Monday, May 20, 2013

Movie Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness

No, for real – massive, awful, huge spoilers. Do not read this if you don’t want the movie spoiled. And you do not want the movie spoiled.
I absolutely love JJ Abrams’ first Star Trek. I thought it was a cleverly done reboot of a franchise that I grew up loving and feeling part of. If you want to see a little more of how I felt about it, I posted my review from the old MySpace blog earlier today.
           Obviously I was excited about the sequel. I do as much as I can to avoid spoilers, but finding out certain things is inevitable. I was excited when I saw that Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as the villain. I enjoy Sherlock but am not a huge fan (I prefer Elementary – feel free to deride me in the comments if you like), but I love Cumberbatch in the lead role. The thought of him as a villain was very interesting. The first set photos of him fighting Zachary Quinto as Spock were even more interesting.
I also couldn’t help but see things about the movie’s plot – mostly the terrorist aspects. I made the same assumptions about what that meant to the plot and Cumberbatch’s character that many people did, but still kept an open mind about the movie. I didn’t feel one way or the other about the terrorist angle. It’s a part of the story and a thing that is very real and happens. What happened in New York on September 11th, 2001 was a tragedy, but it shouldn’t lead to any kind of hyper-sensitivity about the portrayal of terrorism in media. Particularly fiction. Unfortunately some people saw fit to latch onto that one aspect of the movie and make a thing of it.
The only other bits and pieces I picked up before actually seeing the movie were McCoy and Kirk running on a planet covered in red vegetation and something about some of the Enterprise crew operating outside of Federation authority in plain clothes. That last thing worried me because it’s a little early in the life of the franchise for the characters to be on the run or working against the Federation in some way. But I kept an open mind. Anything heard without context was next to meaningless.
I didn’t think I was going to be able to see Into Darkness until tonight (if I was lucky). I worked 5 AM to 5 PM every day since Friday, including today. Lil’ Troublemaker’s graduation from preschool was Friday night, so that was out. And my parents were in town so the other nights were out, too. Chances are I wouldn’t have gone to see it tonight either because I am going to be fucking exhausted after working 48 hours in four days and doing family stuff when I got home.
But I was on Facebook Wednesday evening and a friend posted a picture of her fancy Star Trek dress and said she was gearing up to see the movie. I thought the first showings were going to be at midnight on Thursday, which I wouldn’t be able to attend because I had to be at work Friday morning. But I checked and saw that pretty much every local theater was showing Into Darkness at midnight on Wednesday. I immediately bought a ticket. Mrs. Troublemaker couldn’t go, but that was okay because I wanted to see it in 3D and she didn’t. I’ll take her another time.
The movie opens on the aforementioned red planet (not Mars). The entire opening sequence is action-packed, edge-of-your-seat stuff. There is planet saving, Prime Directive violating, Spock rescuing, and the first of many absolutely breathtaking visuals involving the USS Enterprise. It’s a heck of an opening and an awe-inspiring way to start a movie. When the title popped up afterward I could just imagine JJ Abrams saying, “Yeah – that was just the opening. Hang in there. It gets real in a minute.”
Next we get a slightly confusing but well done segment that is strong enough to be a short film all on its own. We meet a couple with a comatose daughter in the hospital. There is minimal dialogue, but we get the point that things have been bad for a long time and aren’t getting better. The father walks outside and we get our first look at Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison. He tells the father he can cure the little girl. And now it all makes sense.
The next scene is Harrison drawing his own blood (which I thought gave too much away too early; but maybe not for people who hadn’t drawn the same conclusion that I had before even seeing the movie) and the father injecting it into the daughter’s IV. She recovers almost immediately. Next the father goes and blows up a Federation facility and this is where the story really gets going.
I don’t want to do a play-by-play on the movie because I really just think you should go and see it. It’s a brilliant continuation of the first movie that does the same excellent job of creating a new legacy for these beloved characters while still honoring what has gone before.
The cast was, once again, fantastic. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto were tremendous in their roles and the addition of Zoe Saldana to the primary character mix was great. She brought something new to the chemistry of the main protagonists. Yeah, she was in the last movie, but this time she really got to do some stuff.
The rest of the crew were fun, but definitely secondary. I thought for sure Chekov was going to die when Kirk reassigned him to a Red Shirt, but he didn’t. Instead he got to have fun in Engineering. Scotty and his little alien pal didn’t get enough screen time for me, but ol’ Monty definitely got one of the biggest pops of the movie. Sulu… man, Sulu didn’t do much of anything aside from a brief stint in the Captain’s chair.
This installment brought some new characters, as well. Peter Weller was awesome as Admiral Marcus and Alice Eve was great and quite nice to look at as his daughter, Carol. It would’ve been nice if that little reveal hadn’t been spoiled for me. When she was first introduced she was using a fake name, with no indication that she was the character that gave birth to James Kirk’s pussy son, David, in an alternate timeline.
