CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: The vastness of space. Drifting among the stars, we see the space ship the U.S.S. Enterprise. Camera moves in closer, and then we find ourselves on the bridge. L.L. SOARES is dressed in a gold shirt, sitting at the control chair, while MICHAEL ARRUDA stands nearby, wearing a blue shirt and pointy rubber ears)
LS: Engines full thrust. We have to get to Jupiter by dinnertime.
MA: Flying a starship in search of food is highly illogical.
LS: Hey! Stop taking your role too seriously!
MA: Well, perhaps if I were playing Captain Kirk right now, and you were Mr. Spock, you could handle things differently.
LS: No way. I should be Kirk. I’m the captain. Stop whining, Spock. You’re supposed to be cold and logical.
MA: It’s illogical to assume that you would play the captain and I the first officer based on—.
LS: There you go again! Stop with the logic crap!
MR. SULU: Gentlemen, can you please stop your bickering and review the new STAR TREK movie already?
MA: Sure. Why don’t you start us off, Captain.
LS: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is the new movie in the Star Trek franchise by director J.J. Abrams, who gave us such previous films as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006) and SUPER 8 (2011), as well as television shows like ALIAS and LOST.
His previous Trek film, simply called STAR TREK (2009), was something of a calculated risk. By rebooting the original series with a new generation of actors, Abrams somehow was able to give us a movie that could please both original fans and people who were new to the franchise. While it had its flaws, I thought Abrams’ STAR TREK was a pleasant surprise, and the casting of younger actors to play these characters was pretty good.
MA: I agree. As a fan of the original series—the adventures of Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy, and company remains my favorite—I had my doubts about the 2009 film, but it was just good enough for me to put aside my affection for the 1960s TV show and buy into what J.J. Abrams was selling.
I liked the alternate universe idea in that film very much, in that it allowed Abrams to basically play with the characters and stories in a way that would be refreshing and new, and hardcore fans wouldn’t be able to complain about things being “changed” since in this parallel universe things are expected to be changed.
It was a brilliant plot device, and Abrams uses it to full effect here in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.
LS: In this first sequel by Abrams, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS brings back Chris Pine as Starfleet Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the character made famous by William Shatner in the original Trek series in the 1960s, and Zachary Quinto as his First Officer Mr. Spock, the role originally made famous by Leonard Nimoy.
MA: And once again, they are both excellent in these roles, which is a key reason I’ve enjoyed these new STAR TREK movies. The cast, especially Pine and Quinto, is very good.
LS: The new movie starts with a bang as Kirk and his ship’s doctor, “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) are running through an alien red forest, being pursued by eerie, white-painted primitives, as an active volcano is on the verge of erupting them in the background.
MA: Great opening scene. A rousing way to start the movie.
LS: They are there to prevent the volcano from killing all life on the planet, and giving the inhabitants a second chance to advance as a species. During this cultural rescue mission, however, Kirk has to make a desperate decision when Spock’s life is put in danger, and makes a choice that puts him in hot water with his superiors back on Earth. As a result, Kirk and Spock are both demoted, and Kirk is “relieved of duty” as captain of the Enterprise.
But, as any fan of the series knows, this won’t last long. And while Kirk accompanies the Enterprise’s new captain (and the guy who was in charge of it before him), Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), to a meeting of Starfleet elite, they are attacked by a man in a small, but heavily-armed ship, which results in several casualties. Kirk is called upon to hunt the murderer down, and in the process gets reinstated as Captain of the Enterprise (and Spock is reinstated as his First Officer).
Along for the ride are the usual cast of characters, including Communications Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana from AVATAR, 2009) , who is also Spock’s girlfriend; Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg from SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004), John Cho (Harold from the HAROLD AND KUMAR movies) as Mr. Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Russian crewmember Chekov (Yelchin was also in movies like the FRIGHT NIGHT remake from 2011, that you liked a lot, Michael, and TERMINATOR SALVATION, 2009). There’s also a new crew member, Carol (Alice Eve) who looks great in her underwear and who just happens to be the daughter of Commander Marcus (Peter Weller, ROBOCOP himself back in 1987), the man who sent Kirk and his crew out to get the murderous bad guy dead or alive, preferably dead. This is former Starfleeter James Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, who you can also see as the Necromancer in the recent HOBBIT films) who just happens to really be a classic villain from the original TV series using an assumed name.
