The Metamovie: A Primer
So, this is a review of Star Trek: Into Darkness. A good movie, spoiled by going just a bit too fast, and with cracks in suspension of disbelief.
First, the technicalities: Visually, this movie is inspired laziness. And when it’s doing that, it’s excellent. NASA should get credit for half the visuals in this movie — and that’s a strength. Worlds exist with a reality that grounds the entire film here. Credit to the artists for the imaginitive futurization of London — London’s seen so many incarnations of itself, it’s cheering to see the older bits peeking through the modernization of contemporary principles.
That said, when it falls flat, it falls very, very flat. It’s missing a lot in the post processing, and the warp core in particular lacks the needed resolution. Lighting seems off, and at times the green screen is entirely too apparent. [That said, Lawrence Livermore never looked more at home in a movie.]
Visually, this could be a Tarantino flick. They were cribbing off Galaxy Quest, the Titanic, Avengers (Indiana Jones goes almost without saying) — and they took nearly carbon cutouts of 9-11 footage. Ballsy that, particularly for Star Trek.
Did they have to make new Klingon costumes? These didn’t even seem to straddle the line between TOS and TNG costumes…
And the acting: Perhaps not surprisingly, in a longrunning franchise, the acting runs more on meta than on actual characterization. Spock is Spock, Kirk is Kirk… and the cam-whores are the cam-whores, proving once again that sometimes not having to act a bit is the best acting of all. We know these characters, and we love them. Or you don’t. You remember that these aren’t the characters we knew and loved, but alternates. And the alternates don’t inherit all those meta-memories. If you insist on picking at the dangling strings, the whole thing unravels.
Pine and Quinto make their bromance work, but Pine’s Kirk “Does not Follow Rules” in a way that suggests the writers KNOW most of the audience has never been onboard a ship or in a military of any sort. The Original Series’ Kirk followed orders and thought about his actions even when he was breaking the rules…
What I found most surprising was Noel Clarke, stealing the intro with a superbly quiet performance. I found myself wondering if part of the connection I felt with him, was just my knowledge of him as an actor in Dr. Who. This is the one part of the movie where it dares to slow down, and in a few quiet scenes creates a picture without words.
Cumberbatch seemed a bit odd… For playing a superhuman, I wanted at least a bit of humor — particularly when he’s being punched repeatedly by The Captain. Or something other than a dead-eye, nearly Vulcan stare. There’s such a thing as being too quiet, and Cumberbatch lacks the intensity to pull off what Quinto did in Heroes. Failing intensity, I would have settled for understated humor.
Eve’s wasted in the science officer stealing onto the Enterprise — and doubly so in that skinshot. Show her getting dressed, for god’s sake! You can make concealing someone’s bosom into something awesome. And you didn’t need Kirk looking back to let the camera see. Everything that everyone else’s character relies upon, she lacks. There’s not even any payoff with her dear daddy.
This movie wants to breathe. It wants, so badly, to slow down and take a bit of time. And, it might feel strange to say, but the action scenes want a bit of tightening up. Spock jumping 20 feet to climb onto a flying ship? Cooool. Them bouncing from one ship to another, though, really lacked any element of danger.
And there was way too much reliance on loss of gravity. Particularly when you don’t get power back until Kirk “fixes things” — by making them worse, somehow, before making them better (this made me laugh, in a stroke that I’m sure the writers did not intend). This leaves you with the “why isn’t Kirk flying around inside the core?”
And the FTL communicator was painful — one of those “this is merely a convenience to the plot” issues, where you find yourself asking “why isn’t Kirk calling any other Starfleet captain? Surely there’s at least one around Earth, somewhere?”
Section Dyslexia gets a nice reference, but it seems like everyone wants to pretend that Enterprise never, ever existed (good riddance!). There are other hat tips and cameos, which are pretty cute.
Is it Star Trek?
I fully went into this expecting it to be dire. And — it really wasn’t. If Star Trek can do Silence of the Lambs homage (poorly) and Aliens homages (repeatedly, and to good effect), then surely it can have an action flick too?
If you’re willing to believe in the characterization, it’s doing exactly what I want out of Star Trek — believable characters enjoying the heck out of doing their jobs.
Which leaves it as far better than half the dreck that passes for action movies.