Sunday, June 9, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to see Star Trek Into Darkness in theater. The sequel to J.J. Abrams’ mostly popular 2009 Star Trek, this new film is more intense and larger in scope than its predecessor. With the new alternate reality of the Star Trek universe now firmly established, there are no visits from future travellers, except a communication with Spock Prime, who chose to remain in the new reality in Star Trek. Instead, the film focuses on character development and and a villain taken from older films who may cause many to draw parallels to our own world.

Into Darkness opens with an entertaining action sequence that finds Captain James Kirk, played by Chris Pine, breaking numerous Federation rules and saving Spock’s life in the process. As the film expands, Kirk is rejoined by his crewmates from the previous movie: Zachary Quinto as Spock, Zoe Saldana as Lt. Nyota Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Karl Urban as Dr. Bones McCoy, John Cho as Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov. We soon find that, since being given command of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Kirk has gained exactly no humility. And his commanding officer, Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), is not happy about it. His most recent actions get his command stripped from him, and he’s sent back to the Academy. But Pike still believes in him and reinstates him as the Enterprise’s  First Officer, under his own command. Soon, however, they have bigger problems to deal with as a rogue Starfleet Officer, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) blows up a records office in London and begins a one-man war against Starfleet. He attacks Starfleet commanders, and Kirk is allowed to chase him into Klingon space. But things are not as they seem, and the crew of the Enterprise will soon be forced to question their loyalties and perhaps trust the one man they never thought they would.

Characters: In Star Trek, Chris Pine’s Kirk emerged as a brash, young officer with great potential for leadership. He continues this trend in Into Darkness. In general, he shows no respect for the rules and very little respect for those in authority over him. But he does show admirable qualities of loyalty and friendship, and by the end of the film, he seems to have gained at least a modicum of sobriety. Kirk is a fun character to watch – one whose successes you rejoice with and whose lines you usually laugh at. But he’s also one whose actions and attitude you probably wouldn’t want your children to emulate.

Spock, as a half-Vulcan, is the most logical one aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. He has a usually unerring adherence to duty and regulations that is commendable, if a bit strict. Kirk consistently stretches Spock’s definition of allowed behavior, but Kirk also challenges Spock to accept the half of him that is human. During this film, I was glad to see Spock loosen up a little and utilize his humanity. His logical side is still intact, though, which is good, because his reason is needed to balance out Kirk’s impulsiveness.

John Harrison is a terrifying character, to say the least. He is portrayed first as a rogue agent and then as a sympathetic character. The audience is torn one way and then another, confused as to who should be trusted. Played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the highly popular star of the BBC show Sherlock, Harrison is a character fans genuinely want to like. The film caters to this reaction. But it also firmly establishes what side he is on, leaving me with a definitive opinion that I have difficulty forming with Thor's Loki, for example. Regardless of his loyalties, however, Harrison is a brutal man. He has no qualms about killing anyone, and one scene shows him crushing the skull of someone with his bare hands, though the camera cuts away before he finishes the job. The sound is horrifying, however. Cumberbatch played him to perfection, in a chilling performance that brings the audience to the edges of their seats and may very well suck their breath from them. He may be the character people remember the most when they’re finished with the movie.

The other crew members of the Enterprise are much the same as in the first film. Uhura emerges as the most compassionate person aboard, but her many talents are still clearly emphasized. Bones is still pessimistic; Scotty retains his sarcasm and his heart of gold; Sulu is brilliant and shows some leadership potential in this movie; Chekov is young, enthusiastic, and bright. Unfortunately, he has no memorable “I can do zat!” moment like he did in the first film. The newest member of the crew is Carol Marcus, a beautiful young scientist played by Alice Eve. She is serious, committed, and a bit defiant, but she does play a very important role later in the film. Kirk of course flirts with her, but nothing serious comes of it. Though important, I felt that her story had no resolution in this film; in my mind, she didn’t fit as well as the other characters do. Altogether, though, the characters of Star Trek Into Darkness are well-rounded and portrayed brilliantly. They play complement to the plot well.

Plot: I enjoyed the many twists and turns of this storyline. It is complicated, full of danger and added elements that make your head spin. It is far more intense than its predecessor, but it is a believable story that kept me spellbound.

Themes: This story is more complicated than the previous film in many ways. Among these are its many possible applications to our world and our way of thinking. The distinct reference to home-grown terrorism may or may not spell a warning to us at home. It will at least make you think. The movie includes subtle questions about genetic manipulation, the rights and wrongs of warfare, and the danger of unrestrained power. Kirk pursues a revenge trail that lands him and his crew in danger; by the end of the film, he seems to have realized that revenge is not the best path. I applaud that. Starfleet as a whole also reaffirms their commitment to exploration, not warfare. Personally, I like the return to peace, but I’m not sure what purpose exploration serves them if they’re not supposed to interfere (including help) with other space civilizations. That was the most confusing theme to me. A path of peace is well and good, but sometimes war is inevitable. It will be interesting to see how, if at all, that theme is expounded upon in future films. Along with these somewhat deep and possibly troubling strings, the film does carry themes of friendship and loyalty that give it a positive beauty. The friendship between Kirk and Spock in particular is expanded from the first film and touches gently on the heartstrings. They remind us of how special and important friendship can be. All in all, the movie may leave you scratching your head, but it will probably also make you think.

Objectionable Elements: This film is rated PG-13 for a reason. It is tremendously more violent than Star Trek, with Harrison shooting, fighting, and crushing at will. A lot of people die, and while this is necessary to understand the scope of Harrison’s actions, it is still somewhat disturbing. In addition, there is distinctly more foul language in Into Darkness than in its predecessor. Numerous instances of the s-word and the d-word dot the movie, rarely adding anything to the story. Two additional scenes serve absolutely no purpose – one shows Carol in her underwear and the other portrays Kirk in bed with someone who doesn’t even appear later in the story. I don’t approve of those types of scenes anyway, but when they are simply gratuitous, not even aiming for emotional fulfillment of some story thread, they just make me angry. The movie would have been better had these scenes just been left out.

Conclusion: I did enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness, though I left the theater feeling more emotionally drained than I felt after watching the first movie. Watching it is an up and down ride that may make you cringe, laugh, grieve, and rejoice. It is an intense movie, but it has its relaxed moments too, with familiar punchy one-liners that make you smile. The movie is certainly not for young children and requires a bit of caution for the faint-hearted. It is more violent and full of language than I would prefer, but its plot is entertaining and well-developed. It is deeper than the previous film and may ask some questions that make you search for answers. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Essentially, if you liked Star Trek, you will probably enjoy Into Darkness as well. I personally prefer the former, but I am curious to see what J.J. Abrams will pull out of his sleeve next for the Star Trek universe.

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