MA: Carol Marcus is the character from STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) who, as was revealed in that movie, is the mother of Kirk’s son. So, we know where this relationship will go. Then again, it’s a parallel universe, so maybe we don’t know. Perhaps this time around she’ll end up with Dr. McCoy.
(Door slides open and DR. MCCOY enters the bridge.)
MCCOY: Dammit, Jim! Why is that Dr. Marcus always parading around in her underwear? The crew’s distracted! We can’t get anything done!
LS: Maybe I should go down there and settle things down.
MA: No, captain, you’re needed here on the bridge. I’ll go.
LS: Shut up, Spock! I’m the captain! I make the decisions! It’s only logical!
SULU: Don’t you both have to stay here to finish the review?
LS: Dammit. He’s right. McCoy, you’re just going to have to handle things yourself.
MCCOY: Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a customer in a strip club! But if someone has to lay down the law, quiet the crowd, and set that woman straight, it might as well be me. (checks his wallet) I think I have just enough for a lap dance. (Smiles devilishly and exits.)
MA: Moving right along.
As far as the baddie in this one being a classic villain from the original show—.
LS: Shh! No spoilers here!
MA: I wasn’t going to spoil anything, but carry on. I’ll comment on this later.
LS: Along the way, Kirk and his crew are used by villains on both sides as the Enterprise tracks Harrison down to a supposedly uninhabited area on the planet Cronos, which also happens to be the homeworld of the warlike Klingons.
Can Kirk bring Harrison to justice without setting off an intergalactic war? You’re going to have to see INTO DARKNESS to find out.
Like Abrams’ first TREK film, I found this one likable enough. Everyone is good in their roles, even if they can’t be developed anywhere near as in-depth as they were in a weekly TV series. In a way, a lot of these characters seem more like recognizable nationalities and familiar catch-phrases from the past than real people. And while I like the new cast, I don’t think they’re half as good as the originals.
MA: I would have to agree with you here, but in the new cast’s defense, they’ve only been together for two movies, where the original cast starred in 79 episodes. They had more practice.
But that being said, I prefer the original cast, too.
LS: Also, the plot of this one is a little convoluted at times. At 132 minutes, it’s a little long, and they take their sweet time revealing who bad guy Harrison really is (see if you figure it out way before the big revelation, like I did). Also, there are lots of scenes, especially in the middle, that just seem like a lot of loud noises and giant spaceships and not a lot of substance.
MA: Yeah, it’s a little long. I didn’t mind the revelation about the villain coming later in the film though. It added a nice boost to the movie, and I liked this.
LS: Yeah, it’s worth the wait. Toward the end, things get better, and I found myself caught up in some genuine suspense as Kirk tries to make the right moves in this gigantic game of chess. The movie goes out of its way to include inside information that will make hardcore fans of the series very happy, while drawing in a new generation of fans.
MA: I agree again. The film gets pretty suspenseful towards the end, and I was certainly caught up in it.
LS: While I liked STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, I didn’t love it. It still seems like a pale imitation of the original 60s show, even if Abrams does give it a solid try. Then again, even the original cast had a hard time translating the best aspects of the television show into feature films. Of the original movies in the series with the original cast, the only one I ever liked a lot was STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982), which is kind of significant, as that was the second film in the first franchise and INTO DARKNESS is the second film in Abrams’ reboot.
I thought there was a lot to like about the new STAR TREK film, and I definitely recommend it to fans of the series, but there was also something about it that left me cold. I can’t put my finger on it: it’s like there were all these bells and whistles, but it lacked real depth. Maybe if I didn’t grow up with the original show, I would feel differently, but I give the new movie three knives. It’s well made and capable, things we’ve come to expect from Abrams, but I guess I didn’t walk away from it as emotionally satisfied as I thought I would be.
What did you think, Michael?
