Monday, August 12, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness - 2013

"Star Trek Into Darkness" - 2013
Dir. by JJ Abrams - 2 hrs. 12 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

By Sunday afternoon standards (which is when I saw this), "Star Trek Into Darkness" is perfect entertainment.  I grew up on weekday afternoon repeats of the original TV series, and then weekend episodes of "Star Trek: the Next Generation," and the newest movie fits right into that sort of slot.  It's funny, the characters play well off of each other, and the visuals are pretty stunning.  But if I'm being 100% honest about things, I'm not exactly sure how the content of this movie justifies it being a film that took four years to deliver to theatres, rather than the end-piece of a season of a kick-ass TV series.

ST2 opens up with Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) having stolen a sacred scroll on an alien planet, luring the aliens away from their village that will be destroyed by an impending volcano explosion, which will basically exterminate that particular species of life.  Kirk, Bones, and Spock (Zachary Quinto) sort of succeed at this task, but not seamlessly, and it didn't really fall under their orders anyways, which leads to some demotions from Starfleet.  Meanwhile, another Starfleet officer, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), organizes what you'd have to call a terrorist attack against Starfleet headquarters itself, which leaves him on the run, many dead, and the Enterprise on his trail to a very dangerous locale.

One of the things that ST2 does really well is the brief, sharp exchanges between characters.  There aren't really soliloquies here, so much as commas punctuating the action sequences.  Kirk is a man of action, and although he's not an unthinking character, that's about all the self-examination you can realistically expect from him.  And since he's in charge, the other characters largely follow suit, albeit in ways that work with their own personalities.  There are also a number of stunning visuals, the best of which is probably in the opening scene, which has a planet with a red and white forest.  It's hard to explain how exotic it looks, but one of the film posters uses a picture from that scene:

Beyond that, there's plenty of space porn: nebulas, moonscapes, alien planets, ruins, enormous space stations.  And in at least a couple of scenes, director JJ Abrams really gets across a solid sense of the scale of these ships, something that's easily lost in space scenes with no normal points of reference.  In terms of the story, I felt like it worked (although one of the third act twists was so apparent from a very early point that there appeared to be a giant shoe hovering over the screen for the duration of the run-time, waiting patiently to drop).  Long-time Trekkies won't be entirely surprised by some of the things that happen, but I didn't find it to be a detriment to my enjoyment of the film.

But to get back to my early point, I'm just not sure that what was here was worth a trip to the theatre and waiting four years for a second installment.  That's not to say that I didn't enjoy ST2 quite a bit, and it's also not to say that you wouldn't, either.  I liked this one a lot better than the first one.  I will grant that some of the scenes of calamity aren't anything that you couldn't accomplish on a tight schedule, and that this movie had a couple of fairly intense moments.  But I'd argue that it wasn't any better than ST:TNG's Borg storyline, merely a bit prettier.  Part of the burden of doing franchise movies is that you have to realize that the characters' histories are loping behind you, and having watched years of Star Trek TV series, I feel like that's a more ideal environment for stories involving these characters.  You can't do big, action-filled stuff every week (and that's not really what the shows were all about), but more than half of the appeal of the earlier TV series is that you can see characters you like engaged in everything from drudgery to excitement.

I'd love to see these characters bored out of their minds and getting on each other's nerves (space is big and empty, it can't possibly be all explosions), but as long as there's one movie every so often, that'll never happen.  There's an obligation to deliver something specific if you're going to build up a story as an event, lest you derail the franchise and kill off any future sequels.  That totally didn't happen here: "Star Trek Into Darkness" is a lot of fun, and it's good popcorn entertainment.  But I was a little bummed out that there's not going to be another, tonally different story with these same characters next week.

3 / 5 - Theatre

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