Why, in the age of instant global communication, filmmakers insist on telling stories that depend for their impact on surprising twists I simply cannot fathom. But insist they do.
But I won’t break the movie reviewer’s Prime Directive.
All I can hope to do is try to preserve the element of surprise for you by missing out gigantic chunks of this review. But it’s going to be a bit like describing an elephant without mentioning the trunk.
I don’t think it constitutes a spoiler for me to tell you that Star Trek Into Darkness is a brilliant, relentless thrill ride.
There’s a growing sub genre of action movie filmmaking that I’ve decided to call the Thesp In A Jar™. A bad guy, ideally a proper British actor, get caught and declaims rhetorically from inside a glass case. I think Silence Of The Lambs was the first of its kind, then there was a bit of a lull… but lately we’ve had The Avengers, Skyfall, and now Star Trek Into Darkness.
The difference here is that Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t ever get too far into his big soliloquies. Director JJ Abrams seems to have had an egg timer on set, and he brought it out every time some acting happened. As soon as the sands ran out, it was the cue for something to go bang.
Things go bang a lot in this film. It’s as far from the slow, contemplative metaphysics of the very first Star Trek movie as it’s possible to get. Stuff keeps happening in this film. Good stuff. Stuff I can’t tell you about.
For a guy who claims never to have been much of a Trekkie, Abrams has shoehorned an epic amount of fanservice into this movie. We get Klingons, Tribbles, Section 31…and one of those big plot points we can’t discuss is a neat inversion of classic Trek canon.
Also, I think someone at Starfleet HQ has been subscribing to one of those interminable magazine partworks with a free starship model on the cover. There’s a pleasing moment where you’ll glimpse models of every key spacecraft in Trek history, in an echo of the opening sequence of Enterprise.
STID doesn’t just mine Trek lore. I think JJ might have played Halo a little bit while he was working on the look of this thing. There’s some weaponry, and an adrenaline-soaked ODST stunt, that looks a lot like something you might see on your Xbox.
In the few moments when people aren’t running or jumping or firing guns, there’s time for a little comedy. One of the big changes we saw in the Abrams Trek timeline is the relationship between Spock and Uhura. We get a deeper insight into their relationship here that involves some powerfully droll bickering.
We see a lot of Zachary Quinto’s Spock altogether here. If the first film suffered slightly from being the Jim Kirk show, this is more of a Spock jamboree. Chris Pine’s hypnotic baby blues are probably in more frames, but Spock’s character arc is the one to watch.
Kirk is a charismatic, reckless, lucky bastard at the beginning of the film and he stays that way until the credits roll. Spock starts the film as the bloodless tactician we saw in Trek 1, but grows in stature and badassery throughout. He’s in the best fight sequence of the movie, which showcases a terrific combination of Vulcan nerve pinching and good old fashioned punching people in the face.
Fans of Simon Pegg will be pleased to hear that he gets a bit more to do than just comic relief. There’s even a tribute to Run Fatboy Run at one point. His little rockfaced buddy returns too. You know. For kids.
Zoe Saldana’s Uhura doesn’t get a whole ton of screen time, but when she’s there she has good, interesting stuff to do. She’s a lot more than a deep space telephonist.
STID isn’t a perfect film. I don’t suppose there even is such a thing. But it is very, very good.
Having said that, there are a couple of plot developments seem perfectly sound at the time when you’re caught up in the breakneck flow of the thing, but start bothering you on the bus home. The new rules on how transporters work seem a bit inconsistent. And I’d like to know why Alice Eve’s character sounds like Mary Poppins while her Dad sounds like Gabby Hayes.
While we’re on the subject of Ms. Eve; As red blooded heterosexual man I was fairly pleased to see an attractive young lady in her bra and pants. As a film critic I can’t think of one single thing that the scene added to the plot. And as a 21st Century human being I found it gratuitous and a touch exploitative.
If you’re wondering whether there is a lot of lens flare in this movie, yes there is. A lot. That’s not JJ’s only trick though. He’s added to the mix motes of drifting ash and burning embers. The effect, in 3D, is extraordinarily immersive. This may be the most three-dimensional 3D film to date. The depth of field is extraordinary. Maybe even a shade too much.
Abrams also uses depth of focus as a storytelling technique and isn’t afraid of having a crewman’s back breaking into the frame to add even more scope. I walked into the cinema with a mild headache so this is no absolute condemnation but I felt as if homicidal replicant Roy Batty had crushed my head between his hands by the time I left.
But the look of the thing is luscious. The shots of a future London are amazing. And every frame is packed with enchanting detail. I’m sure at one point Chris Pine gets a scratch on his face in the exact shape of the Starfleet logo.
If you can’t tell from all that, I loved Star Trek Into Darkness. It’s a cracking, Saturday Morning action-adventure that doesn’t stand still for a moment. And if this is, as has been suggested, JJ’s last Trek movie he’s left the franchise in perfect shape for the next…oooh..five years?