Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, John Cho | Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof | Directed by J. J. Abrams
J. J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise was, in my opinion, a success. It was an entertaining, exciting slice of space shenanigans which managed to cleverly acknowledge the much loved franchise that came before it, without feeling like a tired retread or overly reverential re-imagining.
2013 sees the arrival of Star Trek Into Darkness, the second entry in the new franchise, with Abrams once again at the helm. Does it succeed as well as the first? Sadly not.
The cast from the first film are all present and correct. Chris Pine returns as Kirk, Zachary Quinto dons the fake ears again as Spock, and Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, and John Cho all don their appropriately coloured Federation garb and dutifully return to the Enterprise.
One of Star Trek Into Darkness‘ problems is its inability to manage the amount it gives crew members to do. Kirk and Spock get most of the screen time, with Chekov, Sulu, Bones, and Uhura getting very little stand out action. Uhura admittedly gets more to do this time, but she’s still very much in the shadow of Kirk and Spock. And with most of their differences resolved in the first film, the relationship is less interesting now than it was before. It doesn’t help that Pine’s Kirk is less cheeky and confrontational, resulting in a pretty bland portrayal. Pegg’s Scotty is almost entirely played for laughs, which is a shame. Pegg is worth more than that.
New additions to the cast don’t fair brilliantly either. It’s always nice to see Peter Weller on the big screen, and he gives an enjoyable turn as Admiral Marcus. But new villain Benedict Cumberbatch is so ludicrously over the top you expect the audience to be booing and hissing whenever he appears. It seems like he’s in some other movie, one rich with emotion and significance, and it doesn’t work. Every line reading is treated like Shakespeare, and while Cumberbatch is a great actor, it’s not what this film needs. He has presence, I’ll give him that, but every time he opens his mouth you want to groan.
Alice Eve is also pretty terrible as Carol Marcus. Inexplicably British, apparently only present for eye candy – even to the point where she’s gratuitously seen in bra and knickers – and crowbarred into the plot, her character and performance offer no value at all.
The script seems to spend an awful lot of the film explaining why things aren’t possible (“we can’t transport them because we don’t have line of sight”, “we can’t transport them because the wind’s blowing in the wrong direction”, “we can’t transport them because I put the wrong trousers on this morning”) only to justify another elaborate set piece. Most of which aren’t particularly exciting. There’s a sense that the whole film was engineered to hit certain targets; here’s some ideas for sequences we can put in, how can we write them into the script? The pacing feels off too, with far too much exposition-seeking chatter between the action sequences. I found myself pretty bored at times, unable to really care why anything was going on, yet the film seems hellbent on explaining exactly why things are going on.
As for Abram’s direction, while the action sequences are largely coherent – with one in particular in the film’s mid section coming off extremely well – the man needs to seek help for his lens flare problem. Is there some sort of Lens Flare Anonymous group he can join? I appreciate it’s a trademark, but it’s overused here and you almost feel that certain sets have been designed specifically to justify maximum lens flare. I wonder if Star Wars holds some allure for Abrams because lightsabers would make a great source of lens flare.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the script is how much we’re asked to care about characters we haven’t spent a lot of time with. The original cinematic franchise followed a much loved TV series and its audience had time to grow fond of these characters. After two films, I’m not sure we can possibly be invested enough to really care about their fate. Characters seem to be more hung up on the emotional significance of events than the audience possibly can be.
I’m not going to venture into spoiler territory here, but I suspect there’s a good chance that fans of original Trek will be groaning at times. Where the first film managed to feel like a fresh spin, with a clever hook into the original series, this time things feel like too much of a retread for comfort. Again, no spoilers, but some of the twists are more than a little silly.
What remains is an over long, irritatingly shot, glossy looking second offering in a franchise I was happy to defend the first time around. But I can’t find much to like this time. Where something like Skyfall managed to solidify the reboot a franchise, skilfully blend old with new, and still feel like it was telling its own tale, Star Trek Into Darkness manages none of these things. I can only hope a new writing team is installed next time, and that Abrams gets professional help for his addiction.
Star Trek Into Darkness is in cinemas now.