MA: I liked it a lot too, but like you, I didn’t love it. It’s kinda how I felt about the first one, and I think it’s because I like the original series so much. I know my teenage sons love these new movies more than I do, and I’m sure it’s because I’m a bigger fan of the 60s show than they are.
One difference between these new films and the original series that I have trouble getting past—although it’s not necessarily a bad thing—is that these films are much more action oriented. In terms of cinematic entertainment, that’s fine. It’s probably why they’re so successful. They’re slick, they’ve got great special effects, and they’ve got some cool action scenes. I can’t deny that I like this.
For example, the chase near the end where Spock pursues Harrison is one exciting sequence. It’s as riveting as anything you’d see in a James Bond movie. I don’t think the previous STAR TREK movies could make this claim. So, in terms of cinema, this is a good thing.
But in terms of STAR TREK, it troubles me. Gene Roddenberry’s vision of STAR TREK was science fiction based, and it was a forum where he hoped to explore social issues of the day but in a science fiction format. This new TREK is much more action oriented than any STAR TREK before it.
LS: Yeah, I think you’ve touched upon my problem with it, too. There’s a lot of action, and Abrams is great at that. But there’s only enough time to delve into the characters in a superficial way, by playing on personality traits we know all too well. And that wasn’t enough for me. The original series was more about ideas, and the new series is more about dazzling us with action and explosions.
MA: Exactly. While I’m not necessarily knocking this, there are times where I wish the action would just slow down and take a back seat to some ideas. It would also help us get to know these characters more. I can’t fault Abrams for this, really, as even the original STAR TREK films edged towards action. After all, the STAR TREK film which Roddenberry had the most control of, the first one, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) had no action at all and for most viewers was boring, although I do like this movie a lot, believe it or not.
LS: I remember being pretty disappointed with that one when it first came out, which is why WRATH OF KHAN, the film that came after that one, was such a big deal. It felt more like the original show, and had a great villain, which STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE lacked.
MA: I agree. I was disappointed with STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE when it first came out as well, but over the years, it’s really grown on me.
Getting back to today’s movie, although I prefer the original cast, I do like this cast a lot. Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy might be my favorite. He nails the character, and he reminds me so much of DeForest Kelley it’s uncanny.
LS: Yeah, he’s great. I’ve been a fan of Urban’s since way back when he played Julius Caesar on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.
I also really liked Zoe Saldana as Uhura. She’s a strong woman and is given some significant things to do this time around. Although I didn’t believe her relationship with Spock for a minute – and thought it was one of the few missteps here.
MA: Yeah, they don’t exactly share much onscreen chemistry. I’m not sure a love story involving a Vulcan is such a hot idea.
LS: And Simon Pegg as Scotty is another big highlight. He’s a scene-stealer here.
MA: The same can be said for Zachary Quinto as Spock. And while there’s nothing wrong with Chris Pine as Kirk—in fact, he’s very, very good—he has the most difficult job of the entire cast. He’s sitting in William Shatner’s captain’s chair, which is no easy task. Shatner is just one of those larger than life personas. He’s hard to replace.
LS: I agree with you. They all have big shoes to fill, and do a very good job. Whoever did the casting for these movies did a terrific job. And I do think Pine has the hardest job. Shatner was one of a kind.
(Door slide open and WILLIAM SHATNER steps onto the bridge.)
SHATNER: I am— Kirk. Did you hear me, Spock? I— am Kirk.
MA: Are you talking to me? I’m not really Spock. I’m just playing him for purposes of this—.
LS: Hell, Arruda doesn’t even look like a convincing Spock…
SHATNER (ignoring them): To be first, to be the original, it’s all part of the human condition. It’s what makes us— human, Spock, what gives us our identities. We are unique. We are hu-man.
LS: What the hell is he talking about?
SHATNER: What the hell are you doing in my chair, Picard?
LS: Picard? I’m Kirk.
SHATNER: You have no hair. How can you be Kirk?
MA: He makes a good point.
SULU: Gentlemen, the review, please?
MA (to Shatner): Don’t you have some green women to chase?
LS: Or girls with tails.
