Craig's First Take: "Star Trek into Darkness"

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Star Trek Into Darkness stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana as the Enterprise crew as they face a new foe portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.
2.5

JJ Abrams should rest up and get focused. Setting up TV series one after another and then heading into writers meetings to work on story ideas for his next film isn’t going to work with rabid “Star Wars” fans, all of which expecting another masterpiece. I’m not saying he’s a hack. He gave “Star Trek” his best shot, even getting me, an anti-Trekkie, to personally enjoy the first film and have great hopes for the sequel.

But the script problems that held “Star Trek into Darkness” back from being released last year show. It suffers from a major case of being lost in space and may even lead some to believe JJ was just hoping to get through it and then jump to whatever peaked his interest next.

The very best thing about his “Star Trek” is the chemistry between the renegade commander of the Enterprise, James Kirk (Chris Pine), grappling with his role as a leader, and his Vulcan, robot-like first-in-command Spock (Zachary Quinto), still struggling in his understanding of emotion. They’re funny together and at times wonderfully touching. The film looks great too, especially the opening scene on the planet of Nibiru, with its blood-red vegetation and roiling Volcano, which Spock must parachute into in order to save the species of the planet

Then the main story begins. There is an explosion at Star Fleet and subsequently a helicopter raid occurs during a meeting of top commanders (it’s hard not the compare this with the over-the-top but also so much more thrilling raid in “Iron Man 3”) leaving many dead. Then some of the subplots introduced during the opening half hour (Kirk losing his position over cockiness, the crew of the Enterprise seemingly drifting apart) are brushed aside and the crew is flying off to the Klingon planet of Kronos to chase down the doer of this violence, John Harrison, a.k.a Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Told to us by future-Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy (making another cameo appearance here while William Shatner digs his nails into his movie theater armrest off-screen), Khan is supposedly the most formidable villain the Enterprise has ever encountered. Abrams seems to feel the same way, first introducing him with an ominously heavy-handed musical score. Just for much of the movie we wonder where the hell he is and the rest of the time wondering why he doesn’t seem to be doing much? Don’t blame Cumberbatch, well-known from his role as “Sherlock” on the BBC. He’s got a dead-eyed stare and a grave “Jeremy Irons” type delivery but it’s almost like Abrams is saving his most interesting villainy for the next installments and the lack of interesting villain here becomes a huge problem.

Khan’s backstory (which includes 72 of his cryogenically frozen mates and dealings with a member of star fleet) is also messy and never really reaches a level where it’s even worth caring about. Abrams has infused this thing with action, but it’s hard to tell if the action itself is unmemorable (which may not entirely be the case because there are a few occasions, like characters free-falling through sky debris, which look visually impressive at least) or if the lack of narrative drive just robs these sequences of their thrills.

The effects look grand, sleek, and expensive while the make-up effects are solid but either wasted (on the Kling-ons who only make a brief appearance here) or goofy (Scotty’s little friend). Speaking of Scotty, Simon Pegg gives this thing some needed comic relief and Karl Urban (Bones McCoy) and Anton Yelchin (Chekhov) give amusing support. Not so for the little-seen John Cho (Sulu) and Zoe Saldana (Uhura, who has become Spock’s long-suffering girlfriend somehow) however. Alice Eve also shows up as the daughter of a starfleet commander but her best scene basically is the underwear shot of her (which we’ve already seen in the trailer).

With Abrams leaving, this (supposedly) puts screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman in the drivers seat. These guys wrote the first film, but also the aimless “Cowboys and Aliens” and embarrassing “People Like Us”, which came out last year. And I’ll leave their scripts for the first two “Transformers” films for you to decide for yourself. “Star Trek into Darkness” is another that I would put in the aimless category, a movie that just goes rather than boldly goes.