Saturday, May 25, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek: Into Darkness: written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof; based on characters created by Gene Roddenberry, Carey Wilber, Gene L. Coon, Harve Bennett, Jack B. Sowards, Samuel A. Peeples, Nicholas Meyer, and Ramon Sanchez; directed by J.J. Abrams; starring Chris Pine (Captain Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Mr. Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (McCoy), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Bruce Greenwood (Pike), Peter Weller (Admiral Marcus), Alice Eve (Carol Marcus) and Benedict Cumberbatch (John Harrison) (2013):

The Abrams et al. Star Trek reboot focuses on action to a much greater extent than anything in the original series, movies or television. It's a canny choice in today's action-blockbuster market, though it does render the movies occasionally somewhat unTrekkish. Something blows up every five minutes or so, and it's not just the control panels.

Here, the writing team goes where pretty much every iteration of Trek has gone before, into the realm of science-fiction-as-allegory for current political issues. The most obvious example of this sort of writing from the original series was probably "The Enterprise Incident", a fairly schematic take on the Gulf of Tonkin incident, only with Romulans and a cloaking device and the "Vulcan death grip."

Into Darkness goes broader and longer than that, squeezing in everything from 9/11 to the morality of drone strikes on U.S. citizens to the second Iraq War. The relentless plot machine keeps everything fairly light, despite the attempts to portray this as the Trek universe's version of The Dark Knight. It's also less politically toxic than the last two Nolan Batman films -- the superman here is something to be avoided, as are vengeance and secret political shenanigans for the greater good.

The cast is solid, and most of the actors portraying classic characters are given at least one acting set-piece to please the fans. Nonetheless, the film clearly belongs to Spock and Kirk -- as it usually does -- along with the somewhat manic Scotty of Simon Pegg and adversaries played by Peter Weller and Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch has a lot of fun enunciating and sneering and doing uncanny physical stuff, while Weller is convincingly wormy as a Starfleet Admiral with more than a touch of Dick Cheney about him.

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have become pretty adept at suggesting the original Shatner and Nimoy performances without imitating them. Kirk is suitably cocky at this point in his career, and Spock occasionally baffled by his captain's brash emotionality. There are several lovely action setpieces both on the ground and in space, and the day is won by cleverness and self-sacrifice, not by who has the biggest guns.

This isn't a great movie -- indeed, it could have slowed down and offered a bit more nuance at times, more compelling dialogue and argument. Cumberbatch, playing a classic Trek villain, is characterized much more harshly than that character was originally, making things a lot more clear-cut as to the character's pre-existing villainy (attempted genocide against humanity gets added to the character's resume, something not originally on the books for someone who was originally a warmonger, a tyrant, and a slaver). Oh, well. An action movie that comes out in favour of justice and due process is rare enough. Recommended.

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