And then there’s Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison, who is
actually Khan Noonien Singh. I think we all knew this. I wasn’t positive going in, but the idea was implanted in my mind to such a degree that I knew, deep down inside, that I’d be terribly disappointed if he wasn’t Khan. All the talk of terrorism and revenge on Starfleet strongly suggested Khan. And as the movie went on it became unavoidable; starting with the restorative blood. While I don’t think that Khan’s blood was ever specifically mentioned as restorative in the original portrayals, Cumberbatch was clearly playing a human and genetic enhancement was the only Trek-ish explanation for that. And if you’re going to put a genetically superior human villain in your Star Trek movie; it had better damn well be Khan.
Before I get to Cumberbatch’s portrayal, let me say a bit about Khan Noonien Singh.
I love Khan. Of course I love Khan, everybody loves Khan. People who have never watched a single episode of any Star Trek series know about KHAAAAAAAAAN! He is a pop culture phenomenon. I’m sure I saw “Space Seed” at some point in my life before I saw Wrath of Khan. My mom was an avid Trek fan despite not beign much of a nerd. I remember watching episodes with her in Gastonia, and that’s before I was five. But Wrath is a movie that changed my life. I was horrified by the little eels that went into Chekov and that black guy’s ears. I was enchanted by the Genesis cave. But mostly I was mesmerized by Ricardo Montalbán’s growling, sibilant madman. I thought Khan was a badass before I knew what a badass was.
Every time a Khan figure has been released, I have bought it (although I’ll be skipping Diamond Select’s new, weird, immobile version). A few years ago I was absolutely thrilled to discover that a pair of books had been written about the Eugenics Wars. They’re great novels that do their best to logically shoehorn a massive event that seemed far into the future in 1967 into the then-modern world of the 1990’s, where we had clearly not experienced any such wars (they were supposed to have occurred from 1992-1996). I love Montalbán’s portrayal of the character, but also the whole concept of Khan. A Sikh who not only sees himself as superior to homo sapiens, but is superior. One who acknowledges his background, but shaves his beard as an outward sign that he is something new and better.
Benedict Cumberbatch was faced with a nearly insurmountable dual task. First, he had to at least equal Ricardo Montalbán’s performance. Cumberbatch would have to create his own interpretation of Khan while still seeming worthy of the role and honoring the history of the character. After all, despite the alternate timeline, this would still be the same Khan Noonien Singh we first saw in “Space Seed”.
Second, he had to be the driving force of possibly the biggest movie of 2013. While the Enterprise crew are clearly the stars of the franchise, Star Trek consists largely of reactive narratives – by that I mean that the protagonists are typically responding to the actions of an antagonist or situation. So Khan had to be a big enough character to not only hold the movie together when Kirk and the rest were not around, but also to be believable as a menace to the universe that has already been established.
Cumberbatch owned it.
In a movie with a lesser cast, every second that Khan wasn’t on screen would have been torture. Cumberbatch was absolutely mesmerizing. One of the truly ingenious plot points is the mystery of his identity. It gives Cumberbatch the opportunity to create this character without the audience having outright expectations. By the time we get to the Khan reveal the only reaction is to be utterly satisfied and think, “Well of course he is.” Only Khan gets a double reveal because the first is of his identity; the second is of his true nature. Once Khan’s nefarious plan is outed – after a period of cooperating with Kirk – Cumberbatch gets to cut loose with a truly vicious and terrifying character. His progression over the course of the movie is fascinating to watch.
At the end of the movie – which takes place one year after the climactic finale – this franchise that is two films in finally gets around to the whole “Five Year Mission” thing. And in my opinion it felt well-earned. It’s mind-blowing to think that the true voyages of the Enterprise haven’t even gotten underway yet; but also a little disheartening. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Having said all of that, there is one pretty big problem I have with the movie. Quinto Spock contacts Nimoy Spock to ask him how to deal with Khan. I thought this totally undermined not only Quinto Spock but the entire new crew as well. The end of the last movie should have been the last we saw of Nimoy Spock. It wasn’t worth the damage done to the new franchise just to have a Nimoy cameo. Is this crew just going to call up Granddaddy Spock with every single new challenge they meet? But that’s it. That’s my only problem. Granted, it’s a big one.
Do I even need to bother talking about the visuals of the movie? They were outstanding, likely the best I’ll see this year (although Pacific Rim might well top this one). I saw Into Darkness in 3D and it was okay. I have yet to see anything as awesome 3D-wise as Resident Evil: Retribution. There were certain parts that were neat, but more often than not the 3D was just distracting.
The score was once again awesome and at the end when Chris Pine’s rendition of the classic, “Space – the final frontier…” led into a new version of the classic theme I got nearly debilitating nerd chills.
4 out of 5

