Oddly enough, after watching Star Trek Into Darkness, it’s not director JJ Abrams or even Benedict ‘Sherlock’ Cumberbatch you feel the urge to write about; but rather, Christopher Nolan.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a perfectly adequate summer blockbuster film. It is impeccably tailored to please both the Trekkies and the non-geeks, genre lovers as well as the average moviegoer, Cumberbatch fanboys (guilty as charged) and all those gits who are obviously not enlightened enough to worship him. But here’s the thing: no matter what writer Damon Lindelof may claim, Star Trek Into Darkness is *not* The Dark Knight. In fact, Star Trek Into Darkness is hardly dark at all.
That shouldn’t a problem, really. It’s alright for popcorn films to be just that – frothy, mindless, fun, and a terrific waste of time and popcorn. The problem is that every popcorn film after The Dark Knight Rises is – pointlessly – trying its best to be ‘dark’.
From Skyfall (which was SO dark that the trademark James Bond poster was black and white) to Iron Man 3 (which was SO dark that they set half the movie during nighttime) to now Star Trek Into Darkness (which is SO, SO dark that they even put the word ‘dark’ in the title, you know, just in case anyone thought it looked too bright), every blockbuster film has been consciously trying to emulate Nolan and his Dark Knight trilogy. It’s obvious from the posters (The Dark Knight Rises and Star Trek Into Darkness posters look like they were made on the same laptop), trailers, the general visual and narrative style, as well as the newfound need to have villains who are as much poster boys as the heroes.
The problem is JJ Abrams, Sam Mendes and Shane Black are all good directors – even great on their good days – but they are not Christopher Nolan. And the fact is, THEY DON’T NEED TO BE. So it’s high time studios stopped trying to turn them and every other decent director in Hollywood into Nolan; and stopped trying to turn what could be brilliant popcorn movies into wannabe-noir. It’s just unfortunate to see this in action even now because you’d think Joss Whedon and The Avengers, which was almost as bright as Loki’s skin tone, should have shut everyone up!
So, here’s the deal with Star Trek Into Darkness – in its attempt to be Nolanesque, it loses out on some of the fizzy strength of its first part and it really isn’t Nolanesque enough to be called art. The story of the film is exactly that of every blockbuster: a terrifying new villain (Cumberbatch as “John Harrison”) wants to destroy earth and it is up to our brave heroes (the crew of the space ship, USS Enterprise, led by Chris Pine as Captain James T Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Commander Spock) to stop him.
Of course, Abrams and Lindelof being Abrams and Lindelof, nothing in the script is what it seems (and nobody is who they seem – HINT!). So there are enough exciting twists in the plot to guarantee a fast-paced, well-crafted, well-directed entertainer that should be enjoyed at face value and for its several merits: grand, fantastically-executed action pieces; witty dialogue, which is rare in blockbusters today; a solid cast including Karl Urban, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Alice Eve etc), most of whom are given the opportunity to rise to the occasion and of whom, Simon Pegg (Scotty) does so with aplomb.
Most of the film rides on Pine and he rises above his thus far demonstrated abilities, and does a super job. Quinto sadly doesn’t get equal footage, but he is outstanding, especially in his repartees with Pine. But the film belongs to Cumberbatch, who sinks his teeth so firmly into the evil villain mould that even Sherlock wouldn’t have been able to recognise him.
Cumberbatch kicks ass in the role and reaffirms his legend as one of the brightest young talents in the industry today. But where he had the potential to carry forward the legacy of Heath Ledger’s Joker in the history of iconic superhero villains, he is criminally underutilised and let down by sketchy characterisation that hardly delves into his past or motivations. Had Cumberbatch’s villain been given the breathing space so necessary to make the leap from good to Nolan, the film may have boldly gone where no man has gone before.
Also, while the first part of the Star Trek reboot found universal acclaim because it struck a chord with film buffs, this time Abrams ends up compromising on the big emotional payoffs. SPOILER ALERT: There’s a false ending in the final minutes of the film and it does nothing more than annoy you about the missed opportunity in catapulting this film from ‘good fun’ to greatness.
These woes notwithstanding, Star Trek Into Darkness is the best-constructed and most mindlessly enjoyable film of this summer and definitely deserves a trip to the theatres, even if it doesn't match up to its predecessor or even Abram’s last film, Super 8, which was a film for every season.