By the way, Captain, you should see the new Carol Marcus in her underwear. She’s hot. And, she’s on Deck 9 right now. If you want, I could go check on her while you resume your captain duties…
SHATNER: Deck 9 you say? On second thought, as you were, gentlemen,. You’re doing a fine job.
(SHATNER exits without another word.)
MA: Where was I? The cast.
The rest of the cast is fun as well, and probably what I like most about this cast is that they succeed in capturing the essence and spirit of the original characters without coming off as caricatures. I never feel as if they’re trying to impersonate the characters. They make them their own.
LS: I don’t know. It’s not their fault, but there’s so little time here for character development among all the giant space ships firing at each other and buildings crashing. Sometimes they do come off as caricatures. But it’s not their fault. A movie that really explored each of the main characters’ personalities would run about five hours.
MA: I hear you, but a lesser cast would make it seem more obvious, I think.
I also thought Benedict Cumberbatch made a nice baddie here. He was very convincing and was a formidable foe for Kirk and company.
LS: Yeah, at first he seems kind of like a cold fish, but as we get to know him, he’s a pretty strong bad guy.
MA: Again, the parallel universe concept worked for me here, although there were times in the movie where I wasn’t so sure. For example, regarding the true identity of the villain, at first, I liked this, but then, when I saw where the plot was going, involving a certain sacrifice by a key character, I thought it was too soon in this new series for something so dramatic. I mean, these characters haven’t been together for as long as the original characters had been together when a similar event occurred in one of the STAR TREK movies. But then, the writers saved the day by tweaking this event yet again, and by the time it was said and done, I liked it.
LS: Yeah, one thing about this movie, I thought, was that it all comes together by the end. The way things are resolved make sense based on information that came earlier. It’s well thought out at least. Even if it does tie up loose ends a little too neatly.
MA: Which is a roundabout way of saying I think the writers—Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof—do a great job here. They successfully breathe new life into classic characters and situations, and change just enough to keep things interesting without ruining the history from the older series and movies. That’s no easy task.
LS: Like I said, it’s a formula meant to please old fans and new. Which is why these movies work so well.
MA: I liked the new-look Klingons, although I did wonder why they looked different. I guess it’s all part of the parallel universe, but I’m not quite sure how the changes made in the first movie would affect the way the Klingons looked.
LS: They didn’t look that different.
MA: Really? I thought they looked a lot different.
The special effects are also excellent. There were some really cool shots of the ships, and I especially liked the shots where we see the ships first from the outside and then the camera tracks into a close-up of a crew member inside. Those shots looked authentic, as if the camera was really filming the exterior of a real spaceship before zooming into a real person on the inside. It was smooth and seamless.
I did see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS in 3D, it looked good, but again, I think it would look just as good in 2D, and it’s cheaper.
LS: Yeah, I saw it in 2D and it was fine. I doubt it lost much of its spectacle, and I’m just sick of paying extra for 3D effects that are almost always disappointing.
MA: All in all, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is a very entertaining movie. It’s sure to satisfy fans of the series, and it’s good enough to please folks who aren’t familiar with STAR TREK as well.
I also give it three knives.
LS: Perfect timing. We’ve reached Jupiter. Okay, Spock, you can have the captain’s chair now while I beam down for dinner. I’ve got a couple of gals from Ganymede waiting for me.
MA: Oh, that’s what the hurry was about. Do they have tails, by any chance?
LS: Actually, they do.
MA: Well, I’m feeling a bit hungry myself (takes off pointy ears). I think I’ll join you. We’re done here anyway, and I’m done with this character.
LS: Sorry, three’s company, four’s a crowd. You’re no fun. I thought you’d be happy to be Spock!
MA (lifts hand and separates fingers in Vulcan greeting): Live long, and prosper.
LS: Gee, thanks.
MA: That was for the rest of the crew. This gesture’s for you. (Flips him the bird.)
LS: No, you’re doing it wrong. It’s like this. (Uses both hands to make an even more violently obscene gesture to MA.)
SULU (turns to camera and rolls his eyes): It was never like this in the old days.
© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda
LL Soares gives STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ~three knives.
Michael Arruda gives STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ~ three knives, too!