Friday, 28 March 2014

Star Trek: Into Darkness (Abrams, 2013)

For the first review of this revived blog, I’m going to talk about the film I watched tonight, “Star Trek: Into Darkness”.

The first two thirds of the review will be spoiler free and there will be a dividing line before I go into more detail, so as long as you exercise a bit of caution you’ll be fine to read this review even if you’ve not yet seen the film

It’s a film that benefits from the Blu-Ray treatment I granted it, just as it justified the IMAX spectacle I first saw it in. It is undoubtedly spectacular and J.J Abrams is undoubtedly a successor to Spielberg’s skill with large scale, imaginative set pieces. Whether he can rival the master’s ability to combine spectacle with character is less evident.

“Into Darkness” suffers from classic sequel syndrome. It wants to be bigger and more ambitious, while maintaining the sense of character and fun that made the first film a success. The end result is a film that certainly ramps the scale of the plot up yet relies on a number of set pieces that it’s hard not to compare to disappointingly similar moments in the first one. One is even preceded by a line from Kirk which is oddly self-aware for a film repeating one of its predecessor’s highlights.

That’s not to say that the film is anything less than enjoyable. It widens the Trek universe (Trekiverse???? I don’t know) and introduces one of the most intriguing races. It engages with moral dilemmas like all good sci-fi should.  The cast of the Enterprise are clearly developing a good relationship, selling the interactions of a group stuck in close proximity but dealing with life-threatening scenarios.

Star Trek, in all its iterations, has always relied on the relationship between its crew and what developments there are in characters feel earned after the first films exploits. However what progress there is is limited to a small number of central characters and several important roles get disappointingly little screen time. As someone who was never a huge Trek fan, certainly not of the original series, many of the characters are hamstrung by the limits of fan expectations and the fact that this film is in many ways a prequel to what fans already know and love. The first film may have deliberately given the franchise some wiggle room with talk of alternate timelines, but there are still limits on what can happen and where they can go before hardcore fans are alienated (more of that in the spoiler heavy section a few paragraphs below).

There are stunning visual moments, with the opening sequence showing what is now possible with vibrant colours and spectacular landscapes. The action is well directed if a little underwhelming given the context.
It deals with an iconic villain well and gives Benedict Cumberpatch enough to work with that he feels well cast. Little of the scenery comes away un-chewed, but there is enough justification in the plot to get away with it.

Pine and Quinto are both growing into their roles and, well cast initially they now threaten to eclipse their inspirations (higher praise for Quinto than Pine it must be said). Simon Pegg get’s some added moral depth as Scotty and Zoe Saldana’s Uhura portrays her relationship with Spock well, but it has to be said she is doing her best with a limited romantic sub plot when the actress is capable of so much more. Outside of her the named cast are never elevated beyond their most basic identifiers, a bit of a waste considering the strong cast.

It is a film that comfortably exceeds the minimum expectations from a summer blockbuster. The action is exciting, the back and forth between key characters witty and the stakes high. However it never truly eclipses the first film. Visually there is no particular moment that rivals the Romulan attack on Vulcan in the 2009 effort and the character development isn’t complex enough to pass that off as a move towards a more mature, subtle approach. Perhaps that is simply being damned by past successes, but it still ends up counting against the film.

The film is great fun and if you enjoyed the first film I have no doubt you will enjoy this, as I did, but I’d be hard pressed to argue it offered anything hugely new and in fact wastes a lot of potential in both characters and plot, something I will look at in more detail  below.

Overall I did genuinely enjoy this film, it was above average for summer blockbusters, but only slightly, and as long as you don’t go in with artificially raised expectations I reckon you will enjoy it too.

Beware – Spoilers Below

No Really – It’s all spoilers down here

I am faced with a bit of a dilemma when reviewing this film. My main issue with the film is one which it is perhaps unreasonable to attack Abrams over.

He is limited by the fact he is working with one of the most familiar sets of characters in modern fiction. You can’t kill off anyone important without risking the wrath of huge swathes of the internet and you don’t get the chance to reboot the Star Wars franchise if you’ve made yourself persona non grata online.

However he sets up a storyline in the final act which has a lot of dramatic and emotional potential, with Kirk learning the value of selflessness at the ultimate price and Spock being driven by a very human desire for vengeance. You could create a very interesting alternate Star Trek universe, where Kirk dies to save the Enterprise and creates a much more conflicted Spock.

The whole sequence is well delivered, with Kirk making the decision to sacrifice himself without any hand-wringing or grand speeches. He does what is needed in the moment to save his crew and I would have committed so much more to that moment if I wasn’t absolutely certain that his plot armour would guarantee a work around for a fatal dose of radiation.

Many would argue that it’s simply a reality of the action-fantasy genre that key characters survive impossible circumstances. You can’t kill Captain Kirk. To argue you should is to say Luke should die in “The Empire Strikes Back” and Frodo should fall in “The Fellowship of the Ring”. Without these characters the franchise is gutted.

Perhaps this is true, but I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t find the Star Trek franchise infinitely more exciting if you introduced the idea that characters who survived the entire of the TV show might die at any moment.

I’m reminded of a joke I saw on Reddit, I’m not sure of the original source but I know it’s been shared widely;

Joss Whedon, Steven Moffat and George R. R. Martin walk into a bar and everyone you’ve ever loved dies.

