May 9, 2013 Leave a comment
Demoted after an attempt to save an alien race results in the U.S.S. Enterprise breaking the Prime Directive, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself playing First Officer to Christopher Pike’s (Bruce Greenwood) newly reinstated Captain. When Starfleet headquarters is attacked by a rogue officer called John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), The Enterprise is given the responsibility of tracking the terrorist to an uninhabited region of the Klingon homeworld and destroying him with a payload of special, long-range photon torpedoes. When Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) unease convinces the Captain to capture rather than kill Harrison, however, the very future of the Federation is thrown into jeopardy.
Ever since it was first announced, Star Trek Into Darkness has been a source of constant confusion. What took so long? Who is John Harrision? And, most pressingly, how are we supposed to be punctuating the thing — with a colon or without? As with Lost, Cloverfield and Super 8 the film itself was shrouded in a darkness of its own. Rather than simply withhold information, however, the filmmakers have been actively misinforming, even to the point of flat-out lying about certain plot details. Coupled with a heavily deceptive advertising campaign, they have warped expectations to an extent eerily reminiscent to last year’s Prometheus. Needless to say, Damon Lindelof — who only produced 2009′s Star Trek — has now been promoted to co-writer.
While Star Trek Into Darkness is nowhere near as disappointing as Ridley Scott’s “prequel”, it is still not a comparison you really wish to make, particularly as it isn’t quite as interesting as a misstep, either. Whereas the first film was delightfully simple in its intent — its mission statement being to reintroduce the crew of the starship Enterprise to a largely new audience — the point of the sequel is much less clear. Despite his insistence to the contrary, Abrams has made a number of concessions to the extant franchise as a whole, bending his own narrative out of shape in an attempt to appease the more traditional Trek fanbase felt to have been left out by his earlier reboot. But these compromises are only ever just that, thinly veiled Easter Eggs, leaving one half of the audience scratching their heads at obscure references and the other grasping desperately at straws.
Abrams has taken on his own Kobayashi Maru and lost; trying at once to appeal to hardened fans while simultaneously endeavouring to tell a story accessible to newcomers and novices is a no-win scenario, a situation he was wise to avoid the last time around. Star Trek Into Darkness feels like a mini-series condensed into one single awkward instalment. Elements such as the Klingon-Federation tensions and the founding of New Vulcan are introduced but never really developed, indicating a long-game that Abrams himself might not be around to oversee. For the second movie set in this new timeline, Star Trek Into Darkness contains a sometimes overwhemling amount of exposition, an inundation that is even more marked considering just how relatively straightforward the first film was to follow — even with its time-travel and decades-spanning narrative.
And yet Star Trek Into Darkness is far from unentertaining. From the high-octane opener to the genuinely exhilarating finale, Abrams’ film once again barrels along at warp speed. Michael Giacchino’s score accompanies the action beautifully, developing the themes from the first movie while also knowing exactly when to bow out, both to let the actors shine and to give the now-iconic sound design a chance to stand on its own (the Enterprise itself may be my favourite character of all). The returning cast are as good as ever in the leading roles, each getting plenty of opportunities to continue making those characters their own. None of the newcomers really make that much of an impression — even Benedict Cumberbatch struggles — but the likes of Kirk, Spock and Uhura (an impeccable Zoe Saldana) remain a joy to watch.
There is still plenty to like about Abrams’ sequel — the cast are great, the pace is exciting and the effects are often sensational (and, unlike Iron Man 3, definitely worth watching in 3D) — but this cannot hope to compensate for an episodic structure and a story that attempts to please everyone, but winds up satisfying no-one as a result. As Star Trek Into Darkness nears its end, it becomes increasingly clear that you haven’t actually gone anywhere at all, boldly or otherwise. The voyages of the starship Enterprise haven’t even begun.