299. Star Trek Into Darkness (USA 2013)

 

Director: JJ Abrams

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldano, Alice Eve, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Pegg, Peter Weller 

Screenplay: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof 

Music: Michael Giacchino 

Editors: Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey 

Cinematography: Dan Mindel 

Bit Part: a secret! 

FACT: Peter Weller occasionally teaches classes in ancient history at Syracuse University.

LIE: Zachary Quinto likes drinking Vimto in his Ford Pinto. With Scott Minto.

 

In One Line: A genetically-enhanced warrior attempts to destroy Star Fleet

 

 

Summary

Kirk and Dr McCoy try to escape an aboriginal tribe on a distant planet while Spock attempts to ‘defuse’ a volcano with the aid of a  ‘cold fusion’ device. Kirk calls on the Enterprise to save Spock and it emerges from its hiding place beneath the planet's ocean.

The appearance of The Enterprise violates Star Fleet's prime directive and Kirk is disciplined. He is stripped of the command of The Enterprise.

There is a spy in Star Fleet. John Harrison’s terrorist atrocities and direct attack on Star Fleet headquarters lead Commissioner Marcus  to commission a pursuit/search and destroy mission. Kirk is chosen to follow Harrison to Kronos and to kill him using specially designed photon torpedoes. 

Engineer Scott sees the mission as a military revenge attack - rather than the Enterprise’s usual ambassadorial and exploratory function - and resigns.

Kirk and crew set off for Kronos and find some familiar foes waiting for them. 

And John Harrison is not who he seems…..

 *********************

To say that JJ Abrams reinvigorated a moribund franchise would be to damn these first two films with faint praise. Films two and three of The Next Generation incarnation were good (two was excellent) but Generations and Insurrection were rubbish, and wasting Shatner and Malcolm McDowell in Generations was almost a crime. 

The first six Star Trek films vary in quality for all sorts of reasons – fashion crimes, hippy storylines and a feeling of franchise couldn’t be arsedness tarnished the brand, although I have great fondness for two and three, and Star Trek the Motion Picture, though dull, disappointing and far too long, at least looked amazing on the big screen. 

Abrams’ reboot was terrific – Star Trek was exciting, fast-paced, funny and clever. Star Trek Into Darkness is more of the same. The cinematography is quite brilliant and its use of 3D is a good as I’ve seen.

As mentioned, the opening scene has Kirk and Bones running the gauntlet of an aboriginal tribe on a distant planet, while Spock tries to prevent the planet’s giant volcano from exploding by planting a device in its erupting lava bed. Kirk calls on the Enterprise to rescue Spock. The sight of the Enterprise emerging from the planet’s ocean bed is one of the many  startling images of the film, and there’s a great graphic match as the primitive tribe's sand drawing of the Enterprise turns into the giant ship waiting in space, and about to enter warp speed.

The film is filled with these fantastic visual images: a futuristic London beautifully imagined; giant space ports; high speed chases through ever-narrowing rock formations and fabulous visions of warp speed spaceships leaving tiny blue trails of time and space behind them. It really is a visual delight.

A lot of people whinge about 3D – usually as some sort of shorthand for showing how unbelievably cultured they are (and in no way an arsehole, oh no), but when it’s used to create a giant spectacle like this you begin to realise that cinema is like no other art form. 

 

 

 

I think that we are taking such technically brilliant films for granted. And by that I mean all aspects of the film and not just the CGI or cinematography. The storytelling is sharp, the screenplay is clever and there are enough meta-references and allusions to the many incarnations of Star Trek to keep the fan-base happy. The story is actually very familiar and many of its tropes and images are cleverly played around with in order to create a circular, knowing kind of narrative and fiction that could mean that the series re-invents itself every few years by referring back to the same central stories.

When you see the film, you’ll probably get what I mean. You will have seen the story of Into Darkness before.

The Spock/Uhura romance is a bit, how can I say this, shite – and seems to be playing to the modern gallery, but it’s not as if Spock hasn’t fallen in love, cried, followed through or done any of the usual human things that the full-100% humans have also done on the Enterprise. Well, perhaps not followed through, but you get the idea. 

Simon Pegg’s Scotty doesn’t seem to be able to maintain his accent for anything more than three words but it’s an amiable, almost film-stealing role. 

Cumberbatch (Harrison) is an odd- looking fellow. Part man, part otter but a star, nevertheless. His performance eclipses the actor/character he is (sort of) reprising and he’s more than a match for any of the actors on show. 

Peter Weller has been criminally underused in films. His performance as Admiral Marcus doesn’t require him to extend his acting range in any real way, but Weller should have been a star. 

There’s some gratuitous underwear/cleavage from British actress Alice Eve* (daughter of the actor formerly known as Eddie Shoestring** and coffee actress Sharon Maughan) that’s so patronising (it’s for the dads/lesbians!) that I felt a little bit embarrassed.

The swearing count has gone through the roof. I remember a cinema gasping in disbelief when Shatner/Kirk exclaimed “You killed my son, you Klingon bastard!” in The Search for Spock, but in Into Darkness, there are four bastards, a piss and a shit

Star Trek used to be inured form such things. A beacon of hope where children could tune in without  fear of foul language spoiling their enjoyment. Some people might say, well, that’s the way the world has gone, but to me, it’s quite simply wrong.

And not to put too fine a point on it, it’s fucking disgraceful. 

But for me, the real joy of Star Trek Into Darkness is the astonishing visual imagery. I know Star Trek is pulp science fiction, but the imagery of the Enterprise being chased by the much larger USS  Vengeance was just beautiful, and the final scenes of city-wide destruction have an astonishing beauty when magnified into their gigantic dream-like size. 

Chris Pine is developing into a great Kirk; Quinto’s Spock is still weird (but brilliant for old-skool Trek fans) and I much prefer the modern Sulu and Chekov to their original incarnations. I still haven’t made up my mind about Simon Pegg's Montgomery 'Norman' Scott as yet.

It’s good to see Uhura’s character being fleshed out, but Zoe Saldana is no Nichelle Nicholls. However, I AM prepared to accept that I'm not just wrong on this, but also an old, out-of-touch bastard.

Except I'm not.

So a beautiful-looking, satisfying and enjoyable film. 

And if there’s a more exciting scene this year than Harrison and Kirk’s helmet-cracking  (ooh-err!) torpedo jaunt through the debris of space, I’ll eat my original 1970s ‘Kirk is Cool’ nylon y-fronts.

 

8.5/10

 

*The writer apologised for its crassness today.
**Trevor Eve's 'Hughie Green' is one of my favourite-ever performances.

 May 21st 2013