I was at the theatre with my family last night to see the latest installment of the re-booted Star Trek franchise. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Trekkie. I have proof; I failed this test miserably. I watched the animated series on Saturday mornings as a kid, and resigned to watching the original TV series as a child when nothing else was on in my 14 channel universe. I do consider my husband a fan of the original series and ST: The Next Generation (we own box-set DVDs to prove it). His enthusiasm could not be sustained over the lives of the remaining TV spinoffs (Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise). Regardless, we have seen every theatrical Star Trek film during opening week-end since we have been dating. Yes, that does drag us back to the previous century. My only fond memories of those films were of the most recent cinematic reboot (Star Trek, 2009). I have vague recollections of the films prior to that (something about Borg, something about whales, dozing off probably didn’t help). So I knew this film was coming and that I was going to see it in the theatre; the only question remaining was “Take the kids, or get a sitter?” So we popped the Star Trek , 2009 DVD in to the player a few nights ago and watched it with our daughters. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it the second time round; and I was delighted that they enjoyed it too.
J.J. Abrams (I have been a fan since his Alias days) did a fine job freshening up a tired premise. The 2009 film was a great popcorn film. It had a nice blend of action and character study. There was comedy that didn’t rely entirely on nostalgia and Trekkie in-jokes. Of course, there were plenty of winks to long-time fans yet that film managed to transcend countless iterations with a tight story and a fresh charismatic cast. So ST: Into Darkness was approached with some wishful enthusiasm on my part, and my kids were game, so off we went to catch it in 2D.
ST: Into Darkness brings back the familiar faces of the starship Enterprise with the welcome addition of a few new ones. They are out for vengeance after an attack on the top brass of Starfleet. The vendetta is personal and the villain is introduced as a rogue Starfleet agent, John Harrison (a sublime Benedict Cumberbatch). Harrison is hiding out on a desolate planet in the enemy Kilingon empire . Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his loyal crew are in stealth pursuit, wary of provoking all-out war with the Klingons.
I do not want to spoil the plot. This is a good (not great) popcorn film. It moved at a break neck pace with plot twists along the way. Many of these twists were not huge surprises, yet my eldest and I thought it was a bit convoluted at times. One had to pay very close attention to wordy expository dialogue. Thank goodness I could rely on my husband for that; I needed to be debriefed on the drive home in order to bring all the plot points together. My youngest daughter fell asleep. My eldest remained engaged and said she liked it but preferred the 1st installment; I agreed with her. My husband really enjoyed it.
I enjoyed the interactions between Pine’s Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock. I wished that Simon Pegg’s Scotty had more screen time; he is my favorite character and actor of the series. Karl Urban is another actor that I have long admired (ever since his Xena days), but I found his portrayal of Dr. McCoy to be a grating and dated parody. This was no fault of his own; he was given the cheesiest dialogue (Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a torpedo technician!). He’s an actor worthy of a better character; McCoy is in serious need of a reboot. I enjoyed the fact that the female characters did a bit more than just stand around looking pretty (although there was a lot of that too). Zoe Saldana’s Uhuru was valued for her language skills and had some action sequences where she managed a major rescue. Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus, weapons specialist also had a chance to use her skills disarming a torpedo. Despite these strong female characters, this film sadly fails the Bechdel movie test (to pass 1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it 2. Who talk to each other 3. About something besides a man)
My biggest complaint is that the stakes are not that high in this universe. The main characters are so sacredly integral to the longevity of the franchise. When the life of a main cast member is threatened, who over the age of 10 can take it seriously? So the screen writers should really stop pretending. Other quibbles are that the hand to hand combat and chase scenes were long and unimaginatively choreographed. The repetitive large-scale spectacles of disaster became tedious, resulting in a bloated 132 min runtime. I would have preferred the time used differently, perhaps developing the characters a bit more. Then perhaps I could actually care about what happens in their world. Clearly the fans of the pre-reboot Star Trek world could not sustain production, resulting in the premature demise of the Enterprise TV series in 2005. If the producers were serious about building a sustainable Star Trek franchise for a new audience, perhaps developing character worthy of this talented ensemble may help. And dare I say it? Raise the stakes. The loss of a planet that the new audience hardly knows anything about really doen’t count. But who am I kidding? Adrenaline fueled action sells tickets and that is the appetite this film satiates. Hopefully the next Star Trek cinematic installment won’t have to duke it out at the box-office with a future Transformers film. It may not win that epic battle.