By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Alice Eve, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Peter Weller
Space. The Final Frontier. And a setting that director JJ Abrams is going to be spending at least one more film in. It has seemed that every single movie Abrams has made have cultivated into one big test. A test as to whether or not he can handle the next chapter in that other Star franchise. If Star Trek Into Darkness was the film world’s version of a college final, I can safely say that he has, for the most part, passed it with flying colors. A high-octane blast fest filled with some nice surprises and lurid storytelling, Star Trek Into Darkness is a very good way to spend two hours plus in a multiplex. Yet, a corner that Abrams and his writers (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzmann and Damon Lindelof) have found themselves backed into keep the film from being as good as it could have been.Star Trek Into Darkness is filled with great things to marvel at. The cast from the first film are all back, and in most cases bring even more to the table than before. With all the origins/reintroductions to the characters taken care of last time, now all of the actors seem comfortable enough to let loose. Quinto is once again proven to be the quintessential Spock, as his sullen, highly logical approach to the role makes him look as if he is Nimoy reincarnated. When we meet him in Star Trek Into Darkness, he is in a dark place, prepared and ready to die. Yet once he and Kirk reunite, the bromance at the forefront of all Star Trek films make Quinto’s Spock start to come out from behind his Vulcan ears. Saldana is not given too much more to do this time as Uhura, but her chemistry with Spock is nicely portrayed, and she has such a beautifully expressive face that you can tell what she is thinking just by looking in her eyes. Urban returns as Bones, the most pessimistic character of the batch, spitting out one metaphor after another (“You don’t rob a bank when the getaway car has a flat tire!“) He’s once again good in the role. Yet his character seems to have devolved more than the rest. The two cast members who emerge the most between films were also the most engaging. Pegg and Abrams seem to have had a few sit down sessions in which they discussed how they could mold Scotty from a semi enjoyable background character into one whose comic timing I could not get enough of. Pegg’s crackling one liners are always said at just the right time, and I had a permanent smile on my face every single time he appeared. The character I enjoyed the most this time around was Pine’s Captain Kirk. Pine is much better here than he was in the last film, and comes off as more sure of himself, making his character the most advanced of them all. He most proves himself when it comes to the questioning of the rule of law, and whether to abide by it. And of course, the character still has that certain way with the ladies that Kirk has always had. However, no matter how small screen time they have, Abrams bides his time to give them all, even Cho and Yelchin, time to shine.Two newbies to the franchise also come off pretty well. Eve is not only very pretty, but she also brings a magnetism that makes me easy to believe that Kirk would make her his love interest. However, the big talk of Star Trek Into Darkness is going to be its villain. As ex Star Fleet member John Harrison, Cumberbatch is excellent. Speaking few words but doing a lot of gazing, Harrison has a more quiet method of terror than Eric Bana’s Nero. These quiet nuances, as opposed to Nero’s sneering and yelling, make him a much more complicated villain than last time. About the only thing they have in common is the vengeance that is on both their minds. But again, Harrison’s drive is more….complicated.
Yes Abrams fans, there are a lot of lens flares in Star Trek Into Darkness. But it is his flare for telling intelligent stories in spectacular fashion that makes him stand out to me. And even though his films always have a pallet that screams style, he has never been a case of style over substance (although his choice to get Eve in her underwear rather quickly didn’t have me complaining about his style.) And I want to say, there are some astonishingly well-staged action scenes, unquestionably thrilling moments, and hide & seek shootouts in Star Trek Into Darkness. Where Abrams gets himself in trouble is when he feels the need to completely fill his film with winks and nods to the Trekkers out there. Yes they were used to almost perfection last time, and what made that film succeed is they were not used to the detriment of that overall story. Here, I think all these winks and nods serve as a complete disservice to the film. For example, there is a heart wrenching opening scene in the first film where Kirk’s father dies. It is a scene that gets the film rolling and make you feel for the character from the get-go. In other words, it puts winks aside in order to tell a bigger story. Without giving anything away about Star Trek Into Darkness, I will just say this: how can I become completely emotionally invested into a film’s heart string tugging scene when it is punctuated by shout outs to franchise fans? It’s a very thin line that Abrams walked beautifully in the last film and kind of falls off of with this one. I also didn’t like the lazy way in which the threat of a Klingon War was handled.
All in all, I would say Star Trek Into Darkness falls just short of completely living up to its first film’s potential. Abrams has taken a franchise that tended to alienate anyone other than die hards and given it the positive thrust it needed. I think of these two film as energy drink versions of the original incarnations of Star Trek. They are both highly energized, with less exposition thrown in to tell its story. Its script, while unquestionably flawed, takes a nice, space sized approach to questions on whether it is a good idea to put a crew you’re in charge of through the dangers of militarism in order to catch a terrorist, while at the same time unraveling its surprises like a brand new rug. How Abrams was able to keep the surprises here a secret I will never know, but I will say that there is a growing feeling of gratification as each one is revealed. If only he had pulled back when we are supposed to feel emotion as opposed to try and please everyone.