Star Trek: Into Darkness

Star Trek: Into Darkness is very aptly titled. The title makes you wonder: is this flick going to be grim and challenging? Are difficult things going to test the mettle of our heroes? Or maybe the villain leads the entire universe into darkness.

Is it going to be as grim as The Dark Knight Rises?

The title might also be referring to the final scene as the crew set forth on a historical journey.

What is so splendid about Star Trek: Into Darkness is that it is very intelligently made, and the multi-layered title is simply a symptom of the delightful disease we call ‘smart and polished film-making.’

I loved this movie. You will too.

Here’s a trailer (as if you haven’t already seen every trailer for this flick):

The deets:

Released May 16, 2013

Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof. Based on the original TV show by Gene Roddenberry

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Starring Zoe Saldana, Alice Eve, Nazneen Contractor, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Noel Clarke, and Benedict Cumberbatch

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Kirk (Pine) and his crew on the Enterprise, Starfleet’s flagship vessel, have been out on missions for some time since the last time we caught up with him. Into Darkness opens with Kirk fleeing some natives of a distant planet, accompanied by Bones (Urban). They are trying to lure the natives out of the kill zone of an exploding volcano, but at the same time they must not violate the Prime Directive, which is to remain unseen and not alter the course of a society’s evolution.

Meanwhile, Spock (Quinto) is going to descend into the volcano with a high-tech fusion device that will stop the volcano from erupting. Piloting his shuttle is Sulu (Cho) and helping him prepare is his love interest, Uhura (Saldana).

They succeed, of course, in their mission, which it turns out was totally in violation of rules. Now Kirk is demoted and becomes first officer to his mentor, Pike (Greenwood). But there’s a bad guy named John Harrison (Cumberbatch) who seems to have it in for Starfleet, and Admiral Marcus (Weller) specifically. After Harrison commits some dastardly deeds, Kirk and his crew are sent to deal out retribution. But things are complicated, and Scotty (Pegg) finds he has to take a stand against some questionable technology– whereupon he resigns his post on the Enterprise, and Chekhov (Yelchin) must take his place.

As the quest to get Harrison begins, a new science officer shows up without being asked for. She is Carol (Eve) and she might know more about the questionable technology and John Harrison than she should.

A series of events take place, through which Kirk becomes uncertain of himself and where his loyalty really ought to be. Uhura has to face down some Klingons, and the crew of the Enterprise becomes stuck between two massively powerful enemies and they have to somehow stop the bad guys while saving lives.

And that’s all I can say without spoilers. But believe me when I say this is an intricate plot that surprises and delights.

Critique 

Star Trek: Into Darkness is not as fresh as the first one in this rebooted franchise. It’s not an origin story, but is instead a story about a bunch of people who have to reassess who they are and come to a greater understanding of what is important to them. It also handily positions the Enterprise and her crew for the next film in which they hopefully are doing actual exploration– as is their mission.

The script is nearly flawless, with the exception of two problems, both of which center on Carol. First is the idiotic underwear scene. Alice Eve is a beautiful woman and this scene is dumb. Second is her British accent, which is totally unexplained by the script. For a professionally trained linguist, this is irritating.

Other than those issues, the script takes the time to set up conflict, try-fail cycles, character development, and solid resolutions that satisfy. It’s an intricate plot that Kirk and his crew have to uncover and stop, but it all makes sense at the end.

One interesting tidbit is that some people will take issue with a Spock who is not quite as alien and dispassionate as he was played by Nimoy. This is true, but this is a different Spock in a different timeline who lost his ENTIRE PLANET. Get a grip, people.

The acting is great, with more being asked of Pine than to be a rogue and a brash hero. His scene after the devastating attack on the Starfleet Council is just excellent. Cumberbatch is wonderfully larger than life and is truly awesome in his iconic role. Simon Pegg gets to do a lot in this film as well, with his truly excellent Scotty being an unsung hero throughout the story. Karl Urban, again, is a surprisingly good Bones. Saldana adds some very nice, tough layers to Uhura that we only started seeing toward the end of the original Star Trek TV show’s run. Quinto is also a very good Spock.

The fact that these films have focused on the relationships, particularly the legendary friendship between Kirk and Spock is wonderful, and the actors have a great chemistry. This is an ensemble film and you might be surprised at how much is asked of characters who are not Kirk and Spock.

Now. There are a lot of explosions. Lots and lots. There’s a lot of physical conflict in this film. These explosions and this conflict are appropriate for a film that is about war and terrorism. This stuff isn’t glorified; it’s shown as ugly and devastating. Listen for the screams and confusion.

That said, the punches sound like thunderclaps, which will never stop irritating me.

You will laugh, cheer, and possibly even cry as you watch Star Trek: Into Darkness. It’s one of the best movies of 2013 and is a fitting sequel to the first one.

Content warnings: Some salty language and a bit of skin and sensuality. Plenty of scifi violence.

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

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The Raven

The Raven is not a very good movie. This is because John Cusack, while making a game effort, is not convincing and the plot is pretty much unappealingly repackaged suspense film tropes.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released April 27, 2012

Written by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare

Directed by James McTeigue

Starring Alice Eve, Pam Ferris, John Cusack, Luke Evans, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Boston police detective Fields (Evans), notices that a grisly murder reminds him of a story written by local poet/story writer Edgar Allen Poe (Cusack). Poe is not the murderer, but when another murder occurs, also matching the writings of Poe, Fields asks Poe to join the investigation. Poe is currently experiencing severe writer’s block, possibly due to the steady stream of chemicals he is ingesting and also possibly due to the girl he has his heart set on being kept out of reach by her father.

The girl is Emily (Eve) and her father is police captain Charles Hamilton (Gleeson). Hamilton sees that Poe will only bring heartache to his daughter and is justified in keeping the two separate. However, Emily is in love with Poe, and love is as love does. (Why she loves the intemperate alcoholic is the biggest mystery of the film.)

The murderer is brutal and seemingly has limitless resources to recreate the dark murders of Poe’s stories, and we get to seem some pretty gruesome homicides in the course of the film.

Soon after Poe is looped into the case, he finds his writer’s block cured and he gets fully invested in the investigation. Which, you guessed it, endangers the woman he loves.

All of this story takes place over just a few days, the true history of which, in Poe’s life, are still a mystery. We know that Poe was found dead on a park bench in real history, but what preceded that death is unknown. This film does its best to shoehorn the story into known and unknown history.

Critique

The Raven has some very strong points, mostly from Luke Evans’ acting job, some fairly tense scenes and pacing, and Alice Eve’s remarkable ability to elevate every scene she is in. She makes her run of the mill, hard to understand love interest character strong and interesting.

What’s more, the premise of the film is pretty good and it is executed with some interesting development.

The main problem is that, although Cusack does nail some of the more intense scenes, in most of the film he is essentially a goatee’d John Cusack, in all of his mouth-breathing glory. The secondary problem is that we see most of the twists coming and the actual murderer is out of the blue, like an Agatha Christie culprit. Seriously. The murderer should have been someone we knew and who seemed murky in some way.

Not so much.

So this is a pretty good, somewhat too-gruesome film whose lead is hard to really like, whose love story is a bit hard to believe, and whose resolution is a little hard to swallow.

Content warnings: Some salty language, plenty of gruesome images.

Writing: 3.5          Acting: 3.5          Overall: 3

No need to be a poet and not know it, just share this baby. Go on, do it! The tell-tale heart/clock is ticking!

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