October 27, 2016

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Grade: 45/100

Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg

What it's about. The second Star Trek reboot is a mash-up of various themes from prior franchise films and shows. As in Star Trek (2009), familiar names are hosted by vaguely similar but younger faces, including Chris Pine as ADHD captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto as the supposedly cerebral (and second banana) Spock, Karl Urban as the grumpy Dr. McCoy a.k.a. Bones, Simon Pegg as excitable Scotsman Scotty, the late Anton Yelchin as the thick-accented Russian Chekov, John Cho as the little-used navigator Sulu, and Zoe Saldana as Uhulu, who has left her post as Communications Officer to become an action figure like the leads.

The bad guys who must be stopped are superman Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), and his obsessive Captain Ahab, er, Marcus (Peter Weller). The new girl in town is Marcus's blonde daughter Carol (Alice Eve).

The action comes thick and fast as life as we know it is in peril, along with the ship and its crew. But no worries, none of the top-billed cast dies except for RoboCop, who had it coming.

How others will see it. The most important number concerning Star Trek Into Darkness is its box office gross: just below half a billion dollars. That, plus video sales and rentals, ensured a third Star Trek reboot film, issued in 2016. Although the financial success of the film was not absolute, given its $200M production cost.

Festival attention focused on the visual effects. The film fared best at the Saturn Awards, where it was actually nominated in significant categories, such as Best Director, Best Science Fiction Film, and Best Supporting Actor (Cumberbatch). At least it didn't win any trophies.

Most folks who saw Star Trek Into Darkness enjoyed it. Certainly, there was plenty of action, though mostly in the form of actors running, shouting, and punching each other, along with the usual CGI explosions and Hindenburg re-enactments. At imdb.com, there are a humongous 400K user votes, and the average user rating of 7.8 out of 10 is quite high. It rises to 8.1 among women, who are apparently pleased by the happy ending and the assertive performances of eye candy actresses Zoe Saldana and Alice Eve.

But there is a significant minority, mostly fans of the 1960s "Star Trek" television series (a.k.a, The Original Series or TOS). This audience prefers the normal, clever, and witty interactions of the leading characters to the frantic "ship is exploding any moment" crises that are always resolved with only the deaths of nameless (and mostly CGI) characters, along with the infrequent villain, and several Manhattan skyscrapers presumably filled with many thousands of workers.

How I felt about it. If Star Trek Into Darkness is a parody, when are we supposed to laugh? Can the blood from a genetically engineered superhuman can bring the dead back to life? Why can a crippled transporter beam down but not up? Can a transporter actually send somebody across distant universes? If Khan wants to save himself and his people, why then is he trying to kill everybody, an action likely to eventually backfire? Why is the leading Federation commander, Marcus, a madman? How likely is it that stowaway officer Carol is Marcus' daughter? Why is Uhuru dating a Vulcan who theoretically will never have any emotional interest in her? Why would Spock be dating her? Why does Spock beat up Khan with the fervor of Jason (of Friday the 13th franchise fame) dicing a victim?

The film, then, is a Star Trek parody on uppers, but more of a head-shaker than a comedy. As far as the characters go, Karl Urban's imitation of Dr. McCoy is best, and Simon Pegg's rendition of Scotty is worst. Uhura is in need of saltpeter, if it works on women, and Chris Pine's Kirk is more of a superhuman action figure than his supposed adversary, Khan. And everybody needs a timeout in the corner, facing the wall, until they learn how to play nice.