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September 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, and Simon Pegg

director: J.J. Abrams

132 minutes (12) 2013
widescreen ratio 2.40:1
Paramount blu-ray region A

RATING: 6/10
review by J.C. Hartley

Star Trek Into Darkness

A commercial and critical success, this was nevertheless voted to be the worst film of the franchise at a Trekkie convention in L.A. in August of 2013. Well, that's fan-boys for you, but, I have to say, I have some small sympathy with their decision. Having watched the film slightly ahead of the DVD and blu-ray release I think that as a narrative it's all over the place, and as a re-working of an existing story within the canon it does no favours to the concept of intertextuality. After the success of J.J. Abrams' original re-booting of the franchise with Star Trek (2009), there was bound to be some sort of critical backlash; Abrams' much publicised comment that he was never a Star Trek fan, plus his acrobatic dexterity in changing franchises in mid-stream by decamping to the Star Wars caravan, no doubt earned him the ire of many Trek fans.

A much-voiced criticism of this film is that the whole guiding concept, expressed by original creator Gene Roddenberry, that Star Trek was a Wagon Train to the stars, has here been abandoned, very little trekking goes on and a goodly amount of action is Earth-bound. It is also quite talky, some of the acting where characters are called upon to express internal emotional struggles is unconvincing, there is little of the humour that made the earlier film a joy, and close-ups don't do Chris Pine, with his big-kid's face, any favours. That said the 133 minutes fairly scoot by, and it's a decent watch on a Saturday night after a bottle of red with a pint of stout in front of you.

Beginning on the Planet Nibiru, with a homage to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Spock is lowered into an active volcano to subdue its imminent eruption, while Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy flee pursuing aliens intent on reclaiming some kind of scroll that Kirk has for some reason stolen. Forced to reveal the existence of the USS Enterprise while rescuing Spock, Kirk is in breach of the Prime Directive which forbids Starfleet interference in primitive cultures.

Busted down from Captain of the Enterprise, Kirk's career is saved by Admiral Pike who makes him his First Officer when he resumes command of the ship. The film is very talky and indeed shouty at this point, with Pike accusing Kirk of selfishness, arrogance, and immaturity, before throwing him his career life-line. While these emotional tonsil wringings are under way, we see Starfleet Officer Thomas Harewood (actor and director Noel Clarke) and his wife watching over their dying daughter, they are approached by the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) who claims that a transfusion of his blood will save the child's life. In exchange for the gift of his daughter's life, Harewood detonates a device within a Starfleet establishment in London.

Senior Starfleet staff are summoned to a meeting during which Kirk realises that this was Harrison's intention, just as the latter unleashes a murderous attack from a heavily-armed jump-ship. Harrison flees to the Klingon homeworld of Kronos, and Kirk is reinstated by Admiral Marcus and sent in pursuit with 72 prototype photon torpedoes. Forbidden to inspect the torpedoes, Engineer Scott (Simon Pegg) resigns his post and, in the crew reshuffle, Dr Carol Wallace (Alice Eve) joins the Enterprise. Kirk has been ordered to fire the missiles from long-range, killing Harrison and clearly instigating a war-crime against the Klingons, but he decides to apprehend the fugitive instead. In a face-off with the Klingons, Kirk and his crew are saved by the sudden involvement of Harrison, who single-handedly despatches a significant number of the Klingons before surrendering to Kirk when he is informed of the existence of the 72 torpedoes.

The Enterprise is joined in Klingon space by the USS Vengeance commanded by Marcus, and Harrison, in custody on the Enterprise, reveals that he is the legendary superhuman Khan, awoken from cryo-sleep by Marcus to develop the offensive capabilities for the war with the Klingons that the Admiral believes is inevitable. Khan's fellow genetically-enhanced post-humans are encased in the torpedoes. When Kirk releases Khan the stage is set for the showdown with Marcus and between Kirk and Khan himself.

After the fairly exciting start, Star Trek Into Darkness drags a little bit with the set-up; Kirk's humbling by Pike is immediately reversed because the latter sees in him the potential for greatness. The regular pauses for exposition seem to slow things down but it's hard to put one's finger with any precision on quite what is wrong with this film, except to say it doesn't seem to build on the potential promised by its predecessor. It's revealing that the high spot for me was an unexpected cameo by Leonard Nimoy.

The casting of a white European actor as Khan Noonien Singh, as he was in the TV episode Space Seed in the original series, and in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982), brought some predictable criticism, defended by the producers who claimed that they wished to avoid demonising any Asiatic race or culture. The original character was played on TV and in the cinema by Ricardo Montalban, a Mexican, a race seemingly currently demonised in the cinema as drug-dealers. The casting of Gloucester-born actor Simon Pegg as a West Lothian Scot with a one-rising-note accent didn't seem to bring any criticism this time around.

The ending of the film with its reiteration of the 'five-year mission' speech seems to hold out some hope that the crew will leave Starfleet behind and do some serious deep-space trekking next time. With Abrams committed to Star Wars, and presumably a new hand at the conn, whether this new version of Star Trek has the space-legs to continue as a rival franchise remains to be seen.



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