There’s four reasons why the original Star Trek TV series has such enduring popularity: there’s the superbly cheesy 60’s pop-art production design, the exploration of moral and philosophical issues that clearly fascinated creator Gene Roddenberry, the fact that it makes nerdy scientists look like heroes but mainly it’s the wonderful characters. Chief among these is Capt. James Tiberius Kirk who, like Jean Luc Picard, in The Next Generation series is an idealised father figure, someone who can solve any problem and vanquish any bug-eyed space monster with courage, compassion and ingenuity.
JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot movies, the latest of which is Star Trek: Into darkness, have virtually none of these qualities. Their biggest problem is that Kirk, as played by Chris Pine is too young to fill that fatherly role. Rather than a noble explorer saving the universe, he’s more like a pretty-boy college jock who should be giving nerds wedgies. In place of philosophy and character, the reboots and particularly Into Darkness, substitute non-stop action, eye ball pummelling spectacle, mass destruction (never in cinema history have so many people and space ships crashed into things) and a murderously loud sound-track. If a thrill ride is what you’re after, this film definitely delivers but if you want something deeper, this film disappoints.
Star Trek: Into darkness sees Kirk and crew battling terrorist John Harrison (an eloquently sinister, if pompous, Benedict Cumberbatch), who seems to be connected to a Star Fleet conspiracy to trigger war with the Klingons and a plot destroy Kirk and the enterprise crew.
As the young Kirk and crew pursue the mysterious and very dangerous Harrison, the film visually and thematically references many other movies including Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and some of the earlier Star Trek films. There’s even segments from one Star Trek film directly replicated here which makes Into Darkness feel more like a clone than an original story.
This uneasy sense that we’re watching a clone also applies to the characters as many of them seem to be simply impersonating or in living in the shadow of the original characters, particularly Zack Quinto as Spock, Simon Pegg as engineer Scotty and Karl Urban as Dr “Bones” McCoy. Their performances are fine by themselves but always seem like “mini-me” versions of the originals.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is often visually spectacular and is certainly an admirable technical achievement but the lack of emotional depth and originality as well as the relentless frenzied spectacle and ear-destroying noise makes it hard to love this film. The explosions stop momentarily to allow the film to focus on issues like morality and self-sacrifice but we saw this done better in the original TV show.
Nick’s rating: Three stars.
Director(s): J.J. Abrams
Release date: 9th May 2013
Running time: 132 mins.