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Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness: Proudly Brought to you by the NRA

dir: J.J. Abrams

It says they’re going Into Darkness, but I’m not sure what that has to do with the film. Sure, there were some shadows, some underlit places, but I hardly think that justifies such a title.

Wait, you mean it’s metaphorical, not literal? That it’s thematic, not aesthetic? Well, I haven’t been this confused since Michael Bay made a movie about something hidden on the dark side of the moon and just referred to it as Dark of the Moon. The Dark ‘what’ of the moon, Michael? Its dark chocolate centre, which I’ve heard is 80% cacao? Its dark and tortured past as a roadie for the other planets when they used to go on tour throughout the Milky Way? Its dark future as a holiday destination for bored mega-wealthy sadomasochists?

The moon plays a small part in this flick, but mostly it continues to exist and complicates the adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise, which is a space ship capable of flying around really fast and shooting stuff.

That this is the new face of the Star Trek empire has to be accepted if anyone’s going to have any remote chance of enjoying it. Anyone who’s hated Trek all their lives and all its existence aren’t likely to hop on board the bandwagon now. With all the modern sprucing up they’ve done, the flick firmly and heroically panders to the Trek nerds like nothing ever has before.

It’s been a successful reboot in that people really started to want to make money again from the Star Trek franchise. They’re not about to get Patrick Stewart and the rest of the Next Generation crew out of the enforced retirement that should have occurred after First Contact. There aren’t many of the Original Series crew working regularly, except as voices on cartoons. If any studio exec suggested making a flick for public consumption with either the crews of Voyager or the series Enterprise, they’d be serving soy lattes to jerks for minimum wage for the rest of their lives.

So of course they had to reboot it from the start, with young, vital versions of the people we came to loathe and love half a century ago. They had to find analogues, and they pretty much succeeded. They also had to allow them to go off into bold new adventures completely unlike the previous ones, but familiar enough so that nerds could loudly whisper to their tolerant but eye-rolling partners “that’s a call-back to episode #14 The Trouble With Dateless Wonders from the sixteenth season!”

For some reason, Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are inhabiting a different universe from the one in the established continuity, significantly different, but similar enough such that everything is not only reminiscent of the past, but it echoes all the past experiences of the original crew. Coming up with completely new adventures would clearly kill the ardour of all but the most loyal and obsessive, it seems. So, and this will come as no surprise to any of you reading my cynical blatherings, the events of this flick somewhat, kinda, recall an earlier film in Trek history.

Even then, it's completely its own tortured story. Some of the elements and the references may all be from earlier series and movies, but nothing ever transpired before like what transpires here.

That makes it seem like it's something profoundly exciting and new. It's not, but it's good enough. It's more than good enough.

A good friend of mine with time and affection for things Trekkian watched this and hated it. That's fair enough, but I think the mistake he made was watching it with a girl, a decidedly non-geek girl sighing with boredom next to him. Films like this shouldn't be watched with regular, muggle girls. In fact, men and boys with girlfriends, wives, non-geek boyfriends or husbands shouldn't be watching stuff like this anyway. The very reason for its existence, like the invention of science fiction itself, all came about because sexually frustrated men were making products for men who weren't getting any and probably wouldn't for a long time coming. Targeted demographic with a laser-like focus, never doubt it.

Getting some satisfying stuff on the regular? Get the hell out of here!

So, yes, perhaps the sci-fi bug, and specifically the Trek bug, bit me at a time and age where the prospect of having sex with another human being seemed less likely than getting to fly to the edge of the galaxy and fight super-powered aliens. Maybe that's why I'm more forgiving than most.

Still, in truth, this is less of a pure Trek experience than just a sci-fi lite Action Movie! And that's not an entirely bad thing. In case no-one other than myself has ever noticed, the majority of all the Trek films, of any era, have been utter unmitigated shite. Terrible, just terrible experiences even for those of us who are meant to lap it up like the mother's milk it isn't. So I can say without a trace of irony that this is one of the best Trek films ever made.

I don't care about the plot. The plot doesn't matter. What matters are the interactions between the crewmembers. I really enjoyed the first of the new Trek films, and I couldn't even tell you what the plot was and who the villain was and what motivated them and whether any of it made the least amount of sense. What I liked was the actors playing the 'familiar' roles of the original series in new and engaging ways.

Same applies here. Kirk and Spock's (Zachary Quinto) relationship has deepened, presumably, in the last four years, but they still have conflict arising because of their fundamental differences as people, as officers of Starfleet. That is the real source of the drama, at least in the first part of the film.

Starfleet as well is still developing as a 'character'. That character, defined in the original template as being utopian and touchy-feely, is in danger of becoming dark and fascistic. Perhaps because of the same changes to the timeline that changed the fate of, say, the planet of Vulcan, these have also led Starfleet to fear instead of embrace the people and species that might be Out There in the universe. That's why I wasn't too surprised to see that the dress uniforms, the formal ceremonial uniforms of the Starfleet personnel, were so fascist it seemed like they could give Albert Speer, Ayn Rand and Leni Riefenstahl erections.

