Monday, May 20, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Two movie trips in a month? Unheard of in recent times, but true. Saturday we got to to drop Robert (3) off with my parents and me, Z and Ewan (11) headed off to see the new Star Trek movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, which included some discussion of what bloody number it should be. We settled on "god knows", which is probably the sensible approach. Anyway, given the massive plot secrecy that surrounded this project, it makes it hard to discuss without actually alluding to those spoilers, so for once i'm going to give up and just write this up in a spoilery way. You Have Been Warned!

In some ways I think the attempt to keep the films big secret - Benedict Cumberbatchs characters identity - is the sort of frustrating bullshit that filmmakers use in an attempt to create "buzz" for a film via internet speculation. I mean, if the film is going to live or die on a single twist, then something is surely wrong. On the other hand, having seen the film, I think its smart for a different reason, because it allows to you get used to the film short of comparisons and expectations to what it should be doing. And this is important because whilst Star Trek Into Darkness is many things, one thing it isn't, is a remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Going into the film expecting that is going to leave you with an disappointing and dissonant experience.

Re-using Khan (for it is he!) was always going to be a challenge for JJ Abrahms and his team, due to the high regard tWoK is held in. And rightly so, because its a film with a lot going on; a film about growing old, about your past catching up to you, about legacy, and about rebirth and renewal. Its a film that neatly lines up its plot with its aging, fading cast and sense of unfinished business from a show that grew out of being a TV failure into something great and unique. Star Trek Into Darkness is none of those things - it is shiny, and new, and vibrant; it's cast are young and energetic, and the melancholic spectre of death does not hang over them, nor should it. So here we have the Khan of Space Seed, hungry, powerful and ready to take on the world, facing a crew eager to meet the world head on.

So lets take Star Trek Into Darkness on it's own merits. The best analogy I can think of for it is that it moves like a shark - elegantly, quickly and excitingly, but like a shark it always feels like its in danger that if it stops moving, it will just die. There is a lot going on and the plot is constantly moving forward, but there isn't much of a sense that it has a lot going on underneath it all. For a franchise that prides itself on subtext, there isn't a lot here, although its hardly the first movie outing of any incarnation of Trek to have that problem.

In other ways though, it is very, very Trek. Khan is a somewhat sympathetic villain  and the central conflict involving the militarisation of Starfleet is an old worry line in the franchise's utopian ideals. "Aren't we supposed to be Explorers?" worries Scotty (an improved and expanded Simon Pegg) at one point, giving voice to the films central moral question. Well, I say central, but the one the plot nods towards most. We've also got Klingons, with new forehead ridges and nice shiny new Birds of Prey, a ton of small shout outs to Classic Trek, and more surprisingly Deep Space Nine. Everything looks and feels right, much as it in Abrahms earlier effort. Towards the end of the film it does get carried away a little with itself, mirroring what may be the franchises most iconic moment, but it's nicely played in it's own right.

Star Trek Into Darkness is hugely entertaining. Its crafted to within an inch of it's life, the pacing is nearly perfect and whole experience of watching it was great. Whatever niggles I may have with it only start to emerge long after leaving the cinema, and even then they're hardly deal-breakers. It remains a modern Star Trek for the modern blockbuster age, maybe a little too much surface and not enough substance, but still relentlessly Boldly Going the right way.