I hate to not give Into Darkness a perfect score, but the bit with Nimoy Spock really bugged the shit out of me. It was such a poor decision in the midst of what was to me a massive portion of cinematic perfection that it was all the more offensive. 
Speaking of offensive, there was a good bit of utterly unnecessary cursing. “Shit” was said no less than four times. It did nothing to enhance the narrative and took me out of the movie. I had to pause and think about my annoyance every time.

Now for the bummer realization about this movie’s place in the new Star Trek universe.

We’re just never going to get enough. There were 80 episodes of the original Trek TV show. Lots of adventures. But if we’re getting one of these movies every four years that just doesn’t leave a lot of room for this cast to have adventures. On top of that, we already know that JJ Abrams will not be directing the inevitable next installment; whenever that may be happening (2017?). Will the same cast even be available by then? And what story can be told now that the crew is officially on their Five Year Mission that won’t feel like it should just be an episode?
Obviously the ideal solution to these problems would be to transfer the franchise to television. That will never, ever happen; at least not with the same cast and budget. But as I write this I wonder how open I would be to a complete recasting so that this version of Star Trek could actually embark on five years of adventure and exploration. I’ve got to think that CBS would love to have a Star Trek show. And the stage is set. But would the public at large accept new actors in the roles?

Or what if a deal could be worked to have maybe four televised specials a year? These could be huge network events. I dunno. Obviously I don’t know how all of that works or I’d probably be living in LA snorting cocaine off a hooker’s ass right now instead of speculating about Star Trek media on the internet.

Of course, there’s always the possibility of launching a television show that takes place in the new continuity aboard a different starship. That road seems full of possibilities. And given Zachary Quinto’s willingness to still appear on television, you could even throw in the occasional Spock cameo. Or heck, time jump ahead and make John Chu as Sulu the Captain of his own starship. I don’t know how that guy feels about TV, but a lead role on a sustainable franchise might be appealing. We got a hint of political intrigue within the Federation in the new movie, perhaps a show focused on that could be the new thing – showing the struggle between the military and exploratory factions.

I don’t know what the answer is for the future of the now fully revitalized Star Trek franchise, but I sure hope somebody does. Now that JJ Abrams’ attention is going to be focused on Star Wars, I hope Paramount can find a strong hand to guide Trek. It deserves a resurgence.


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