon.
Star Trek Into Darkness is exactly the movie that a generation of Trek fans feared the 2009 movie was going to be. That J.J. Abrams was going to take out the philosophical heart that characterised the franchise, replace it with a predictable plot, sci-fi violence and a cookie-cutter villain. I’m sorry, fans, but the truth is all that has already happened since 1998 with Insurrection.
I don’t think it was necessarily that bad. As summer action-ey as it was, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto made the movie for me. They managed to tear-bend the odd sniffle from me, and Benedict Cumberbatch managed sufficient gravitas to make me quite scared of Khan. He should have been a bit more equal parts evil Sherlock and savage sociopath though, and less Superman/Wolverine action anti-hero.
Yeah – it’s as if they wanted him to be pure evil personified, except he has his family members he wants to save, except pure evil. It weakened the character somewhat, when he could have been pure badass, or if you want conflicted, at least shade him more like Loki, especially since you already want to store him in your big glass room on board your ship where he can wreak trouble from indoors. I would have appreciated Khan to be more of a mental threat rather than physical, but that’s probably just me.
They didn’t have a Hulk this time though.
The bigger pity is that Cumberbatch was actually the perfect casting as a villain – managing to elevate his role beyond the two-dimensional villain that the script called for and has finally redeemed the trope of the Star Trek villain after 15 years. I remember how excited I was when the news was revealed and how I knew he would bring the movie to a whole new level. News and interviews all hailed his dedication to the movie, on both a physical and cerebral level. His interactions with both Pine and Quinto felt like they were dealing with an antithetical nemesis and I’m convinced it was purely the writers’ unoriginality which ended up restricting Cumberbatch from displaying a more nuanced persona.
Cumberbatch truly was a force of nature – when he had the chance to be. Extremely low voice notwithstanding, beyond Sherlock and Smaug, this might be the role that really gives him the place to shine. He’s been in a few Hollywood gigs already, but I truly believe Cumberbatch is destined for bigger roles – most of his roles haven’t been anything other than odd / not-normal characters (next up, Julian Assange), but I do love to see him chew scenery, even if, like a friend says, the way he enunciates makes him look like he’s chewing more than usual.
I think Cumberbatch, Pine and Quinto all did bang up jobs at their roles. I hated Kirk in the first movie (he ranks right up there together with Tony Stark in full-of-himself douchebaggery), and I’m glad that they brought him low and taught him humility and self-sacrifice, the one thing he needed to be the great captain he was meant to be. Chris Pine really pulled it off. Similarly, Zachary Quinto made Spock someone everyone realises that just because you do not express emotions does not necessarily mean you do not experience them. Personally, I think the actors did all that they could with the roles that they were given; most probably gave even more. It’s just sad that only a few were given the lines that allowed their characters to develop, and that the rest were relegated to plot device.
Over-indulgent lens flares aside, Star Trek Into Darkness is a visual fest. In IMAX the true glory of the explosions, or the first appearance of the USS Vengeance is amazing to behond – but with some caveats: You can’t watch IMAX without 3D. And that means that all the lens flares will be popping up all over the place, and the post-processed 3D has it’s own share of problems, such as making focusing mistakes obvious, such as when the main object in focus is actually a little out of focus. It’s beautiful, but next time, guys, just film in 3D if you want to.
And don’t force people to watch 3D if they want IMAX! I got a headache after my last IMAX 3D outing and had to watch it in non-IMAX 2D. I might not have been able to see it in beautiful IMAX but at least I wasn’t tearing in eye-strain throughout the movie.
We might not have enough screens to afford the option – also they want to milk money, so … Not gonna happen.
I was graciously given “the best seat in the theatre” so I have no complaints about the whole IMAX experience, but I totally agree with the fact that there was really no need to see it in 3D. There were times when the eye-strain headache threatened to overwhelm my experience, but it wasn’t as brain pounding as the liberal plagarisations of The Wrath of Khan.
So I guess that’s that. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness, despite all it’s flaws, is still an enjoyable action movie that makes it not quite an STD – it’s just a pity that it fails to what I imagine the Star Trek name to be – one that excites and inspires exploration, and going where no man had gone before. Because, what else did Abrams and team do, other than go exactly where men had gone before, and with less plot? A pity, really. 6/10.
Trek fans used to have a belief that all “odd-numbered movies are bad, all even-numbered movies are good”, but ever since Nemesis (the tenth movie) and 2009’s Star Trek (the eleventh), that adage no longer holds true. In fact, with Star Trek Into Darkness falling short of the standard set by its predecessor, one may dare to hope that it is the odd-numbered movies that will continue to fly the Star Trek name with pride. 7/10.
Yes. It was a fun action movie, and something the actors really worked hard in, but ultimately, while it is a good enough sequel to the previous Star Trek movie, it’s definitely no Dark Knight Rises or Empire Strikes Back. Ironically though, I preferred it to the first movie. I must not be a good judge of character. 8/10.
POST-REVIEWGITATION FANSERVICE AFTERWORD:
Okay, gonna put my Trek fan hat on here (with apologies to Kakita – who admittedly is only just slightly out of his comfort zone because this is predominantly Kirk-era Trek) and talk about the fanservice. The first one I noticed was ironically an Abrams easter egg – the Kelvin Memorial Archive – which is named after his maternal grandfather (and in this case, presumably the USS Kelvin from the 2009 movie). This was followed by the Daystrom building where the ill-fated Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) met his end, a mention of McCoy delivering eight Gorn babies, the tribble that turned out to be the deus ex machina plot device, the mention of Section 31, what seemed to be the Klingon moon Praxis exploding in a space, the use of the Terran spelling “Kronos” to describe the Klingon world and of course, Manu Bennett (who played Crixus in Spartacus, Azog in The Hobbit, Slade Wilson in Arrow) as the JJverse’s first revealed Klingon – sporting a surprisingly adorable blend of the different looks seen through the years.
Also, the ultimate Easter Egg in my opinion requires some backstory. Back in the early 80s, Paramount forced Star Trek II director Nicholas Meyer to change his movie’s title from The Undiscovered Country to The Vengeance of Khan. Around the same time, another movie was being made called Revenge of the Jedi. As a result of the similarities, Meyer’s movie title was later retitled The Wrath of Khan. In Star Trek Into Darkness, the Dreadnought-class ship USS Vengeance, is designed by Khan, making it essentially The Vengeance of Khan!