Star Trek Into Darkness is a perfectly adequate popcorn film
Oddly enough, immediately after watching Star Trek Into Darkness, it is not director JJ Abrams or even Benedict ‘Sherlock’ Cumberbatch (yes, *gasp*) you feel the urge to write about, but rather, Christopher Nolan.
Star Trek Into Darkness is that perfectly adequate summer blockbuster film that was impeccably tailored to please both the Trekkies and the non-geeks, the genre lovers as well as the average movie goer, the Cumberbatch fanboys (guilty as charged) and all those gits who are obviously not enlightened enough to worship him. But here’s the thing: No matter what writer Damon Lindelof claims, Star Trek Into Darkness is *not* the Dark Knight. In fact, Star Trek Into ‘Darkness’ is hardly dark at all!
Now that’s not a problem, really. It’s absolutely alright for popcorn films to be just that – frothy, mindless, fun, and a terrific waste of time and popcorn! The problem is that every popcorn film after The Dark Knight Rises is – pointlessly – trying its best to be ‘dark’.
From Skyfall (which was SO dark that the trademark James Bond poster was black and white) to Iron Man 3 (which was SO dark that they set half the movie during night time) to, now, Star Trek Into Darkness (which is SO, SO dark that they even put the word ‘Dark’ in the title, you know, just in case anyone thought it looked too bright), every blockbuster film has been consciously trying to emulate Nolan and his Dark Knight trilogy, be it through the posters (The Dark Knight Rises and Star Trek Into Darkness posters look like they were made on the same laptop!) or trailers, or on a larger level, the general visual and narrative style, and the newfound need to have villains who could carry off the posters on their own weight.
The problem here is: JJ Abrams and Sam Mendes and Shane Black are good directors – even great on their days – but they are not Christopher Nolan. And the fact is: THEY DON’T NEED TO BE. So it’s high time the studios stop trying to turn them, and every other decent director in Hollywood, into Nolan, and stop trying to turn what could be brilliant popcorn movies, into noir. And it’s just unfortunate that this is happening, because Joss Whedon and The Avengers, which was almost as bright as Loki’s skin tone, should have shut everyone up!
So, long-winded rant later, here’s the deal with Star Trek Into Darkness – in its attempt to be Nolanesque, it loses out on some of the strengths of its celebrated first part, and it really isn’t Nolanesque enough to be called art. The story of the film is exactly that of every blockbuster ever: There is a terrifying new villain (Cumberbatch as John Harrison) who wants to destroy earth and it is up to our brave heroes (the crew of the space ship, USS Enterprise, led by Chris Pine as Captain James T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Commander Spock) to capture him and put him to justice.
Of course, Abrams and Lindelof being Abrams and Lindelof, nothing in the script is what it seems (and nobody is who they seem – HINT!). So there are enough exciting twists in the plot to guarantee a fast-paced, well-crafted, well-directed entertainer that should be enjoyed at face value, and for its several merits: grand, fantastically-executed action pieces; the rare wit in dialogue, usually found wanting in blockbusters today; and an eclectic cast (Karl Urban, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Alice Eve etc), most of which are given the opportunity to rise to the occasion and out of whom, Simon Pegg (Scotty) does so with aplomb.
Most of the film rides on Pine and he rises above his thus far demonstrated abilities, and does a super job, and though Quinto sadly doesn’t get equal footage, he is an outstanding watch, especially in his repartees with Pine. But if you hadn’t guessed it yet, the film belongs to Cumberbatch, who sinks his teeth so firmly into the evil villain mould that even Sherlock wouldn’t have been able to recognise him.
Cumberbatch kicks ass in the role and reaffirms his legend as one of the brightest young talents in the industry today. But where he had the potential to carry forward the legacy of Heath Ledger’s Joker as far as iconic villains go, he is criminally underutilised and is let down by sketchy characterisation that hardly delves into his past or motivations, and just doesn’t give him scope to be villainous enough. Had Cumberbatch’s villain been given the breathing space so necessary to make the leap from good to Nolan, the film could certainly have ‘boldly gone where no man has gone before.’
Also, while the first part of the Star Trek reboot found universal acclaim because it struck a chord with film buffs, in trying to pack in the perfect recipe for a summer blockbuster with an acceptably dark garnish, Abrams somewhere ends up compromising on the big emotional payoffs. *Spoiler* So the false ending in the final minutes of the film does nothing but annoys you about the missed opportunity in catapulting this film from ‘good fun’ to greatness.
These woes notwithstanding, Star Trek Into Darkness is the best-constructed and most mindlessly enjoyable film of this summer, and definitely deserves a trip to the theatres, even if it doesn’t match up to its predecessor or even Abram’s last film, Super 8, which was a film for every season.
Note: This review first appeared on Firstpost.com on May 10, 2013
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