Monday 13 May 2013


(JJ Abrams, 2013)

Strange that after expending so much energy to create an entirely different (but consistent in continuity terms) branch in time for his reboot of Star Trek, Abrams goes straight back to the well here, lifting scenes, situations and characters directly from the greatest of the original run of Star Trek films, Nicholas Meyer's 1982 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
And early on, you almost believe he might pull it off. This film is so confident and bold from the off, dropping right into the action as Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Ships Doctor "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban) flee an alien race during an attempt to save their nascent species from destruction by an active volcano. Kirk and Bones are such strong, archetypal figures that no introduction is necessary - this does feel like an episode in a long-running series at that point. The other familiar characters are all introduced in the same scene; science officer Mr Spock (Zachary Quinto), who is ying to Kirk's yang, communications officer Lt Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg), alongside the more thankless Misters Sulu (John Cho) and Chekhov (Anton Yelchin). Also introduced is Abrams' breathless, epic approach to action scenes, all spectacle, lens flares (more on those in a moment) and ceaseless movement, interrupted by the occasional awed shot of something massive (usually in this film an enormous spacecraft).
Then the plot kicks in; a Federation agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, utterly stealing the film) appears to be waging a one man terrorist campaign against the Federation itself. After losing his mentor Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) in one of Harrison's attacks, Kirk and the Enterprise are dispatched to the Klingon homeworld to hunt him down. Only everything is much more complicated than it at first appears, and even Harrison has more to him than is obvious on the surface...
Welded to all of this is a learn-and-grow character arc for Kirk which never really makes much sense for the character or the film. Pine is good - his Kirk honours William Shatner but is very much his own take - but the film doesn't need this story of his realisation of what it takes to be a leader, and the final act sequence between Kirk and Spock, nodding shamelessly towards the far superior scene in Wrath of Khan, is a curiously hollow moment. Wrath of Khan has 20 years of weight pressing upon the relationship of its Kirk and Spock, and the fact that the actors were ageing gave it an undeniable resonance this film cannot hope to replicate. Instead the explicit invitation to compare Star Trek Into Darkness with that older film does Abrams' film few favours.
That is not to say its a complete disaster. The cast are all good, nailing their roles in a few instants. The action rolls along in a pleasurable surge of incident and colour. Abrams' style is mixed; sometimes beautifully concise, others shockingly ugly. His use of lens flares remains a problem, but he can tell a story, and he puts his budgets up on the screen. Its just a bit of a shame he squandered this much of a budget on this story, already so well told once before...

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