Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

The 2009 reboot of this franchise took us by surprise with its quality; four years later, perhaps due to higher expectations, we found this second installment from director J.J. Abrams to be loud summer entertainment that simply never managed to make us say "wow". As with its predecessor, one need not be a super-fan to enjoy Into Darkness. That accessibility alone is a big reason the 2009 film was so successful, and the writers were smart to keep things relatively simple for us casual viewers this time around too. That said, part 2 seems to feature more space battles and sci-fi technicality than did part 1, necessarily making it more of a genre entry. Also, it is unfortunate that, with the exception of a beautiful prologue, the plot centers on revenge and fighting more than on exploration and characterization, meaning that it slowly but surely begins to resemble so many other big-budget popcorn blockbusters. Rather than to "boldly go" in a more inspired direction, the picture gives us exactly what we might expect from any number of CGI-laden 3D action movies. They're fun to watch--especially on such a big screen and with such booming sound--but you can't feel completely satisfied in the end because, in a way, you've seen it all before.

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana reprise the roles of Kirk, Spock, and Uhura, respectively, and the young cast does a fine job injecting some much needed emotion and intrigue into the story, what with all of the explosions and such going on all over the place (Quinto is most remarkable). It's some 250 years in the future, and we get to see San Francisco and London looking very futuristic. Captain Kirk must risk everything to save his starship and his crew, who are in danger thanks to a potential Klingon war and to corrupt men in the Federation. The English actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who seems to suddenly be in every other Hollywood product starting with 2011's War Horse, is believable and fierce as this film's primary villain. Simon Pegg (as Scotty) and Karl Urban (as Bones) are funny but also a bit more annoying this time around. Alice Eve, who we haven't seen much of before, plays Carol, the disgruntled daughter of a Starfleet big-wig. She seems present only for the sake of a romance with Kirk that never actually happens; either we're crazy for expecting it or those scenes ended up on the cutting room floor (the film is 2 hours and 12 minutes long).

Mr. Abrams has signed on to direct Disney's 2015 Star Wars Episode VII, and has plenty of other projects ongoing as well. We're thankful that a third Star Trek film has been announced by Paramount (tentatively slated for 2016) because, like Star Wars, it's a worthy franchise with virtually endless possibilities for characters and stories. But we hope any future installments will manage to wow us with story and a sense of wonder rather than explosions and fistfights that take place on top of moving vehicles. One of the best things about Into Darkness is the relationship between Kirk and Spock and the emphasis thereby on friendship and sacrifice. It's just too bad that sort of thing almost gets lost in the shuffle.

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