Film: Star Trek – Into Darkness

June 11, 2013

Is there a filmmaker in Hollywood less aware of the sociopolitical subtext of his work than J.J. Abrams? Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) is the serial franchiser’s latest, and like almost everything else Abrams has done it’s entertaining, fun, stupid, sexist, engaging, and exasperating. I watched it with a combination of amusement and irritation.

Following a mission in which his loose-cannon nature gets the best of him, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is demoted and placed under the command of his mentor, Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), just in time to attend an emergency session of Starfleet command. A bombing in London is the subject of the meeting, but it’s only the first stage in an terrorist assault on Starfleet. Kirk, because he’s Kirk, is put back in command of the Enterprise and sent on a risky mission to track down John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), the traitorous agent suspected of the attacks. There’s one problem: Harrison is holed up on a Klingon world, and a Federation incursion into their territory may have interstellar repercussions.

Star Trek: Into Darkness continues to riff off the old series in amusing, if at times cloyingly recursive, ways. On a broad level, the plot escalates well enough, from one crisis to the next at a nice, brisk clip. The characterizations are generally well handled, with Spock (Zachary Quinto) and especially McCoy (Karl Urban) providing the most entertaining verbal impressions of their model characters.

But the closer you look, the more flaws reveal themselves. The script organizes its acts well, but propels events past plot holes so huge you could pilot the Enterprise through them. Even more egregiously so than the first film, this one puts spectacle above realism, going all Big Dumb Hollywood with impressive but jarring visual effects and overwrought fight scenes. Stupid science, absurd human endurance, unconvincing military decision-making, and nonexistent physics challenge the suspension of disbelief at every turn.

More problematic are the cultural and gender politics, Abrams’ perennial Achilles’ heel. Uhuru (Zoe Saldana) is again saddled with a thankless, girlfriendy role. The new woman on board, Dr. Carol Wallace (Alice Eve), is a thinly conceived combination of eye candy and ineffective subplot. They contribute to the mission just barely, in comparison to the heroic, active men, whose competence increases based on the degree of white Americaness they possess. Indeed, the most difficult-to-grasp plot point for me was Pike’s faith in Kirk, who is supposed to be some kind of rogue, out-of-the-box thinker, but mainly comes off like an entitled jerk with an alien fetish. (Speaking of unexamined subtext, is it just me, or do Abrams and Company hang Jack Shepherd-y daddy issues on Captain Kirk?)┬áThe final analysis: it’s a gleaming, fast-paced diversion, like a midlife crisis convertible with a dodgy engine under its shiny, pristine shell.

  • Lisa Moore June 11, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks Chris! Going to pass on seeing this one even with Cumberbatch in the mix.

    • Chris East June 11, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      Probably better as a rental, if at all. Cumberbatch made for a pretty good, scenery-chewing villain, I’ll give him that!

  • Adam Rakunas June 11, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    And let’s not forget to throw blame on Kurtzman and Orci.

    • Chris East June 12, 2013 at 12:02 am

      Yeah, I suppose I may be laying their words at Abrams’ feet. The issues are so consistent across his body of work…wonder how much should be attributed to his frequent collaborators.

      • Adam Rakunas June 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm

        I think his circle of collaborators is like a writing workshop gone horribly awry. No questions about “How can we make this work this best it could be?” but “How much more AWESOME can we make this while we’re bathed in great piles of money?”

  • Susan Franzblau June 14, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Having worked for Star Trek before Abrams, all I can say is this one was, over all, stupid. How come super-men never express emotion? Uhuru did get some action there, very nice, but McCoy was a bit of an afterthought. Carol Wallace — weapons and medicine? — a blonde bimbette of a joke.

    Why does Abrams have to pretend that there’s a clear reflective surface everywhere so he can show an annoying bright blue line across the screen? Battles are like farce, not that hard to stage if you like to play with toys.

    Favorite bits — anything with Simon Pegg. That man can make running up and down corridors tension-filled and funny.