May 21, 2013

‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ [Review]

 

Sometimes, describing a film as a “summer blockbuster” is a back-handed insult designed to say that a film was fun to watch but not really worth anything. Other times, “summer blockbuster” can be translated as “perfectly formulated cinematic thrill ride.” Star Trek: Into Darkness is by no means a perfect film, but it certainly leans more intensely toward this second use of the term.

J.J. Abrams, as is his habit, wastes no time getting his foot onto the gas pedal in this, the second installment in the Star Trek For Everyone franchise. The film opens in medias res, depicting a stalwart but loose-canon Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, who has grown to fill the role quite effectively) leading his crew in a harebrained attempt to save a primitive civilization from a volcanic eruption whilst the calculating Spock (Zachary Quinto, still refining the role but doing well as he tries to fit into Leonard Nimoy‘s ear points) works to single-handedly defeat said volcano with nothing but the power of science. Much ado is made of the sacred Prime Directive and much folly is had with Kirk’s general lack of regard for it.

Fans of the Original

Fans of the original series and films may still have a few bones to pick, of course. Fans almost always do when something they love is tampered with. But Abrams has tried to tip his hat to the deep roots of his source material, throwing out casual references to the dreaded “red shirts” and less subtle homage to certain iconic scenes in the cinematic history of the Enterprise and her crew. Nimoy even pops back up in an effective cameo. As someone whose primary experience with the old material involves whales (Star Trek IV : The Voyage Home is hilarious, no joke), I may not be the best person to comment on these trends, but I feel that they were alluded to appropriately and effectively.

The new films thrive when they can reward longtime fans, even as they invite new audiences in. In this regard, Into Darkness is even more well-crafted than the original. Slick action sequences abound without overrunning the film, with one sequence involving the Enterprise spinning wildly out of control being especially enthralling. Benedict Cumberbatch is deliciously evil as the intergalactic terrorist and surprisingly talented martial artist John Harrison. This new villain is thankfully easier to follow than the last film’s time-jumping Romulan baddie, and at times, a genuinely surprising character that works on all levels. While the script tries its hardest to avoid predictability with regards to Cumberbatch, very few people will truly be shocked when the other shoe drops on John Harrison.

Creative Storytelling

In fact, the only truly negative blockbuster element Into Darkness shares with its fellow summer faire is the stale taste of predictability that is, for the most part, overcome with creative storytelling and well-developed characters. Very few moments in this movie will legitimately catch you off guard, but none of them feel hollow or thrown together. There are the occasional mind-blowing treats to be had if you can keep up with the Warp Speed pace with which the film presses on into uncharted space.

In the wake of a diabolical attack on Star Fleet’s high-ranking officials, Captain Kirk and his intrepid crew set out on an ill-fated voyage that reminds us of the difficult line between justice and vengeance. Along the way, we are treated to our first glimpse of the Klingon Empire, a spectacular statement about war, power  and the dangerous nature of human greed and plenty of charming quips. Action is still the bread and butter of this franchise, with spectacular scenes separated by an average of ten minutes or so, but the space in between is well utilized and doesn’t feel like it is there only to keep us entertained while the next set piece builds up in the background. Abrams and his writers have given us a literal boatload of people to love and they take full advantage of it.

Simon Pegg is, once again, a scene-stealing comedic genius, joined in his brilliant supporting role by Carl Urban and John Cho. Zoe Saldana has depressingly less to do in this sequel than she did in the first film, but at least remains relevant in an otherwise very male-dominated film (Alice Eve joins the crew as the stereotypical helpless female with a powerful connection). Fortunately, the script is very much about the insufficiency of any individual and no character is particularly glorified in a riveting intergalactic espionage thriller that refuses to let up on its stranglehold until the credits roll.

All told, Star Trek: Into Darkness is one of the summer’s best offerings to date, with only a handful of flaws hidden neatly behind an impressive stack of interesting concepts, smooth dialogue and outstanding characters. Beam yourself to theaters for this one, because it’s a strong 8 out of 10. 

Originally Published: May 21, 2013
Category: Film
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