Six weeks too late with this review, but it is still in cinemas if you wish to take the trip into darkness yourself.
Arriving a full four years after the original J.J. Abrams reboot, Into Darkness is a different creature to that first film. Visually slick, with some great performances from Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and in particular, Benedict Cumberbatch as…
…John Harrison, or Khan to his genetically enhanced friends and mortal enemies. And so begins the in-joke bingo card that is Star Trek: Into Darkness.
I’ll preface this by saying that I enjoyed the film. It is undeniably entertaining. It is a machine designed to thrill and strike awe, and it accomplishes both in equal measure, if not in abundance. Unfortunately, it is neither as good as the first film, nor is it even a good Star Trek film. It relies far too much on frantic action with added peril, over-the-top moralising… with more peril. And zippy, cool special effects to enhance the peril. It’s a little painting-by-numbers with the perilous scenes – Oh no! You accidentally armed the missile and it’s going to explode in 30 seconds! – We’ve got to run from here to there and gravity’s gone all illogically stupid in whatever manner is most convenient to put Kirk and Scotty in extreme peril! – Look out! A fist fight on moving vehicles that seem to have no identifiable purpose other than to provide a series of video-game style platforms to fight upon!
The major problem with the film, though, in my opinion is the over-use of in-jokes and references to other films. Some blatant. Some subtle. Some possibly just in my head. There is an excess of Trek-based references, from the Tribble, to mention of a Gorn, Carol Marcus (wink wink, nudge nudge), Nurse Chapel to entire sections of plot with the obvious use of a young Khan Noonien Singh and the resulting scenes from The Wrath of Khan played out in reverse. My problem with that is how backward-looking all of this is, after the forward-thinking time-tinkering of the 2009 reboot. I loved that they threw out years of Trek history, hopefully with the intent of moving on into uncharted waters and creating new stories. It’s hard not to utilise some aspects of Trek. There has to be Klingons and Romulans and Vulcans and so on, but did we really have to trade on the past quite so directly in this film.
Wrath of Khan is easily the best moment of Original Star Trek on film and this only serves to remind us of that, and in comparison how this film isn’t. To anyone unaware of that Trek history, it may be more enjoyable, or it might simply leave you a bit cold as after two films have Kirk and Spock really created such a well-defined bond in non-Trekkie viewer’s imaginations to elicit the strong emotions that they are trying to wring out of the audience here? With the original Wrath of Khan, Star Trek fans already had three seasons of the TV show and a film behind them, so the relationship between Kirk and Spock was thoroughly and comprehensively drawn out.
The entire film is a subverted buddy movie between Kirk and Spock – complete with snappy, comedy dialogue – “Pointy? Is that a derogatory reference?” But I’m not sure I was utterly convinced of the relationship these two have built up. They tell the story of their meeting and getting to know each other in the 2009 film, so I’m not sure this film needed to be entirely about that. In fact I wanted more of Chekov and Sulu who are a bit sidelined in this movie.
Back to the Bingo-card. Other movies referenced: -
Bladerunner – Khan reminds me so much of Roy Batty in this film, being the charismatic, violent, impossible-to-kill leader of a group of genetically enhanced humanoids who just want to live. And then, the obvious reference – like Tyrell, the crushing of Admiral Marcus’ head.
Godfather Part 3 – Not one everyone might spot, but these guys know their film-making and there is no way this would not have been considered. Khan’s helicopter attack on the gathered Federation bigwigs is an exact copy of the helicopter attack on the gathered Mafia Dons as orchestrated by Joe Mantegna’s Joey Zasa.
Indiana Jones – Mainly in the opening sequence, being chased by ‘natives’ in such a frantic fashion recalled quite strongly to me many scenes in the first two Indiana Jones films.
Star Wars – I wondered if Abrams was so keen to get started on his new Star Wars films for Disney that he couldn’t help but throw in a reference during the starship chase sequence with the Klingons. Spaceships flying down a canyon, slotting through tight spaces, and listen closely to the noise the Klingon ship makes. It’s the distinctive roar of a TIE fighter.
I could proceed with a huge list of plot holes – most of which dragged me out of the film to go “eh”? Such as: why hide the Enterprise underwater? – or – Wouldn’t they have faster response security at the meeting of ALL the federation bigwigs, so Khan can’t spend quite so long freely shooting at everyone? And many others, but it would start to seem petty. Suffice it to say that the majority of the post-film discussion was spent picking apart the mostly silly ‘plot’.
I feel they missed a chance to send the enterprise off on its 5 year mission straight away in this film, rather than finishing with that happening. I hope in the next film they give us something with proper aliens, and serious outer-space weirdness, which is what I loved most about Star Trek. I hope they set about creating something much more original instead of continuing to cherry-pick old Star Trek for its best bits.
I think the title says it all. ‘Into Darkness’ – what darkness? If they mean space, it’s a bit of a trite and obvious statement. In a summer packed with HUGE SF films, this won’t be one of the more memorable.