Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Cruel glass jail… notice the lack of bed, seat, or toilet.

I tend to forget how much of a Star Trek fan I am until I begin discussing anything Star Trek related with almost anyone else.  I tend to forget little details like having a pair of Star Fleet communicator walkie-talkies when I was a kid… or my fully articulating Spock action figure… or the fact that prior to the release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (the worst Star Trek film ever) I held a week-long “Trek-Fest” at my house (invited friends over each day to watch a couple of episodes of TOS and one film a day until the Friday the film was released)… or how I used to record individual episodes on VHS because the television station that reran episodes at midnight were running them in their original order and I would order the tapes based on “star-date”.  I’ve never been to a convention… but I wasn’t upset when I accidentally found myself in the middle of one in the mid-80’s.

What I’m getting at is that I am a fan… not the biggest fan, but a fan nonetheless… and this became clear after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, the latest in J. J. Abrams’ reboot of the series, and warning those around me to see this film before they become spoiled.  I didn’t realize people can’t be spoiled on something they neither care about nor know much about… and I’m shocked at how little people seem to know or care about Star Trek canon… and yes, that sentence makes me want to punch myself in the head.

So… what did I think of the first sequel to the rebooted series I hold so dear to my heart?  I loved it.  I can’t say I care much for the title, although I sort of get it now… sort of, but the film itself is absolutely fantastic and a welcome new addition to the juggernaut that is the Star Trek franchise.  I feel as though I should write two reviews… one for non-fans, the other for fans… but if I did that I could then easily go from two to three reviews, one chock full of spoilers… and frankly, that would just get out of hand… so I won’t spoil anything, but be aware, there are spoilers to be had, and I would highly suggest avoiding these at all costs.  If spoilers are your bag though… I would recommend the Entertainment Weekly review where Owen Glieberman, in his infinite idiocy, claims not to spoil while spoiling the shit out of the film… and sadly, the IMDB page is a spoiler unto itself.  Bummer that.

The first Star Trek (the only film in the series with that title, so I can use that without explaining which version) lays out how it is that we now have two divergent timelines with the same characters and why certain things that we could once consider canon are no longer relevant.  Beginning with the destruction of the U.S.S. Kelvin in the opening of Star Trek and culminating with the obliteration of Vulcan, Spock’s home planet, how events play out throughout this new series can, and are, different.

Star Trek Into Darkness opens with a typical away mission… Kirk is making waves and getting himself and his away team into trouble as he attempts to move a population away from an impending volcanic eruption without being seen as Spock tries to freeze this planet-killing volcano.  The Prime Directive of Star Fleet prevents any contact with a non-warp drive capable species, and the species of hominid on this planet are primitive… so Kirk is a diversion.  Immediately, the characters of Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Uhuru are brought into clear relief and we are in the company of some very old, yet very fresh, friends.

Chris Pine manages to convey a very Shatner-esque presence as Captain James Tyberius Kirk without aping the former’s tics and quirks… and Zachary Quinto is freakishly Nimoy-esque as Spock.  The casting for these reboots could not have been more bang on, and their transformations into these characters feels complete and viable.  Nothing feels forced… nothing seems odd… it feels surprisingly comfortable, and each of the series regulars gets various opportunities to expand on the screen and enrich their respective characters.  Sulu gets a fantastic nod to his eventual promotion to captain and Chekov gets to react to being asked to don a red shirt… and Uhuru and Spock share a number of scenes together as a couple.

As always, there are repercussions for Kirk’s insolence and his constant rule-breaking.  People are angered and disciplinary actions are taken, but it is Kirk’s nature to disobey orders, and it is this very nature that finds Kirk at the head of a massive manhunt for one John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a Star Fleet officer who is implicated in the bombing of the Kelvin Memorial Archives (note the divergent timeline present… Kelvin Memorial?).  I won’t go into any other detail because there are rumors out there, and sadly spoilers aplenty, but this is the point where the story begins to flourish… and it flourishes well.

The only complaint I have would be that the series is taking a turn towards the more action oriented style that permeates every franchise these days.  The original series and films were somewhat heady, thought provoking missives on war, peace, race relations, and our place in the universe.  The new series seems to be more analogous to a world dominated by fear of terror and a greater militaristic world-view that is slightly contrary to Gene Roddenberry’s vision… but I suppose that is more of a mirror of our world today as opposed to the world fifty years ago… but it is still about the potential for who we, as individuals and as a society, can be… and that moral compass is always pointed towards, “better”.

That said, it was an absolute thrill ride that had me on the edge of my seat more than a few times with a few reveals and twists that caused me to gape open-mouthed and verge on letting out a few “woo”s (for the record… I don’t “woo”).  One scene in particular finds Kirk and a companion hurtling through space through a debris field like bullets trying to hit a tiny target.  That alone would cause your knuckles to go white… add in a cracked helmet, an unopened door, and a missing signal and your hands will cramp from gripping your armrest too tightly.  This is what a summer movie is meant to be.

Do yourself a favor… if you are a fan of the series, you have probably already seen it, but if not, avoid spoilers and see it now.  If you are not a fan of the series, see Star Trek Into Darkness and chances are you will become a fan… but watch Star Trek first so you know what the hell is going on.

Finally a few words regarding Benedict Cumberbatch.  Other than having the most incredible name in the history of names, I knew very little about the actor.  After watching Star Trek Into Darkness I began watching Sherlock on the BBC… this man is a brilliant actor with a voice that drips with menace and authority… and that is a statement I have only previously used with Alan Rickman.  So go see Star Trek Into Darkness and watch Sherlock… both amazing works, both very Cumberbatchy.

To boldly go where no Blahg has gone before,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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