So there's the competition between logic and passion, between rules and gut instinct, but also between Starfleet becoming a militaristic totalitarian regime pushing planets around and giving wedgies to the other races in the galaxy (you know, kinda like the United States), or an organisation devoted to exploration and discovery, and singing kumbaya around a camp fire somewhere near Rigel 7.

I know which one I hope for. The thing is, when an entity like Starfleet, or the Federation, or the Catholic Church, or the BBC starts down an inhuman road, one which seems like it has gravity and inevitability on its side, there are always people who see the rot setting in and either despair, delight in it, or demand that the direction be changed lest they destroy it all themselves. It's not a stretch to figure out which way our heroes are going to go, but how they're going to get there and why is the unexpected element.

Some guy, some pale, angry guy (Benedict Cumberbatch) organises a strange bombing at some archive in London. Why, I'll never know. But he does, and it kills bunches of people. He becomes the Starfleet Enemy Number One, and on everyone's shit list, including Kirk's. But if people aren't angry enough, he then goes and kills a bunch more Starfleet high-ups, including Kirk's mentor figure Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Before Pike popped his clogs, he'd spent much of the film expressing his great disappointment and fed-uppedness the way a pseudo-father figure does, at Kirk's continued disregard for the rules, and his love of doing whatever he likes, and his spilling of bongwater on the lounge room carpet.

Kirk, like any self-respecting son-figure, says "sorry" a few times real sarcastically, and then "but Dad, everyone else was doing it!", and finishes with a few real stubborn "whatevers", with a mumbled finisher of "man, when I'm eighteen, I am so out of here".

All this unfair rearrangement of Kirk's life and command because of his reckless actions at the beginning get rearranged back again once the pale angry guy unleashes terroristic hell upon this world and maybe a couple of others. Kirk vows to hunt down and kill this John Harrison chap, who is one of Starfleet's own, if it's the last thing he does. I'm sure pale guy had very good reasons for what he did. I'm sure they made sense to him, because it turns out this guy is some kind of super-genius. Still, because I'm pretty far away from being a super-genius, his motives and such remain perfectly obscure. As an example, why he ends up on the Klingon homeworld is a profound mystery to me.

Really, he ends up there because the writers wanted the story to go there, so we could see their new version of the Klingon race, which isn't really that different from the earlier version, which means they're a cross between professional wrestlers, Vikings and death metal band members. Of course there's action a-plenty, and fist fights and such, and lots of Klingons getting killed. This John Harrison chap, though, he's great at killing people even with his bare hands.

And then he surrenders. Why would The Joker/Loki/John Harrison surrender, just when it looks like he's at the top of his game, and could get away pretty easily?

Who knows? I'm sure he has his reasons. Yes, there's a lot of story here, but digging your mind's hooks into it probably isn't the fruitful path to take. Therein lies the path to plot holes and general malaise. This isn't, for me at least, switch-off-and-enjoy-the-sensation-of-your-brain-dying-a-bit-at-a-time entertainment in the slightest. Viewers have complained that it's wall to wall action, but it didn't feel like that to me. I feel the flick struck the right balance of talking and explosions, or beat downs and arguments between people. The character dynamics matter, and they're present, and they're great. It might feel like the arguments, like the one between Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Kirk seems arbitrary, and that its repercussions are swiftly swept under the cosmic rug, but it felt right, both the argument and the result, which of course is helpful to the plot later on.

There's action, which to me is mostly just stuff moving around until stuff stands still again, but what matters ultimately is the quality of the sequences that the action is arranged in. And I really enjoyed the action set pieces. The opening one at the beginning of the flick has people running from savages, a volcano going off and a spaceship trying to climb out of an ocean. There's also a flinging of bodies between one ship and another through open space, which is of course timed within an inch and a second to save the day, and I'm not ashamed to admit that it worked a treat on me because I was jumping out of my chair in the cinema, with those annoying 3D glasses slipping off my face. Of course it gets big and explodey and fisticuffy at the end, but it has to, because how else would we know the film was about to end?

Sure, maybe I was confused at the end as to what had actually happened, and what it all meant, and whether that feeling I was feeling was known as 'anti-climactic'. And sure, I wondered how that 'crash' in San Francisco at the end didn't kill thousands and thousands and thousands of San Franciscans, making it somewhat less of a happy ending, which it clearly was. What I wanted was scenes of derring-do and self-sacrifice, knowing full well that ways existed, and were clearly telegraphed from the beginning, that would be used to undo those noble sacrifices when they happened. I don't care. It worked, almost beautifully, and all I needed to here were the words "Because you're my friend", because that's all any of us should have to hear.

I don't need these chaps and chappettes to sit around calmly discussing the nature of reality or personhood or deep philosophical arguments about whether it's okay to ever fuck a green chick (Orion Slave Girls: Where's the Consent?). Actually, I do want to hear those arguments. But most of all I want to experience them within a package where a lot of stuff happens and most of it is fun.

And that's what I got for my money.

8 times I wonder when they're really going to go where no-one has gone before by letting Kirk and Spock really express their deep love for each other out of 10

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
- “An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.”
“Well, it’s still a hell of a quote.” – that it is – Star Trek Into Darkness