Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

The 2009 "Star Trek" was one of the best films I saw that year. While some geeks bemoaned the alternate timeline Get Out of Jail Free Card, I thought it was a brilliant maneuver which freed it from the albatross of continuity that hangs from the neck of every film in the series before it. And under the efficient yet overly lens-flare zealous direction of newly appointed "Nerd Savior" J.J. Abrams and the amazing acting from the spooky-good cast, the 2009 "Star Trek" was to be quite honest, the best of the series since "The Wrath of Khan."

Naturally expectations were sky high for the followup. Personally I had "Star Trek Into Darkness" pegged as my second most anticipated film of the year, bested only by "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." The mystery surrounding the plot and the enigmatic villain only served to amp up the anticipation, as Abrams as per usual wouldn't tell us anything outside of vague hints in the trailers. Like I'm guessing was the case with a lot of people, I was losing my mind over it. I needed to see this damn movie.

It must be a sadly amusing thing to watch a nerd freak out over a movie. I wouldn't know. I'd be on the inside looking out. I'd probably sympathize.

It's such a special feeling to have all those hopes and expectations you had been carrying for so long be thoroughly met and even, on occasion, exceeded. I was expecting "Star Trek Into Darkness" to be good on the mere fact that the last one was. I had no idea that is was going to be like this.

This movie blew my damn mind.

Still not sure if I like the "football jersey" uniforms, though.

Once again, as with the 2009 film, "Star Trek Into Darkness" is a sleek, surprisingly humorous and tightly wound action flick that pays homage to the source material while putting its own very distinct stamp on it. There's no way you'd mistake either of these films for the Shatner or even Stewart series besides the fact that they all feature a starship with NCC-1701 stenciled on the hood. The J.J. Abrams series is more like those films if they were one of the bonus levels from "Sonic The Hedgehog 2" cranked up on 5-Hour Energy Drinks and blasting Van Halen. But at the same time the reboot has a clear love and deep respect for the source material, and constantly goes out of its way to pay homage to it and reference it whenever it can. And the best part is you don't even have to be a Trekkie to "get it."

With "Star Trek Into Darkness" however, this was like a whole new beast. This isn't a journey of exploration nor a character study nor a turn-off-your-brain explosion fest. This is a dark, violent, dangerous roller coaster ride which sends you plummeting from orbit. And it's sending you flying at such high speeds and severe turns that the G-force is enough to liquefy your skull as it sends you hurdling through the Earth's core. While you're on fire. And blasting Van Halen.

From the opening scene where Spock enters an erupting volcano, "Star Trek Into Darkness" hits the ground running and never stops. Ever. The closest it comes to down time is right after that when Kirk gets predictably reamed out by Admiral Pike for being a loose cannon who doesn't play by the rules, and Kirk reams out Spock because he can't physically not play by the rules, even when people's lives are in danger. Even in the quiet parts people are yelling. And then a building kind of explodes and that's the end of that. From then on it's non-stop intensity. Full power to the warp core, indeed.

Ah yes. The rare "Inward-Facing Double Coconut Crush" maneuver. Brian Adams would be impressed. #oldschoolwrestingjoke #sorry

The story this time involves a mysterious man named John Harrison, who is doing a very good job of blowing up a whole bunch of Starfleet stuff and killing a lot of people. A LOT of people. (The collateral damage numbers in this film are staggering) Once the situation goes beyond personal for Kirk, he sets out to find Harrison and take him out. But as we could tell by the trailer, there is far more to Harrison than meets the eye, and finding himself quickly outclassed and outgunned, Kirk finds himself in a situation where the fate of his crew and everyone he cares about is in dire straights. And the mystery of who this man is serves as one of the most thrilling reveals I've seen in a film in a long time.

I'm going to once again give every single last bit of praise that I can possibly heap onto the cast. As far as the main cast goes, they get all of it. All of my praise. There is not any among them that doesn't capture the spirit of the original actor, almost like it was the younger version of themselves on screen.

Chris Pine has the swagger and bravado and even some of the same mannerisms and facial ticks that William Shatner brought James T. Kirk to life with, but at the same time he does his own thing with it. This is particularly true with his vocal pacing and inflections, which are thankfully nowhere near the Shatnerian method of acting. But every once in a while he slips a halting, oddly intonated line in there in clear tribute. But Pine brings something that Shatner (as much as I am a fan of his) wasn't really able to do, which was to give Kirk a real sense of vulnerability. Here, Kirk is a man who has been successful mostly due to his freakishly good luck and good instincts. But that has made him reckless and overly confident - something which is about to cost him and his crew dearly.

"Oh. Hi."

This movie finds Kirk at the nadir of his lowest despair and the height of his greatest heroics, and Pine sells it with every word out of his mouth and expression on his face. I got more emotional resonance from Chris Pine in this than I ever did from Shatner, which isn't a slam on Shatner because this is a different kind of movie than he was in, but it made Kirk seem like more of a human being rather than the larger-than-life, nearly mythical figure that he was back in the original series or films. That's not to say he wasn't fully fleshed out as a character back then, but he was just as much a "real person" as Bruce Campbell is when he stars in something. You don't watch it for the subtle nuances of his acting, you watch it because it's Bruce Campbell and he's freaking awesome.

