Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek: Episode II - Wrath of the Raiders Into Darkness

The follow-up to director J.J. Abrams' 2009 relaunching of the Star Trek franchise is a mostly disappointing affair that cribs heavily off other films, including one of the franchise's own, in an attempt to offer a sophomoric version of what is generally considered the best of the original franchise. It's nearly impossible to discuss the film in any length, or its myriad of problems, without giving away a few of its secrets. So after a few broad points about Star Trek Into Darkness you'll forgive me I move dangerously into spoiler territory.

One of the real disappointments with the first film was the numerous logic holes that plagued the story. This film has to build on that shaky foundation while introducing a host of new questionable story elements. You have to look no further than the movie's opening sequence which involves the U.S.S. Enterprise hiding underwater on a planet where the natives have no knowledge of extraterrestrial life while performing a mission whose sole purpose seems to be to get Kirk in hot water with Starfleet Command (and give us an incredibly unsubtle nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark in the process).

Every piece of the mission could have been actually accomplished better with the Enterprise in orbit. Of course this wouldn't offer the initial conflict the film wants so desperately to instill (only to throw it all away 10 minutes later for reasons that are as perplexing as how old Spock and Kirk managed to both get trapped on Hoth in the first film). If you had any doubt that this film would be even dumber than the first one this sequence puts all your doubts to rest.

Another huge logic issue is the troubling fact that Earth still hasn't learned its lesson from the first movie as the home of Starfleet is still the least-defended planet in the universe (with the exception Qo'noS which appears to be guarded by a total 3 tiny ships and around 25 Klingons). Seriously, the movie states several times that Starfleet is on the brink of war with the Klingons and yet neither side seems able (or even all that interested in) defending their homeworld.

One of the other big problems with the first movie was that the crew of the Enterprise were just sort of thrown together by chance. Although they have served together, we're told, with distinction since the end of the first film Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) still hasn't done anything to earn his Captain's chair which was handed to him at the end of the first movie (and will be done again here). Most of the rest of the cast are really only on-hand for either dramatic or comedic character moments, as need be. It's in these small moments the characters come closest to the original series, even if Karl Urban and Simon Pegg seem to be in a race to eat as much scenery as possible before the film's end.

Although I'd like the Kirk/Spock relationship to be a little further down the line than it is at the beginning of the film, Pine and Zachary Quinto work well together (even if it takes the better part of two full movies to actually begin their bromance). Hell, I even enjoyed the Spock/Uhura relationship with the mostly underutilized Zoe SaldanaJohn Cho gets a moment that foreshadows better things than helming a starship in Sulu's future, and Alice Eve is a fine as the Enterprise's new eye candy, I mean science officer. It's when the film's problematic plot gets in the way things really start going to hell.

I promised you spoilers, so here we go: the worst kept secret has been the choice of the film's villain. As you will no doubt guess well before the character officially introduces himself to the Enterprise's captain, Benedict Cumberbatch is indeed playing Khan Noonien Singh. This is problematic for several reasons, beginning with the fact the Abrams is attempting to deliver us Wrath of Khan without first giving us "Space Seed" (the episode of the original series which introduced Khan and whose events don't even merit a flashback sequence as they are referred to in a single short monologue).

When you boil down all the issues of Star Trek Into Darkness's main problem (when it's not trying to offer lesser versions the opening scene in Raiders or Anakin's car-jumping sequence in Attack of the Clones) is the movie has no emotional weight of its own. It relies solely on fan knowledge and nostalgia of Wrath of Khan to try and force moments the new series hasn't earned with characters audiences can't possibly have invested the same amount of time and energy in as the original Enterprise crew.

The script has an incredibly forced confrontation between Kirk and a member of his crew early on, leading to an outcome that doesn't fit the altercation, for the sole purpose to set up the character's own storyline in the film's final act. As the to film's final act, the climactic space battle and the search for Khan, there's a plot hole so gigantic it's ludicrous no one notices it. Given the fallout of their space battle, and offering an emotionally inept version of the end of Wrath of Khan, the crew must take Khan alive. This is an important point as, much like the awful first sequence, colors every action and character motivation to come. It's problematic, however, because the Enterprise doesn't actually need to take the genetically-enhanced former frozen Popsicle alive (in fact there are 72 reasons why they could simply kill the man at any time). The only positive to this version of events is it prevents the series from rebooting Star Trek: The Search for Spock as the next sequel.

Star Trek Into Darkness is also burdened with its share of distracting lens flares (including a scene so bad Eve's face is nearly completely obscured during her big dramatic moment), 3D effects that don't add to the experience, the continued obsession with futuristic space bars, rehashing storlines and specific scenes with minor tweaks by simply swapping characters far less beloved than the originals and expecting the same emotional response from fans, hamfistedly foreshadowing big cheats and plot points to makes sure that no one actually has to sacrifice anything by the end of the film, and providing nearly every single major character scenes in different costumes (space suits, wet suits, multiple disguises) for the sole purpose of selling more action figures.

Cumberbatch is a good choice of villain, even if he becomes an unbeatable shell of the layered character we're shown earlier in the movie as the film amps up the action and his unstoppableness. Pine and the rest of the crew, all of whom return, are more comfortable in the roles this time around, and it shows. When the film relies on its characters rather than huge action scenes and some ridiculous suped-up version the Enterprise-B (painted black because it's evil) it provides all the movie's best moments. Sadly, these aren't enough to save what feels like a fan film with an insanely high budget that makes demands on its fans rather than provide a movie that can stand on its own merits (of which there are few).

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