I’ve cursed every one of them for killing a beloved character at some point, but it is that same willingness to dispense of beloved characters that makes their work so interesting. Action sequences have so much more drama if you can’t guarantee any of the key character’s survival.
I acknowledge that what I’m arguing is probably unrealistic and unfair in the reality of studio budgets and expectations, but it doesn’t change my frustration with this film. It’s the frustration that stems from a film that tempts me with real drama, then chickens out at the end. The having your cake and eating it nature of “Into Darkness” annoys me and takes away from what is otherwise a strong effort.


Please let me know whether this two tiered approach to film reviews works? I don’t want to post a separate spoiler review because people stumbling across my blog might find themselves staring straight away at a whole host of spoilers for a film they’re about to see. I think this is best, giving the reader a genuine choice. However if you have any suggestions on how to maintain a blog which offers spoiler –free and spoiler-heavy reviews at the same time I welcome them.

It's Been A While

I haven’t written a blog entry in a long time. I haven’t written anything in a long time.

In fact that’s not quite true. I’ve written plenty since finishing university nearly two years ago. Just very little has survived the dreaded delete button. Certainly I haven’t come close to sharing anything with an audience in months.

Writer’s block. Crisis of confidence. Being far too self-conscious. Call it what you will, all I know is I’ve struggled to write and hated the majority of what I have.

But I’m going to try and change that in the next few weeks. I worry that my difficulties have become somewhat self-fulfilling, that the block is now self-imposed. I hate what I write because I’ve convinced myself I can’t write anymore. It’s possibly often objectively no better or worse than what I used to be able to write (the quality of that is up to your own judgement) but my perspective shades what I do.

Now anyone who knows me at all will probably not be surprised at that possibility. I have never been someone blessed with easy confidence or certainty. The circle of self-doubt is brutal; I doubt the merit of what I do, so I do less and less and that failure to do anything becomes the proof that the original doubt was well placed.

What I know is that I really used to enjoy writing, that it used to be a great outlet for aspects of my hyper-active, self-deprecating and self-conscious internal monologue.

I’m not going to make any proclamations about how much I will write, I’ve gone down that route before and the words end up hollow promises. What I will say is that I intend to try my best to keep writing and to share what I can on here.

This first post will serve as a brief update on what’s going on in my life, to get it out the way before I go on to writing about films, politics and history.

I know I have retreated from posting online. I used to be much more active on this blog, on Facebook and Twitter. In itself a move away from sharing online would not necessarily be a bad thing. However I can’t pretend that that shift isn’t reflected to a degree by my offline life. For better or worse, for a whole host of reasons, I have become much more closed off and private than I used to be. I know that I can benefit from keeping some of that change, but I know I have done so largely in pursuit of some false concept of safety. 

I’ve always been very introspective, if not always classically introvert, but I feel I need to address this particular slide.

Getting back into writing is just part of the efforts I’m putting in at the moment, glacial minor changes that might, I hope, build to a marginally happier me.

Since university I have tried to get my life back under control, It was spiralling out a little by the end of third year. I was seriously unhappy and making a lot of bad decisions. I scraped through final year on the back of my ability to write; my ability to string sentences together saved my degree when through inaction and wilful self-sabotage I very nearly screwed it up. I’d gained a lot of weight, allowed friendships to peter out and was in a generally dark place. I wasn’t convinced I wanted a future and was, I now realise, taking steps to remove a lot of the things that might keep me going.

Now while it’s not easy for me to talk openly about that period, about my depression, I suspect it doesn’t come as a shock to many who’ve known me. I always had tendencies towards depression and probably always will. It’s a part of me that I’ve fought hard to bring under control. The reason I write about it at all is that I’m sure some of my friends are also struggling or have done and there is a tendency to suffer on alone when dealing with depression. It rarely helps anyone and that feeling of isolation often makes it much worse. I write because I have managed to pull myself back from a brink that looking back scares me, and if someone like me can do that it surely must give hope to others.

In the last two years I’ve begun to build a future I can enjoy again. I’ve held down a job for a year and a half, working in admin and retail. The latter was particularly important, a customer facing role was perfect, forcing me to engage with others rather than hide away. I’ve got back in shape, running 10k’s for myself and happily raising money for a number of good charities along the way. I’m now planning to run a 24k race this summer, a challenge that is daunting but exciting and will require me to put in hard work consistently for the next few months.

I have applied for a Masters in American History, a passion that developed during my time at De Montfort University. I can picture myself in a few years lecturing at a university and to simply have that picture is progress for me even If it doesn’t come to fruition. I can imagine myself enjoying work in that profession, though it isn’t one that occurred to me until the last two years. I’ve saved money to pay off the majority of my fees and that will allow me to, if I don’t get on the course, travel a bit this year, see a little of what the world has to offer, before saving up again and working harder to try and get accepted the next year.

So that’s where I am, where I’ve been and where I plan to go.

I promise the rest of the blog won’t be anywhere near this self-centred. I just wanted to get that out, wanted to start with a bit of a clear slate, and maybe update a few people who I’ve lost touch with over the years.

From now on the blog is going to be primarily film reviews; I have an unlimited Cineworld card this year so I’m seeing more films than ever before. I will also probably write about politics and history when a particularly interesting story catches my attention. In the meantime if you want to read about a range of political and historical topics you could do worse than check out one of my course mates from university, Jamie Smith’s blog - - his ability to write consistently impresses me.

So that’s all for now, but I will hopefully return soon. 

P.S Listen to the new Elbow album, it's stunning.