Review: Star Trek into darkness

FILM
Cert 12a | By Alex Dymoke
Two stars

ONCE upon a time, the future was a place where everything was more complicated. It was a place where tangles of wires and screens would bleep, hum and project holograms into the air. Then Apple came along. Jobs and co superglued intuitiveness to the concept of progress, and suddenly the computers of the future became less... computer-y. There are no wires in the future envisioned by Apple. It’s a place of smooth screens and rounded edges, of machines that quietly sidle alongside us and slot seamlessly into the corners of our lives.

Star Trek Into Darkness is set in a future in which Apple never happened. Everything is loud, metallic and ostentatiously futuristic. Nothing is comprehensible. But do not fear! IT guy Scotty is on hand to explain all. He explains the malfunctioning warp core of the Enterprise. He explains the regeneration of the ship’s concrete-reinforced outer layer. He explains the impossibly convoluted back story to the ship’s stock of torpedoes. Thank God for Scotty! Well no, actually, because the sequel to JJ Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek reboot ends up feeling like a long, baffling science lesson. When Scotty shuts up, on-board doctor Bones takes over with medical future-babble: “We’ve synthesized the serum from the superblood!”

If only an expert was on hand to explain the plot, which centres on John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose impromptu arrival looks certain to spark all kinds of trouble for the Star Trek Enterprise.

The lasting appeal of Star Trek is explained by the mission statement: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before”. In Star Trek Into Darkness the crucial sense of adventure is lost amid the racket. Abrams boasted before the release that the latest installment “is a far bigger film than the last one in every way”, but “bigger” – unless it means “further” – is no good to Star Trek. I wanted to see stumbled-upon planets and weird alien societies. Instead there’s just scene after scene of confusing action, the majority of which takes place in close proximity to earth.

The cast perform well. Zachary Quinto strikes the perfect balance between Vulcan roboticness and human vulnerability as Spock. Kirk, Spock’s sparring partner and captain of the Starship Enterprise, is invested with the requisite virility by Chris Pine. Most of the attention, though, is on Cumberbatch. His entry into the franchise has been hotly anticipated and he doesn’t disappoint, booming his lines with evil relish. At one point he taunts Spock: “If you cannot break rules how can you break bones?” But not even Sherlock can solve the problems with this film.

Star Trek Into Darkness? There is scant darkness here. In fact, it feels like standing at the epicentre of an explosion – all brightness and noise with no point of orientation.

FILM
A HIJACKING
Cert 15 | By Alex Dymoke
Four stars

Scandinavians have become known for their talky, suspenseful dramas. A Hijacking, then, plays to their strengths.

This serious, brilliantly acted film about a Danish boat that is hijacked by Somali pirates moves at the slow, steady pace of an ocean trawler. When a vessel is captured, the shipping company chief executive decides to deal with the situation internally. No outside negotiators, no government intervention, no word to the media.

Hostage crises are great vehicles for suspense, but director Tobias Lindholm (writer of Danish political drama Borgen) cleverly eschews the ratcheting up of tension. Instead, despair is the dramatic device of choice as the negotiators’ intransigence leads to hopelessness for the hostages on board the ship. Days slyly turn to months, and the dirty, claustrophobic living quarters where they are being held captive become an unbearable prison.

A commendably ambiguous, slow-burning treat.

FILM
MUD
Cert 12a | By Alex Dymoke
Four stars

THERE is an Old Testament harshness to the stretch of Mississippi river inhabited by the characters of this gorgeous coming of age tale. Snakes shift silently in the grass, sin is punishable by death and people toil away at old-time agricultural work. But goodness lies in the grass too, and when it is found it glows as bright as the deep southern sunshine. It’s a heavy, rich goodness, the kind that reverberated from the lips of Atticus Finch and the kind that watched providentially over Huckleberry Finn as he made his treacherous journey down river.

Like the classic stories of Harper Lee and Mark Twain, Mud is told from the perspective of someone lying restlessly at the borders of childhood. First steps into the adult world are rarely tentative, and 14-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) drives into it at full pelt, bringing with him a truck-full of idealism that is shaken, burned down and eventually rekindled.

While exploring a near-by island with his friend Neck (a brilliant Jacob Lofland), they are confronted by Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a sun-cragged fugitive who scares them with devil-speak and asks them to bring him food. McConaughy is in his element as the grimy fugitive chewing on a cigarette, staring over his fishing rod into the sunset.

The neat ending gives the impression it was created for children. Perhaps it is too neat, but I found it satisfying. Religion and superstition drift through Mud’s prairies like heat: if ever a story demanded redemption – and a dose of southern justice – it is this one.

FILM
The RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST
Cert 15 | By Alex Dymoke
Two stars

IF MOHSIN Hamad’s book takes issue with the reductionism to which we subject foreign cultures, Mira Nair’s adaptation serves as a inadvertent warning against another sort of reductionism: the shrinking of 200 page novels into two hour films. The book showed the complexity of things we tend to be prejudiced about; the film repackages Hamad’s book as a simplistic morality tale. Riz Ahmed is excellent as the conflicted protagonist and he gets good support from Kate Hudson, but the script heaves under the weight of its own rectitude.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a story of transformation. Pakistani Wall Street whiz-kid Changez (Ahmed) falls in love with America before coming to hate it while living in a twitchy post-9/11 New York. The change is a complex one, and is as much about the trauma of emigration as it is about the experience of racism, but here it is shown to be a direct result of various incidents of racial profiling. A man spits at him and calls him “Osama”. Police arrest him and question him for being a terrorist. At the airport he is subjected to a humiliating cavity search. It doesn’t ring true that such a wide-scale change in perspective can be brought about by a few significant events. The film fails to adequately convey his sense of dislocation as a Pakistani immigrant, and the internal wrangling that causes him to reestablish contact with his heritage.

It also sledgehammers home the dubious message that capitalism and religious fundamentalism require an analogous ruthlessness. In the book this is subtly hinted at. In the film it is sign posted like a nursery school teacher explaining an Aesop fable.