One of my recent movie reviews for The WOD Magazine:
Star Trek: Into Darkness
Movie Review By Michael Bradley
Recently it was pointed out to me by a fellow columnist that I am a movie critic while they are a movie reviewer. Having given some thought to the distinction I would have to agree. In an era where the focus is on advertising and trailers, I believe movie studios should be held to a higher standard when spending tens or hundreds of millions to produce a roughly ninety minute entertainment. That is why I am glad for once to be able to wholly endorse a film – Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Canon is important to me, even in a movie line which has been “reset” into an alternative timeline. What made the original Star Trek TV series such a phenomenon was not big budgets or special effects. It was the great characters, interaction and vision of humans with the same foibles and attributes as now, cast into the future. The characters are well known – Captain Kirk, the brash, egotistical womanizer, whether with human or alien women, always ready to fire phasers but fiercely loyal to friends and stupidly brave. Spock, the stoic, emotionless logical being struggling with his human half. Bones, the wry, cynical doctor. Uhura, the modern successful woman officer. Scotty, Chekov, and Sulu along with all the other characters overly defined by national accents and quirky personalities.
The new Star Trek movies capture those characters and that spirit of human interaction under futuristic alien conditions better than I had ever hoped possible as a long time fan. The casting is simply perfection. Chris Pine nails Captain Kirk as the lucky but arrogant leader that you cheer for even though you know they deserve to get in trouble. Zachary Quinto was born to play Spock. Zoe Saldana recreates Uhura with an appropriately strong modern take on the role. Karl Urban plays Dr. McCoy so well I swear I see DeForest Kelley on the screen. Simon Pegg brings the perfect humor to scenes without being campy or foolish. No offense intended, but I actually prefer Pegg’s portrayal to Doohan’s original. The interaction among them all brings pure pleasure to my fanboy senses.
You might wonder why I am at paragraph four and have not mentioned the plot. That is the beauty of a well written and directed Star Trek feature. You don’t even care what the plot is, you just enjoy watching it happen. The plot is great though as well. For die-hard fans you will recall that Captain Christopher Pike was the original USS Enterprise Captain in the series pilot, and later was returned to the scene of that episode. In this time line, things happen differently. Pike is the father figure for Kirk who lost his father at the beginning of the last film. The search for family, friends and belonging while growing into responsibility are foremost to the new Kirk. This is the theme shared by other crew members as well as they chafe on each other while clinging together for friendship and belonging.
Benedict Cumberpatch of Sherlock fame plays the villain. His updated portrayal of Khan loses all the 1970s campiness of the earlier version played so over-the-top by Ricardo Montalban. The movie is modern, edgy and has great visual effects. However, it is the personal drama that makes it so enjoyable.
The film has geo-political overtones about what people are willing to do to get an edge on their potential enemies and where lines should be drawn, including a “drone strike-like assassination” versus “arrest and trial” decision for a terrorist. It was good that unlike other recent fare that have come off as preachy or even as propaganda for particular partisan beliefs, this one leaves the questions more to the viewer without giving definitive answers. Kirk makes calls which are illegal, but you are not always sure they are right or wrong.
As a Star Trek fan, I grew weary of the long line of mediocre films that preceded the last two. It is great to see that the new reboots were able to capture that original sense of wonder, fascinating characters, sense of family with all the squabbles, and a great plot with little unnecessary diversion. The very end was not as I would have made it, with the final confrontation with an Admiral seemingly too willing to be fully evil. That character sticks out all the more because all the others are so complex.
Alice Eve joins the cast as Dr. Carol Marcus, a new romantic interest for Kirk. In the original timeline Kirk and Marcus produce a child during a tryst unknown to Kirk. The grown child meets Kirk and is then slain. Who knows what will happen in this timeline? The good news is that Alice Eve was able to be strong and feisty enough to hold her own in screen time with Chris Pine, though the relationship between Spock and Uhura is by far more interesting, as you will see when you enjoy this outstanding film.