Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) – Review

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness is a very entertaining action/sci-fi adventure. The film is about Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the crew of the Enterprise and their mission to track down a dangerous Starfleet agent (John Harrison) who has viciously attacked the Federation from within. However, not everything is as it seems, Kirk and the Enterprise are going up against a powerful adversary, which they are not quite prepared for and do not fully understand.

Much like 2009’s Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness sets aside many of the normal troupes that govern the TV Series (and its successors) in exchange for a more accessible story and overall feel. While this is sure to again infuriate many fans of the original series and films, the end result is a very entertaining action adventure (made for everyone). However, Star Trek Into Darkness tries to make many references to the original series and its films, taking it a bit too far and essentially turns into Star Trek II: The Wraith of Kahn in the latter half for no good reason other than to reference what is widely considered the best of the prior Star Trek films. For general audiences, this reference material serves no real purpose (and a particular yell will come off fairly cheesy), and for Trek fans it feels kind of insulting (and thus again serves no good purpose). The question then becomes: why not just create an original story? That aside, the film works quite well (again, assuming the logic shown to the viewer in the film actually makes sense within the world of the film – something many can and will debate).

Director J.J. Abrams does a fantastic job, as usual, creating a narrative that is constantly moving forward. The pacing of the film is expertly managed, which keeps the viewer engaged thoroughly throughout. Even with the film proceeding at a quick pace, almost with constant action, Abrams still infuses the narrative with enough character moments and breaks that allow the audience to breathe, both of which are also essential to the film’s overall success.

Abrams is a master of creating great character moments that connect the audience to the film’s leads, which in turn enables each viewer to have a stake in the outcome and care about the characters – thus, the drama is amplified, the action is more engaging (and not just mindless noise on the screen), and the narrative arc actually has meaning. All this is true of Star Trek Into Darkness. The audience cares about Kirk, Spock, and so on, elevating the experience, which is the primary reason that the film works as well as it does overall.

Yet, amidst the seemingly constant barrage of big action scenes and dramatic moments, Abrams still provides lighter moments at key times, which lets the audience have a short break from the action and drama – the tension. Abrams does this to keep the overall tone fun. The film is very funny in these moments and the dialog is snappy and delivered wonderfully. Even in the slower moments, Abrams does not want to waste any of the runtime, still providing some piece of information to the viewer. He is a very efficient director – a big reason why his films are so entertaining (he has a keen understanding of pacing – something many filmmakers lack).

Star Trek Into Darkness has some small sequences that are fantastic as well – in addition to the big, exciting action set pieces. The scene in which Thomas Harewood and his wife wake up in London and leave the city to visit their daughter in hospital is beautiful. It serves as a nice quiet moment in the film.

The narrative structure of the film overall works fairly well, however the third act is somewhat problematic – as if Abrams was not quite sure how to end the film. It seems to come to a conclusion multiple times only to be escalated again into a new action scene with new stakes. The whole thing feels a little muddled. The stakes feel like they are artificially being manipulated as the third act progresses instead of feeling like they arise organically from the natural progression of the narrative. This gives the action a disjointed feel. Still, though, Abrams keeps things engaging and exciting, as the audience is still invested in the characters and visually the action is impressive.

Again, while this is not the Star Trek film that diehard fans may have wanted, Star Trek Into Darkness is a lot of fun and is highly enjoyable to watch (which is the goal of a summer blockbuster).

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: J.J. Abrams is a master filmmaker in terms of making engaging and entertaining action/adventure films. Star Trek Into Darkness is his fourth film, and with each he has demonstrated a knack for delivering great, fleshed out characters and brilliantly action-packed films with brisk and efficient pacing. While I am still hesitant to give my full support to his hiring to take on Star Wars (but that is mainly due to me wanting it to be stylistically different than Star Trek), I look very much forward to seeing his next film.

Michael Giacchino’s score is great. It both perfectly bolsters the action scenes and reinforces the drama. Giacchino has also created a very memorable theme for the series (continuing on from his work on Star Trek) that captures the tone of the films well – being one of a thrilling sci-fi adventure. Daniel Mindel’s cinematography is also very strong. The film has a bold color palette and feels glossy and clean, which works well with the tone and overall sci-fi style that Abrams is going for. Mindel and Abrams also seem to not use quite as much lens flare in this film, which is for the best. Scott Chambliss outdoes himself as well. Everything in the film looks great. The sets are one of the strongest aspects. Again, the color palette is striking at times – particularly in the prologue scene. All three provide standout work.

Overall, the cast is very good. The narrative does not give a lot of moments to all the characters (as there are many), focusing primarily on Kirk, Spock, and John Harrison (the villain). Noel Clarke, Alice Eve, and Bruce Greenwood stand out among the small supporting roles. Peter Weller brings a great intensity to Admiral Marcus, while Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, and Zoe Saldana are strong in supporting Enterprise crew roles (Pegg and Urban in particular have a lot of great dialog which they deliver brilliantly). Benedict Cumberbatch is wonderful in the villain role. He commands the screen. He can be devastating and sympathetic all in the same moment. Zachary Quinto is also especially good as Spock. Being that he is not supposed to show emotion, Quinto uses his eyes to emote very effectively. With Cumberbatch, they give the film’s best performances. Chris Pine is good as Kirk. He has the charm and pulls off the swagger (and recklessness).

Summary & score: Star Trek Into Darkness is highly entertaining, with engaging characters and stupendous action. 7/10

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