Zachary Quinto threatens to steal to show as Spock, once again capturing Nemoy's signature performance to an eerie degree. And if Kirk shows a huge range of emotions and states of mind in this film, it's Spock's journey here that is arguably even more significant, as we get deeper insight as to the nature of his Vulcan way of thinking, and how he functions as a man who has chosen to ignore fear or pain. But when it comes time for that resolve to be severely tested Quinto, like Pine, is more of a firebrand than Shatner or Nemoy portrayed, and because of that tends to convey emotion more effectively when he does fly off the handle after being annoyingly composed for so long.

Pretty much everyone else is a superstar. Karl Urban IS DeForest Kelley. There's no way around it. His version of Bones is the most accurate of all the cast, and he freaks me out. He's also given some of the best dialogue in the film, including the funniest lines and most foreboding. I was very happy to see Simon Pegg's Scotty get a more significant role in this movie than the previous one, as he is another one of my favorite actors, and likewise does a spot-on James Doohan. Zoe Saldana's Uhura is a bit too aggressively in-your-face than I'd like, as it's not much like Nichelle Nichols, but it's a fine version of that character. Meanwhile Anton Yelchin and John Cho as Chekov and Sulu are fantastic but a bit underused for my liking. But then again, "Star Trek Into Darkness" is, like all the rest, a movie about Kirk and Spock. We can't blame priorities on screen time, and everyone does get their moments to shine, short as some of theirs might unfortunately be.

What the crap is Uhura looking at?

The only person I didn't like was Alice Eve. She's a terrible actress. Just wretched. I've hated her in everything I've seen her in, and here was no different. I was pissed when I found out she was in this, and I was proven right to be mad. She's wooden, she speaks like she's reading cue cards, and can't seem to figure out if her character is a calm, cool, collected hard-ass or ready for a nap. I guess the way to portray "strong female characters" is to act bored and speak in a deadpan monotone. Even in a scene where she's pleading for her life and the lives of everyone on the Enterprise she delivers her lines about as forceful and intense as someone ordering from a Taco Bell drive-thru.

Ugh. Just go away.

But what of Benedict Cumberbatch? What of the villain? That would involve spoilers. Horrendous, unforgivable, ruinous spoilers, and I'm not going to do that to anyone, and I would advise that anyone who hasn't seen it yet to not even look up this film on IMDB or its equivalent before seeing it, because spoilers are already hard-coded into the page. Just go into it blind, as it was meant to be seen. But suffice it to say that Cumberbatch is incredible. Unbelievable. Someone needs to cast him as every villain ever after this film, because he's seriously like the next Alan Rickman, or perhaps a better analogy would be Jeremy Irons crossed with Christopher Lee and a dash of Ralph Fiennes. And you need to see him in this.

If he's not the next Bond villain, I quit life. Seriously. I'm checking out.

The only issue I take with this movie is roughly the last 3 minutes. Everything before that is golden, but at the very end it pulls the rip chord on a fight scene which is so intense and heart-pounding that I don't think I blinked for 15 minutes. Then PUNCH - cut to black - two weeks later - then one year later - some words are said - credits. Done. It's almost like the movie heard his parents coming up the stairs while he was in his room smoking so he had to stamp the cigarette out quick, sit on it, spray half a can of FeBreze and throw the ashtray out the window like "WHOOPS NOPE NOTHING TO SEE HERE. WE'RE DONE. MOVE ALONG."

Additionally I must nitpick that the traditional "Space...the final frontier" speech isn't very well handled. It's kind of crammed in there nonsensically, and the way they do it implies that it's actually the oath that Starfleet captains take when they assume command. This would also imply that every ship in Starfleet is called "Enterprise" and is on a 5-year mission to boldly split infinitives. There's also a problem with Kirk not getting any closure on dealing with the fact that he loses a LOT of people on this trip out. It's never even brought up, which wouldn't be such a huge deal except that at the beginning of the movie Kirk makes it a big point that he's never lost a single crew member. Well, that's changes, and it should have been a very emotional scene and a bit of character development which ties into the themes of hard choices and loss throughout the whole film, but since the movie just decides to slam on the breaks we never get that.

But whatever. That's the last 3 minutes. That's 2% of the run time of this movie. And while those things are annoying, everything else is - simply put - one of the best action movies I've seen since...well...2009's "Star Trek." And you need to see it. NOW.

Oh god this trailer. I have all the excitement.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I have not been this pumped up and pleased by any other film this year. It's the best action movie of 2013 so far, hands down, and it's just as good (if not in some ways better) than the 2009 film. It's in the top 3 best "Star Trek" films, and I honestly really want to see it again. Like, I wish I was watching it again instead of typing this. Guaranteed in the Top 10 of 2013, probably near the top. Unreal.

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