This review contains spoilers.

#playingwithiconography

#playingwithiconography

For a long, long time it was hard to imagine that some of the best slam-bang roller-coaster,  over the top, exhilarating action movies of recent times would come from the Star Trek franchise. And yet here we are, with the follow-up to 2009’s not-a-reboot, Star Trek (for the uninitiated, the original Star Trek motion picture was titled Star Trek: The Motion Picture, so this one doesn’t recycle a previous title).

What stands first and foremost in Star Trek Into Darkness is the absolute immense, flawless action. Starting with Captain Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) and Doctor Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) being chased by a primitive race off a cliff as a volcano explodes around Commander (crucially not ‘Mr.’) Spock (Zachary Quinto) and accelerating from there, the action and thrills never let up. It seems that they’ve adopted the philosophy of never having a conversation between characters unless they can have it while things are exploding or fighting around them.

It’s hard to pick standout action pieces from Star Trek Into Darkness as there’s just so many of them, all of equal quality. More memorable moments are the three way engagement between John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), this films key trio of Kirk, Spock and Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and the Klingons on Quonos, and the starship dual between the Enterprise and the enormous Starfleet warship, U.S.S. Vengeance, which ends in one of the most dramatic and massive crashes realised on film in memory. Seriously, it’s even bigger than the saucer-section crash-landing in Star Trek: Generations.

I decided to upload this image of USS Vengeance in full size because oh my god

I decided to upload this image of USS Vengeance in full size because oh my god. Expand it for a massive wallpaper.

I’ve deliberately used the word dramatic there for a reason. Yes, the action is colossal, but it is impressively wringed for every piece of drama it can be and lends real weight and impact to the moment, both viscerally and emotionally. For all the action scenes in the film its remarkable that director J.J. Abrams has made them all count for something. Unlike his first offering, Star Trek, where certain action scenes could have done with being left out (I’m looking at you, giant ice monster) everything here has a proper home and serves the story or characters in some way. Often both.

What this comes down to is two things; the script and the acting, one of which feeds the other.

And it accelerates from here.

And it accelerates from here.

The script is razor sharp, tearing along at great speed yet almost never becoming incomprehensible. There was only one moment where I had to slightly withdraw to work out why a certain character (Admiral Marcus, played by Peter Weller/Robocop) was continuing down a certain course of action. Besides that though it never leaves you wondering.

Over the last 2 films they've paid far more reverence to the costumes of the first Star Trek film than the following 6 Original Series films. Why? Because that was a sharp ass design and we've all now realised the 70s got style.

Over the last 2 films they’ve paid far more reverence to the costumes of the first Star Trek film than the following 6 Original Series films. Why? Because that was a sharp-ass design and we’ve all now realised  that the 70s got style.

There are two moments in the script that are equally as jaw-dropping as any of the action sequences. The first is the big reveal (you were warned about spoilers). When John Harrison reveals himself to be Khan its a brilliant play. You’ve been through the feelings associated with most villains already, ranging from the standard boo-hiss reaction, to starting to query if he even is the bad guy, to back again, before you even find out who he is. And when you do, you’re almost immediately heartbroken for him and can totally identify with his rage. The full gamut of emotions you feel towards him is also very skilfully played, sub-level analogy to our perception of ‘the terrorist’, and makes us feel similarly sympathetic through a great metaphor.

No, I still hear that Third Man-esque theme tune, sorry.

No, I still hear that Third Man-esque theme tune, sorry.

The second moment is when Kirk dies. To sum up why this moment’s so well done is simple; almost the entire audience was in tears. Again, this harked back to the emotional themes central to Star Trek that get forgotten for its political or ideological ones; those of friendship, unity and peace. Built up with a near operatic struggle of a man against the very forces of nature and sacrificing it all, then Spock being told his best friend was not going to live much longer, before culminating in something that echoed the iconic goodbye of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, yet still being very much its own thing, was masterful on two levels. The first level, as a piece for those coming into the franchise fresh, was devastating. The second, for those versed in Star Trek, meant it packed the extra gut punch of events poetically echoing and reversing that which had already affected us once.

Manly tears: shed

Manly tears: shed

It would be easy to be too precious about the decisions made regarding the Klingons by writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and David Lindelof. As the most iconic villain that Starfleet has ever faced (sorry Borg, you’re good, but you’re not the one), one might be tempted to say their reintroduction should have taken centre stage for a movie. However, to look at it another way, their inclusion gave us what is perhaps the ultimate Star Trek movie: Kirk and Spock’s relationship taken to its most intense, a brilliant, more than worthy Khan, a deceptively analogous story, many startling things we’d never expect in a Star Trek film, and the Klingons.

