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Star Trek (2009) / Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Ahead of watching the new Star Trek film, Charlotte and I decided to go back and revisit JJ Abrams’ Star Wars audition and its sequel. The first I knew quite well, but I had only seen the second the once at the cinema, and it became one of many DVDs I have sat on my shelf still in its cellophane.  I’ve never been a Star Trek fan by any stretch. I’ve probably seen a little of the original series, and then the odd episode of Star Trek Next Generation TV series as a kid while waiting for The Simpsons, Robot Wars or Malcolm in the Middle to come on. I was always a big Star Wars fan and seemed to think you could only be in one camp or the other for some reason. As far as I’m aware Trekkie reception to the 2009 and 2013 reboots were largely positive bar the pretty one dimensional villain in the first, and the whitewashed return of a popular villain from the Star Trek canon in the sequel. This film seemed to cater for all though. If you wanted comedy, you got it in abundance with Chris Pine’s Cpt. Kirk and Simon Pegg’s Scotty. Action and massive special effects were absolutely smashed out of park.  On top of that, if you were after snappy dialogue and good character development it had it in abundance, not least in Zachary Quinto’s Spock and his fractious relationship with Kirk. Star Trek does still have that label attached to it, and although it didn’t take a lot of persuading, Charlotte and I eventually sat down to watch the first.
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The opening to Star Trek is brilliant. We’re given Kirk’s tragic backstory (there are some rumours that Chris Hemsworth will reprise his role as Kirk Snr. in a future film) alongside Spock’s troubled upbringing and conflicting personality traits. This stark contrast of personalities is the punchline of the film’s jokes, but also binds its story together. We’re watching two outcasts craving a purpose, and they find that in signing up to Starfleet. It balances their stories so well (the destruction of planet Vulcan really heart-breaking) and cleverly combines nostalgia with a focus on the future (the new timeline was a really good move in my book). Exposition scenes can be dangerous territory, but Abrams combines this with a hilarious scene where a vaccine has given Kirk giant hands and a numb tongue. It’s so laugh out loud funny you don’t realise they’re getting some important plot points out of the way at the same time. Although the villain is a little bit bland, the film’s pace never lets up throughout, with well-balanced introductions of each of the new faces. This an entertaining journey with some spectacular set pieces, but when you boil it down you’re left with a story about characters we actually really care about, and their relationships with one another. It’s filled with brilliant back and forths (“Are you out of your Vulcan mind?”), but not so much that it detracts from the drama of the story. Combine that with one top class action scene after another, and it’s no wonder JJ Abrams had converts like me in the palm of his hand.
I remember being really excited about Star Trek Into Darkness ahead of its release having enjoyed the first so much. When we came to watch it back I realised that I hadn’t seen it since that cinema trip so it was good going in to it almost blind. Benedict Cumberbatch knocks his villain role out of the park. Physically, this isn’t the gangly Sherlock you have come to know and love, and his voice alone is imperious (looking back we shouldn’t have been surprised when he got the Smaug gig really). Cumberbatch’s Khan, and Kirk’s journey from irresponsible talent to fully fledged captain of the Enterprise are the film’s big stand outs. Unfortunately it means the other characters have to take a bit of a back step to make room for that. They still get the odd joke in, and at least Simon Pegg’s clearly having fun, but the rest of the crew don’t have too much character development going on. Spock and Uhura’s relationship problems seemed a bit tacked on, Alice Eve was only there to strip down to her underwear, and it seemed they had forgotten about Chekov until near the end. Michael Giacchino’s dramatic score makes a welcome return though, and when the big action scenes get going, they’re every bit as good as its predecessor’s. I know Abrams has got a bit of stick for his overuse of lens flares on the screen (he’s admitted himself that he went a bit overboard with this), but bar a few occasions this never bothered me too much to be honest. I enjoyed a lot of this film, but unlike the first I’m not desperate to put it on again (may explain why I never saw again after the cinema). Although its run time is only 6 minutes longer, with a second act bogged down in exposition, it feels much much longer than that.  As the title suggests it’s also a little gloomier than the first. That’s not necessarily always a bad thing (looking at you, Empire Strikes Back), but it was that fine balance of fun, drama and action that that was a bit off kilter here. 
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Abrams went on to be crowned King of the Geeks and sit on his ‘Force Awakens’ throne, but not before reinvigorating this tired franchise. He made it so fun and accessible that it didn’t get people through the turnstiles on its name alone. I was relieved when he got the Star Wars gig as we had seen him pull that trick once before, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Justin Lin has in store for us with Star Trek Beyond.

Star Trek

Star Trek Into Darkness


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