Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) Starring: John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Peter Weller, Anton Yelchin,  Leonard Nimoy. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Screenplay: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof Based on Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci Time: 133 minutes. U.S. Color. Science Fiction, Action

While oftentimes a sequel is bigger but not better than the original, I think in the case of Star Trek Into Darkness that it is not only bigger, but a better movie than it’s prequel, Star Trek (2009). It is more emotional as the film examines loyalties between friends and family and once again saves the Earth and the Federation of Planets from destruction. We’re shown the personal and the heroic several times through the film and in the end it’s really a very emotional and draining experience.

Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk (Chris Pine) in Star Trek Into Darkness.
While you needn’t see the re-boot, though it never hurts, like its predecessor, Into Darkness wades deep into the pool of Star Trek mythos and storylines, culling a story that is familiar to even a casual fan of the franchise. Still it manages to put a surprising twist on a storyline that itself is as fresh as last week’s bread. The film is ripe with references to the original series and films. We revisit an old villain (Kahn), an old friend (Spock Prime), old weaponry (Photon torpedoes), and an old novelty (Tribbles). But the old still gives way to the new. We’re introduced to Starfleet Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller), the egocentric head of Starfleet and his daughter, Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), the latter I would suspect (unless contract negotiations fail) should return in any third film, whenever that may be.

Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) joins the crew of the Enterprise.
The writing is better this time out, though they do lean heavily on what has come before their involvement with the franchise. A subtle nod to an episode of Lost, dealing with what a father will do to save a child, seems almost intentional, though I have nothing to back that up. There are still some pseudo-science problems, though fewer, that I don’t want to get into, since it might spoil too much of the movie to describe.

Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy.
The cast seems to be more comfortable with their roles, or maybe I’m more comfortable watching them play these iconic characters. I think we see more depth to the Kirk and Spock characters. Karl Urban still hits McCoy out of the ball park. There wasn’t a whole lot for Alice Eve to do with the Dr. Marcus character, though, as I wrote earlier, they set her up to return and hopefully there will more meat in her part then. The last time I’d seen Peter Weller on camera was on the History Channel, of all places, talking as an expert on ancient ruins and civilizations, so it was nice to see him actually acting again. I had never heard of Benedict Cumberbatch, who’s alias is Commander John Harrison (to say more is to give away more). He plays a sort of super-Spock type-character, who like Vulcans think of mere humans as an inferior species. Though his character is crucial to the movie, it is a bit one-dimensional, so I don’t think it shows off Cumberbatch’s range; at least I hope it doesn’t.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Commander John Harrison (aka Kahn).
Stylistically, Into Darkness, like Star Trek (2009), retains but updates those elements that were so iconic from the original show. That is certainly part of the appeal so far with the reboot. The films have tried to stay true to those things the fan base holds dear, from the red, blue and gold uniforms to the music. It isn’t Star Trek without the Alexander Courage and Gene Roddenbery theme and some variation on the opening “Space, the final frontier…” speech. So far these films have seemed like big screen television episodes and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Stylistically, Into Darkness evokes and updates the original series.
But you definitely know you’re watching a J.J. Abrams film. If you were worried that Into Darkness wouldn’t have lens flares, then worry not. That lovely Abrams trademark is unfortunately alive and well and in practically every sequence throughout the movie. I’m sure some of you are thinking, all “great” (the quotes are mine) directors have trademarks. One of my favorites, Alfred Hitchcock, certainly had one too, appearing as a cameo in most of his movies. But he only appeared once per film, not in every single shot. While the lens flare is really unnecessary, there are really times when it is downright distracting, like during a heartfelt speech between Dr. Marcus and her father. Is Abrams, like a pulp writer paid per word, paid per lens flare? There are times when the flare can have a dramatic effect, but not when it is overused as it is in Into Darkness.

Sometimes lens flares are dramatic, but mostly they distract.
Overall, I really liked Star Trek Into Darkness more than Star Trek (2009). The promise, though not explicitly stated, is that there is more to come. I certainly hope so. But I would really like that now the familiar has been established that the franchise boldly moves into stories that I haven’t already seen while retaining the heart that made the original series worth watching. The longer between sequels, the harder it is to keep the momentum going and the cast intact. Personally, I would like to see them hurry up this very casual pacing of putting these movies out. Every four years is too long in between installments.

Still not buying this, by the way.
Maybe it’s time to turn the franchise over to someone new. Now that Abrams is taking over Star Wars, I really worry how long it will be before Star Trek 3: The Search for Lens Flares hits the big screen. I’m sure like Spielberg and Lucas before him, Abrams has his own Zemeckis waiting in the wings at Bad Robot to build on the foundation that Gene Roddenberry and he have already laid down.

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