Eyes on the Enterprise – Star Trek Into Darkness review

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By Simon Miraudo
May 6, 2013

There’s a lot to like about Star Trek Into DarknessJ.J. Abrams‘ second foray into the cosmos aboard the once-rickety USS Enterprise – and even quite a bit to love. At times, it’s got swagger that rivals Captain James Tiberius Kirk’s own. Elsewhere, however, the screenplay’s cold Vulcan logic becomes apparent (particularly when it rips-off, nearly wholesale, emotional cues that have proven effective in previous instalments, or, as in the opening sequence, Raiders of the Lost Ark). More a case of self-cannibalisation than plagiarism, it remains a magnificently orchestrated spectacle.

The movie begins with the aforementioned Spielbergian tribute (with furious alien natives in hot pursuit of our heroes, as opposed to a boulder); a Starfleet mission gone awry that sees Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, slowly morphing into William Shatner‘s shape, or maybe the projection in my cinema was a little off) relieved of his command. His expulsion doesn’t last long. When rogue Starfleet agent John Harrison (a sonorous Benedict Cumberbatch) unleashes a devastating terror attack on London, Kirk and his crew are assigned to seek him out and execute indiscriminately.

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Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), ever the buzz-kill yet still immaculately coiffed, is concerned that their band of space explorers has essentially been transformed into an intergalactic firing squad. Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) doesn’t trust the torpedoes that Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) has armed them with. Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is growing frustrated with her boyfriend’s – Spock – unfeeling nature. And the ship’s resident doctor, Bones (Karl Urban), remains perpetually pissed with everyone’s incompetence.

It may not read as such, but that’s the fun stuff. The day-to-day gripes aboard the Enterprise – as well as the volley of ideologies and ideas – make for the most interesting moments. The characters are richly developed (well, except for poor Alice Eve‘s science officer Carol Marcus, introduced solely to strip down to her underthings, apparently) and are brought to life by the wonderful ensemble. You can get away with anything if you populate your film with interesting people whom you care about, and are invested in one another’s lives; even a total absence of bombastic pyrotechnics. The opposite does not hold true.

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Star Trek Into Darkness evolves into a different beast in the second half (for which you’ll find no spoilers here), and begins toying with the original series’ timeline, even occasionally replicating iconic scenes beat for beat. Trekkies may simultaneously wince and giggle at the metatextual references. Screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof (who seem to write all these kinds of movies) manage to subvert our expectations somewhat, though the picture largely unfolds as one would expect; the result of this essentially being a prequel, remake, reboot, and sequel rolled into one. An alternate universe restaging of Star Trek‘s most famous moment drew a couple of tears from me, yet I still don’t know whether it’s flipping of the script is ingenious or lazy.

Heading into another blockbuster movie season, I had begun to wonder if any of these big budget monstrosities could deliver something special; something that didn’t feel like a facsimile of previous successes, totally devoid of heart and humanity. Star Trek Into Darkness is… almost that. The mechanics of the plot are sometimes so stupefying they have the effect of a phaser set to stun, and a number of action set pieces are clumsily wedged in seemingly because something hasn’t exploded for the past eight minutes. That said, Abrams is such an admirable craftsman, and so visually ambitious, that it’s hard not to be charmed by the sheer scope of his work, and the prettiness of it all. The redundant action sequences are entertaining, and the ones that are pertinent to the story are enthralling.

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Abrams’ valiant efforts to gussy up this flagging franchise are such that it actually scored him an even more enviable – and, until recently, non-existent – gig: helming the latest instalment of the Star Wars saga. The tragedy is that, in years to come, his two Star Trek features might be remembered primarily as audition tapes from a man looking to trade up for a Millennium Falcon. They deserve better. Star Trek Into Darkness should restore your faith in blockbusters whilst also setting a precedent unlikely to be topped in the coming year. It’s also limited by the constraints of that term: blockbuster. Only something truly magical transcends this most cynical of artforms; something like a Star Wars. Here’s hoping the impending mind-meld between Lucasfilm and Abrams will give us what we’ve long missed.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Star Trek Into Darkness arrives in Australian cinemas May 9, 2013.

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