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Monday, 8 July 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Star Trek Into Darkness

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Produced by: J.J. Abrams
Bryan Burk
Damon Lindelof
Alex Kurtzman
Robert Orci

Screenplay by: Roberto Orci
Alex Kurtman
Damon Lindelof

Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry

Starring: Chris Pine
Zachary Quinto
Zoe Saldana
Karl Urban
Simon Pegg
John Cho
Benedict Cumberbatch
Anton Yelchin
Bruce Greenwood
Peter Weller
Alice Eve

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Cinematography by: Dan Mindel

Editing by: Maryann Brandon
Mary Jo Markey

Studio(s): Bad Robot Productions
K/O Paper Products
Skydance Productions

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date(s): May 2, 2013 (London premiere)
May 9, 2013 (United Kingdom)
May 16, 2013 (United States)

Running time: 133 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $190 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $443, 865, 011

Alrighty there, minions, it is I, back again (recurring theme is recurring theme). I say that because frankly my mojo has been thrown all out of kilt, and while I could put it down to The Great Gatsby genuinely throwing me for a loop (I am now contemplating seeing it again), I think it can be put down more to a case of outright laziness in the face of the open plateau that I now face. Having now graduated from university, I'm worried that I may become the noughties' equivalent to Benjamin Braddock and spend the rest of my days listening to Simon & Garfunkel while flitting between various Mrs. Robinson's (not Iris!). Not forgetting my penchant for gross exaggeration, I will be getting on with my movies reviews, business as usual. I've got this and a review for After Earth coming in, which I will follow with a review for the month of June (also including the two films I reviewed at the start of the year), and then get on with July (I've already seen The Internship), so, ladies and germs, keep your eyes posted!

So, today's movie up for review is Star Trek Into Darkness. The sequel to J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek reboot, Into Darkness sees the return of more or less every major cast and crew member involved in said film, which is already a good thing, given that Star Trek (2009) was a great science-fiction film in a year that also featured District 9, Moon and Avatar. For those of you don't know (for those who do, I'm telling you again!), I'm a big fan of J.J. Abrams. I'm flying through Lost at present (co-created with Damon Lindelof, also a writer and producer on Abrams' Star Trek work), and since 2006's Mission Impossible III, Abrams has been a creatively productive roller coaster, with just about everything he touches turning to gold (and dollars), so I was pretty excited to see this. In this instalment, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) violate the Prime Directive of Starfleet, exposing the Enterprise to a planet's civilisation during one of their missions, losing command of the Enterprise. Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) is reinstated as it's commanding officer, and convinces Starfleet to be assigned his first officer. After a bombing in London, Starfleet commanders meet to discuss what to do with the perpetrator, rogue Starfleet agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), when said rogue agent ambushes the meeting, killing Pike in the process, before leaving for Klingon homeland Kronos. After convincing Fleet Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to let him take Pike's place, Kirk leads the Enterprise crew on a mission to Kronos, his motivations in this mission being dubious, and the plan for Harrison, to be either captured or executed, is very much in the air when we get on our merry way. Let's dance!

Starting off with the good about Into Darkness, technically the film is a piece of wizardry. The whole mise-en-scene, encompassing the departments of production design, make-up, special effects etc. is a marvel to behold. With a near $200 million budget, you'd figure that it should be up there on the screen, and Abrams and co certainly deliver on that promise. Also, returning cinematographer Daniel Mindel does a fine job of capturing the majesty of the production, and also, in terms of the action sequences, delivers a film that is both frenetic and wholly in focus, something that can be quite hard to do with today's action movies. Furthermore, the collaborative editorial work of Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey give Into Darkness this brilliant seamlessness, particularly in the harmony between what is literally physical and what has been created in post-production. Into Darkness, like much of Abrams' productions, have this sense of reality that is wholly legitimate, a trait that is sometimes lacking big-budget blockbusters, but is certainly featured here. Another aspect of the film that must be mentioned is some of the acting. Now, of course this is an ensemble cast, but there are a number of standouts. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are solid once again, and Peter Weller makes a stake as a believably commanding Marcus. However, the standout here is definitely Benedict Cumberbatch. I know what part he plays and all of the various arguments, such as the racial casting (which is, frankly, bollocks!), but I'm still stubbornly going to keep spoilers out of this. Regardless, Cumberbatch delivers a mighty performance. The quality of franchise villains has certainly improved dramatically since Heath Ledger's Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight, and Cumberbatch enters that pantheon. For Harrison, he has developed this marvellously venomous voice, speaking with great eloquence but as though the sounds are coming from the belly of a dragon. You can feel shivers from every little bar of intonation emerging from Cumberbatch. Speaking of The Dark Knight, my personal favourite scene in Into Darkness, which is clearly in dept to the interrogation scene of the former film, involves I suppose 'the great revelation,' where essentially Cumberbatch goes on a magnificent three-to-four minute soliloquy, his facial expressions and remarkable sense of pace giving complete legitimacy (almost sympathy) to his character's motivations. His presence in this scene does more for plot and exposition than about half-an-hour screen time at different point in the film,

which brings me swiftly on to what I find wrong with Into Darkness. Don't get me wrong, it's a work of technical wizardry and the acting was solid, especially that of Benedict Cumberbatch, but, strangely, many of the key players in the Abrams crew fail to deliver this time. Damon Lindelof made a comparison between Into Darkness and The Dark Knight, and while one can recognise the tonal similarities, Into Darkness does not live up to the qualities of the latter picture. Despite an admittedly daring attempt to tell the basil exposition parts in the midst of action sequences a la The Terminator, it still does unfortunately come across as window dressing to a weak backbone. As the old saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. After the brilliant synthesis of the first Abrams Trek, this is most disappointing, particularly when you have a potentially iconic villain in Cumberbatch. Also, I've criticised Michael Giacchino in the past, not because I don't like him (I do very much, in fact!), but because his scores are the type that lend themselves to the possibility of teetering over into screeching histrionics: he is often at his best when he writes simple themes, such as those featured in Lost. Here, the level of grandiosity and big orchestral sounds undercut the seriousness of the picture, and I know I've invoked The Dark Knight twice already, but part of what works on that film is that Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard scribed subtle (but big) themes that fit the action (incidentally, I was wrong the first time about Inception's score: it's terrific). Finally, although artists aren't often the best gauge of their own work and, granted, it has been four years since Abrams Trek Mark 1.0, I still think that there should have been a bit more time and effort in pre-production dedicated to redrafting the film. This is a first for criticism, but as the spearhead of the project, J.J. Abrams should have been aware of the issues involved in the script. I'm sure he may have felt studio pressure, but this represents a slight in his roles, both as producer and director, which is a shame from Abrams really, because I expect more from him.

To conclude my overall analysis (and this is probably a bit tacked on, I won't lie), Star Trek Into Darkness is a work of technical wizardry, with the cinematography and editing helping to contribute to highlighted a strongly-established mise-en-scene. The ensemble cast is uniformly strong, but most outstanding is a terrific turn from Benedict Cumberbatch, who joins the pantheon of iconic franchise villains in contemporary franchise cinema. However, it is also a film whose script lacks a true backbone, requires a lot of work with less window dressing, and, for a change, has an authorial slight or two on the part of J.J. Abrams. It's indicative of the overall piece when the best scene in the film is the revelatory interrogation scene, one of it's few quieter moments and yet it's most engaging. You expect more from this talented a collaborative effort.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Hot! (I haven't been privy to weather like this since last year in France and my whole physiognomy is simply not used to Northern Ireland being this damn warm!)

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