Friday, December 26, 2014

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) 2.5 of 4

** this review contains spoilers **

Disclosure: I've been a trekkie for about 40 years.

The thing that strikes me about this second film is that it's a lot less militaristic than the first (2008) film, causing me to wonder, is J.J. Abrams going soft?  This is his re-mix of the sabre-rattling 1982 hit Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but the real villain here isn't Khan, it's Peter Weller's Admiral Marcus, a rogue warmonger.  (Marcus is a variation on the part Weller played in Star Trek: Enterprise "Terra Prime.")

Perhaps we could say that if Abrams is the new Spielberg, Tarantino is the new Scorsese.  Both of the younger directors do lots of sampling/homage, both of them are ironic and self-referential.  Abrams is more mainstream, and inherently more conservative, but with this film he and his writers (his usual stable) seem to be resonating with the world's growing skepticism re: the war on terrorism.

Politics aside, this is an entertaining film with the expected action, spectacle, and humor.  I actually need to see it again: I watched it on amazon and wasn't able to appreciate the effects, which I suspect are thrilling given the right presentation.
I'll make two complaints, both of them from my "fanboy" perspective.  First, this film shows Kirk pushing Starfleet away from a military and toward a more exploratory role.  Even in an alternate timeline this makes little sense, since Starfleet was never purely military, and it was usually Spock or McCoy who argued the pacifist side, not Kirk and Scott as in this film.
My second gripe is more substantial.  Abrams wanted the hot actor Benedict Cumberbatch, and he wanted to do his version of Star Trek II.  Understood.  Still, why is this pale-skinned, British-accented man named "Khan"?
In the original episode "Space Seed," Khan is described as "probably a Sikh, from the Northern India area -- they make the fiercest warriors."  Fine, even today there are lots of South Asians immigrants to the U.K., and Khan is a genetically engineered superman, but nevertheless this struck a false note with me.  Someone needs to remind Abrams that not everything he touches turns to gold.

Speaking of Mr. Cumberbatch, his casting makes sense, since he and Martin Freeman are essentially playing an alternate-universe Spock and McCoy on the modern-day Sherlock.  Cumberbatch is a fine actor, but he doesn't match the manly menace of Ricardo Montalban in both "Space Seed" and Star Trek II.
What younger viewers may not realize is that Montalban had become something of a joke before the 1982 film, due to his trivial series Fantasy Island and a series of car commercials in which he repeatedly touted "rich Corinthian leather," which became a mocking catchphrase.
This makes it all the more remarkable that the actor, then 62, excelled in his return as Khan, quieting any titters with talent, force of will, and impressive pectorals.  And he had to hold his own against William Shatner, and say what you will about him as an actor, Shatner was a veteran scene-stealer.

It was never going to happen, but in retrospect, Montalban deserved an Oscar nomination for his work in Star Trek II.  Ever since, that franchise-saving film has been the model of what a Star Trek film should be, and it has only one element that no other Trek film has: Montalban.  His may be a scenery-chewing performance, but it's a great scenery-chewing performance.      

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.