The Review: In 2009, a bold new vision for one of sci-fi’s most established franchises warped onto our cinema screens, with enough lens flare to blind Galileo and with a cocksure young cast breathing new life into established roles. Four years on, and more time has elapsed since than the original Kirk and Spock even managed of their five year mission, but Starfleet’s most inexperienced crew – in Starfleet’s newest and most expensive iShip – are still kicking their heels, picking up the odd mission to exploding volcanoes where they can, but still waiting for an extended mission to truly test their talents. With their off-screen leader about to defect to the Dark Side, this could conceivably be the last big-screen adventure under the current leadership, so you’d hope that a four year gap would have given writers Bob Orci, Alex Kurtzmann and Damon Lindelof chance to imagine a truly epic adventure, giving the cast chance to take their old roles in new directions and to make the most of the opportunity that the success of their reboot had given them. If that’s what you were hoping, prepare to be sorely disappointed.
Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) Mark 2 might have spent a year serving with each other, but their team work still leaves a little to be desired. After a mission to a primitive planet goes somewhat awry and the Prime Directive is broken, Kirk finds his captaincy removed and Spock reassigned. But when the Federation comes under attack seemingly from one of its own, a trip to the Klingon homeworld reunites the feuding officers and sets Kirk on a collision course with the powerful, er, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). It’s a mission which will test Kirk and Spock’s loyalty, sense of honour and occasionally some of their other crew members as well, but only occasionally. To say any more would
deprive you of the opportunity to feel angry and disappointed when you watch it for yourself spoil the major plot twists the film has tried to keep up its sleeve for the past two years.
Much of the joy that resided after the first film was the sense of potential of a universe where literally anything was now possible, where writers seemed willing to take risks, and where rules seem made to be broken. So to see the second film in the series squander that potential so ruthlessly is desperately disappointing, the plot an amalgam of regurgitated elements from at least three different Star Trek TV or film series and the direction based simply on generating enough momentum to attempt to skirt over the massive plot holes. There was a feeling when Star Trek: Enterprise ended that after nearly 700 episodes, Trek might have finally run out of ideas; that’s not only a fault of poor writers, it’s blatantly untrue as the last season of Enterprise was packed full of interesting stories using the wealth of established worlds the series had created (but by then everyone had stopped watching anyway). To see the Klingons reduced to faceless cyphers in service of a hopelessly rehashed plot does show that this creative team cares little about motivations and even less about the intelligence of its viewers. It also suggests that the trilogy of writers have run out of ideas after precisely one film, never mind 700 episodes, and in attempting to pointlessly honour what’s come before – when the whole point was that this crew no longer needed to – the narrative simply disappears up its own impulse engine in the most convoluted and uninteresting way possible.
Most of the science of the film is written by idiots who would likely electrocute themselves if required to rewire a plug. To a certain extent, the previous film suffered from the same problem, but the characters and plotting were compelling enough that one could feel inclined not to pay that a huge amount of attention. With the plot running in dull circles, the characters are now poorly served: Cumberbatch’s Harrison is all growl and no menace but still acts everyone else (including poor Chris Pine) off the screen, Peter Weller’s stern admiral fares little better and Alice Eve is now infamously misogynised by the shot in her underwear, adding little else of interest. None of the Enterprise crew develops in any way or makes any more of an impression than last time around, most of the action set pieces are throwbacks to earlier movies (from Generations to Star Trek itself) and the plot grinds any attempts at believability into a literal magic sprinkling dust with which the film is liberally covered. About the only element I can offer unreserved praise for is Michael Giacchino’s score; a couple of the action set pieces are exciting, if lifted from earlier films, but any sense of jeopardy goes out the window very early on. There’s a great cast at the service of any other director who’s like to take up the reins (hint, hint) but for now I’m fearful that if left unchecked, J.J. Abrams might be about to ruin another major franchise – and when most people thought George Lucas had fair ruined that one already, I fear for the state of cinematic sci-fi in years to come if this is the best we’re capable of.
Why see it at the cinema: Sure, the little bits of whatever that blue stuff is in the warp trail sure do look pretty, and on the cinema screen you should be able to tell the current London landmarks from the fake new ones, but given that this was partly filmed with IMAX cameras everything after the prologue feels remarkably small scale.
