There’s not much doubt that Star Trek Into Darkness is trying very hard. Everything is bigger, a more epic vibe is apparent throughout, and the hazy nostalgia of Star Trek is left far behind. And really, for the first 80 minutes or so, it mostly works. As in, it plays just as well as the 2009 version, a nice Sci-fi drama with solid action, interesting themes, and colorful alien planets.
And then … well, Bonkersville, Population: Star Trek Into Darkness happens.
Sidenote: Shouldn’t this title come preloaded with a colon? I mean, it really isn’t all one thought now, is it? Unless the action verb is “Trek,” but even then it would probably be Star Trekking Into Darkness because it’s not precisely a command or an active thought either. I suppose it could be like a travel brochure sort of thing. This summer, be sure you Star Trek Into Darkness. Yet another example of marketing folks murdering our language. Ah well.
As I was saying, the last 40 minutes of the film get really sketchy. Having seen the film twice, I can tell you I counted at least 25 times where life and death hung in the balance for someone in the film, which averages out to an action beat every five minutes. That’s simply too much chaos, an overload of tumult, but it’s also exacerbated by the pacing – because at least 12 of those action beats are backloaded into the final third of the film. Now we’re down to DANGER threatening an onscreen life every three minutes. No film could withstand this level of continual crisis! Because, if you threaten a life enough, eventually that tension ceases to exist on any real level. “Ah yes,” you think “that guy is pointing a gun” OR “that guy is hanging off a bridge. Neat.”
And “neat” is not what you want to be thinking about a Star Trek film. You want to be thinking “cool!” or “yeah!” while high-fiving your neighbor, but you’re not capable of that once every three minutes, unless you’re a lunatic adrenaline junkie.
So what’s it all about, where does the foundation for all this DANGER come from? Why is this crew always in big trouble?
“Trouble. Trouble, trouble, trouble.” – Ray LaMontagne
Star Trek Into Darkness (referred to as STID from here on out) commences with our good pal, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine). He’s a rebel, always butting heads with the leadership, his captaincy in doubt based upon his attitude and reckless behavior. Why, he thinks the rules don’t apply to him!
I mean, this guy, what are we gonna do with him?
Then a terrorist strikes and The Federation is scrambling around like a wet ferret. There’s the central premise, can this Kirk fellow get his act together enough to save his crew, his ship, and THE WORLD (hoping they use that as a tagline). Then the USS Enterprise heads out on a mission, a mission of revenge, and bulk of the narrative is mined from this plot point. Along the way they’ll have all sorts of issues, from mechanical to diabolical, and the steady crew must be ready to rock at all times.
Sidenote number two: Why to the enlisted folks of the Star Trek world always take it on the chin? Every movie seems be be made up entirely of the officer corps, but there have to be at least six or seven times that amount of people in the enlisted ranks, just out there doing good work, keeping us safe from interstellar craziness. When the enlisted people are, um, enlisted to do jobs, they almost always get killed, usually immediately. I understand that’s a meme, but what about showing some love for the poor kids who joined Starfleet? Not all parents have the money to send their children to Star Trek University, what with college prices going up all the time. I dream a little dream of a more populist Star Trek.
Okay, so the officer corps is facing down all challenges, doing solid work, melding as a team and whatnot. There is tension, naturally, between Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock, because they have different ideas for the goofy gift grab at the ship Christmas party. No, but seriously, one is a stickler for the rulebook while the other is playing fast and lose. You know who is who, but unfortunately this brings us to issue number two.
This film is sooooo Spock-heavy. As if it were called Star Trek: The Spock Years or perhaps Spock Around the Clock. There is not one scene in the last hour of the film that doesn’t involve Spock (Zachary Quinto) running around, acting all Vulcan, spouting off some nonsense about the Prime Directive.
This fellow is getting more screen-time than Radio in Radio. And don’t get me wrong, a little Spock is pretty nice, but he’s the very definition of a one-note character within this universe. And STID suffers when we hear the “danger” note played alongside the “Spock” note, over and over, into infinity.
“I knew you were trouble when you walked in.” – Taylor Swift
But what of the good parts of STID? I’m glad you finally asked that, because there are quite a few. The USS Enterprise remains a beautiful, iconic, and lovingly rendered CGI symbol of Sci-fi. When there are ship-to-ship battles, or when warp is enabled, or when Bones is getting flustered and bothered, STID simply sings. The supporting cast is also very competent, with Simon Pegg, Alice Eve, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Zoe Saldana, and Benedict Cumberbatch all perform admirably.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the steady direction of STID. My feeling is that it was the script that hurt the film, not the execution of the script. Three writers are credited, so who knows what happened, but it feels like a project where the note they received was “punch it up more!” And everyone kept on punching it up until there was only air left out there, wondering why it was still being punched.
“Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.” – Paul Simon
Danger, trouble, peril, problems, issues – you name it, STID has them all for you to worry about. Massive amounts of property damage are considered, as is the idea that tertiary characters dying en masse isn’t even a reason to pause in one’s general merriment and wise-cracking. Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun film to watch, a light movie to take in, but there’s a larger, potentially damaging, issue at play here. You see, when the goal is to present maximum carnage with minimum consequences, you ending up making everyone involved small and insignificant. Entertaining sure, but you can only watch the mouse sprint toward the cheese so many times before you’re begging for the cat.