I’d be remiss not to mention the misstep with Alice Eve (playing Carol Marcus) getting a camera-leering where it wasn’t at all needed, and in fact lessened the joke, or the more comically overt sexualisation of Kirk, but when alls said and done, action scripts don’t get much better.

That second thing is, as said above, the acting. Both Pine and Quinto have grown more into their roles. They’re not so much doing imitations of their famous forbearers anymore and increasingly doing their own thing. While its superficially less fun than seeing Pine ‘do’ Shatner or Quinto ‘do’ Nimoy’, it’s clearly very healthy for the franchise and in greater terms that helps mythologise the characters by divorcing them from unique actors and making them more into ‘free-standing’ characters like Captain America, Sherlock Holmes or The Riddler. Both Pine and Quinto are fantastic in their roles. They exemplify one of the original series’ core explorations of pure logic vs. gut instinct and the film grants equal justification to both.

You've always wanted mainstream audiences to love these characters - but now they do and you hate it: Your move nerds. Play well this time.

You’ve always wanted mainstream audiences to love these characters – and now they do.

Its also nice to see some rotation in the key cast, here the key trio is Kirk, Spock and Uhura, with the latter taking the place of McCoy. Saldana acquits herself well in the role, and while the show is always the lead duo’s, she’s both familiar and fresh in a lead role, a dynamic that few franchises are truly capable of.

Sexual equality.

Sexual equality.

On the other side of the bridge we have Cumberbatch as Khan. He is easily a superior version of the villain than the one Ricardo Maltoban gave. This might have something to do with the technology of today granting the filmmakers the ability to really depict Khan as a GM superman. This might also be down to the script being far superior to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (hate to break this to you, but Star Trek movies were always near-B movies until recently) and granting Khan a much more intricate and interesting time. But its also hugely down to Cumberbatch’s depiction of Khan. He manages to walk that very fine tight-rope between pantomime, snarling super-villain and very real terrorist that few can. While he clearly doesn’t walk that tightrope quite as skilfully as Heath Ledger’s Joker, there is a comparison to be made there.

A genuine acting fight in action.

Genuine acting fight in action.

The art design on this film really needs mentioning as well. The sets, props, ships and costumes are truly wonderful and have a bold, brave, happy and primary essence that even four years after Star Trek is still a great refreshment in the midst of all the grim darkness sci-fi now often pushes on audiences these days.

I was going to crack a joke about this Star Trek Into Darkness replica, but I really want one, so they'd all backfire.

Its a phaser, not a laser.

Star Trek Into Darkness is big, bold, brash and brilliant. While it eschews the philosophical and political themes of Star Trek, it does so with great reason. Firstly, it talks of much more contemporaneous political themes than most of the Star Trek property, but we’re too busy having fun to notice. Secondly, it embraces the unsung but equally important theme of Star Trek. That of the belief in civilisation’s inherent goodness and harmony, that many different kinds can put aside their innocuous individualities in the knowledge it will better everyone, and most of all, there is  nothing more important than being friends.

You have permission  to cry.

You have permission to cry.

By RJ Bayley

Think Star Trek Into Darkness was one of the greatest action films of all time?  Thought it was a hollow shell of the original? Let us know in the comments below!

You can follow RJ Bayley on twitter: @RJBayley
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Comments
  1. joereyes3 says:

    great post. i loved this movie. it was one of the best of the year to me. check out mine on this topic https://wellthatsdifferent.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/star-trek-into-darkness/

    • Thanks! Certainly the best blockbuster of the year so far for me; Man of Steel has its work cut out to usurp this, but the trailers make me suspect it might.

  2. Bernice says:

    I am a huge fan of the original Star Trek series, which was cut short when it was cancelled. I was skeptical of the 2009 version since I could not imagine anyone else portraying Captain Kirk and Spock. But once I got over it I really enjoyed the new movies. Plus am excited just to see Star Trek again with all the new technology!!

    • I know; its amazing what ‘future technology’ was portrayed with during its original 60s run. I’ve grown to like Pine’s version of Kirk especially.
      I wonder if they’ll give the now almost as iconic Next Generation the same treatment?

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