Why see it in 3D: For the love of Kahless, just don’t. Into Darkness isn’t just a subtitle, it’s incredibly descriptive, and when the shots are edited for 2D and filmed in darkness, wearing the indoor sunglasses is an incredibly frustrating experience, to the point where I took mine off if all of the characters were in the foreground. See it in 2D only.
What about the rating: Rated 12A for moderate violence and threat. A mite swearier than most previous Treks (possibly excepting the first two Next Gen efforts), this is fairly standard action fare and anyone who can normally cope with a 12A should have relatively few problems here.
My cinema experience: A pretty packed Saturday morning showing at the Cineworld in Bury St. Edmunds. I managed to arrive around 25 minutes after the advertised start time, by which time the prologue was well under way; thankfully, having seen it before The Hobbit last year, I missed nothing. A massive queue at the ticket machine caused me to collect my ticket at the concessions counter (note to all Cineworld staff everywhere: my Unlimited card might be nearly as old as you are, but it still swipes fine in every one of your multiplexes). A packed audience (packed for a Saturday morning, anyway) sat largely silently through the movie which had little in the way of projection or sound issues, other than the 3D issues which were no fault of the cinema.
The Score: 4/10
The Review: When you become immersed in something, it’s easy to lose perspective sometimes, especially when it comes to money. I can remember, a few years into my real world career, being in discussion about a forecast for the coming year. I don’t recall the exact numbers, but it was along the lines of whether, say, 424 or 426 was the right number to use. Only when I left the meeting did it truly sink in that the unit we were discussing was pounds. In millions. (Thankfully I wasn’t the one making decisions about what to do with that money.) It’s all too easy to become blasé or to ignore the risks of managing such huge sums, so should we have any sympathy for those who lost their jobs on the banking crisis, given that they may have caused it in the first place.
Margin Call attempts to get under the skin of the bankers who caused these issues, or who might have brought about the wider downturn in our global economy. There’s a whole host of players and levels involved: we start with Stanley Tucci, who’s sensed something going wrong, but can’t put his finger on it and is caught up in the cull on his floor. His parting gesture is to get underlings Zachary Quinto and Aasif Mandvi involved, who then have to start escalating up the chain of command, and by the middle of the night everyone from Kevin Spacey to Jeremy Irons is involved. It’s clear that the likes of Demi Moore have known something’s been up for a while, but as the scale of the problem hits home, loyalties shift and everyone tries to have a chair to sit on when the music stops.
If that last paragraph felt somewhat lacking in specific detail of the issues the bankers are facing, then that’s actually a fair description for watching the film itself. Last year’s documentary Inside Job proves that it’s possible to get to the heart of the complex issues and processes that have caused the financial meltdown, but Margin Call takes completely the opposite tack, consisting of lots of men in suits pointing at screens with furrowed brows, but the actual drama of what’s happening is kept at arm’s length. It’s easy for us to see with hindsight the consequences of the drama, but Margin Call relies too much on that hindsight and fails to inject any sense of drama or understanding into the events at the core of the situation, when it could have taken that opportunity without compromising the rest of the narrative.
So Margin Call relies on the strength of its smaller moments, mainly two or three-hander scenes where the various characters gaze at their navels and contemplate how matters will unfold, and those tend to depend entirely on the quality of the actors in that particular scene. The outstanding performer, as so often, is Kevin Spacey, alternating between rallying speeches and a worn down frustration seemingly at will. Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci and Paul Bettany also put in great work, Quinto (who’s also a producer) does what he can with the slightly thankless role he’s given himself, but everyone else involved varies from the eminently forgettable (Simon Baker) to the downright uninteresting (Demi Moore). Margin Call never really even manages to become the sum of these parts; taken as a series of vignettes on the lives of bankers, they’re interesting enough, but the film never really rings true to its potential source. The Margin Call on this one: it’s just about watchable, but unlikely to last longer than a night in your memory.
Why see it at the cinema: Seeing this in a cinema will improve the theatricality of the two handers, and there’s a scene on top of a skyscraper that’s vaguely cinematic.
The Score: 6/10