Directed byL JJ Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana
I really enjoyed the first Star Trek film from JJ Abrams. It wasn’t perfect; far from it. The film felt a lot too Star Wars for example and the magical “red stuff” that Abrams often relies on is played out. On the other hand he did manage to craft a Star Trek toy box to play in that still took the original stories and continuity of the franchise into consideration but left him open to re-invent the characters in a new way. So, as much as I anticipated Star Trek Into Darkness I still got the feeling from the marketing that we were in for yet another “Trek” film that felt a little too Star Wars.
In this sequel we find the very youthful crew of the Enterprise on a mission to save a planet about to be decimated by a volcano. This idea of the “prime directive” had much more importance in the Star Trek The Next Generation series than in the original series but keeping all of the differences between the iterations of Trek can be a muddy battle even for a fan of the franchise like myself. With that said the opening action of the film follows the primary crew of the ship down on the surface of the planet attempting to execute a plan to save the inhabitants that inevitably puts Spock’s life in danger. The character motivations and story decisions are just a little murky in this opening sequence and that sets the stage for the entire film. By that I mean Abrams and crew take dramatic liberties and even technological liberties throughout the film in order to serve the next scene rather than serve the overall story. If you craft a universe where a certain type of tech works a certain way and you expect the audience to believe in that set up then you stay with it rather than just toss it out the window in favor of an easy character moment. For example, if you can’t transport someone off the ship when the shields are up and without coordinates then to have that suddenly possible in order to execute a dramatic moment is weak scripting. One final complaint; this film and its marketing has a huge problem with weak telegraphing. Within the first few minutes of the film you’ll know the big character twist that’s coming before it happens because of trailers that revealed to much early on. Also, a dramatic scene that’s expertly executed by Abrams and the actors won’t have any weight because of of weak telegraphing that happens in the previous act. I won’t give details in order to avoid spoilers but you’ll know it when it happens.
Now with the complaints aside let’s get into what’s great about this film, and there’s a lot to talk about. The actors are downright amazing. Few films have been this perfectly cast in the last ten years. When you first see the entire cast on the bridge of the ship you may feel that they are doing caricatures of the original cast and you’d be correct in that feeling. With that said in a matter of minutes you’ll settle into each of them playing these roles and in a few more minutes you’ll love them all over again. Also, this is an ensemble cast and while the focus of the film is on Kirk and Spock each character does get a moment to shine and to matter and that’s no small feat with a cast of this size.
The film flies by at warp speed literally and figuratively. The running time is just over two hours but it never drags. The action scenes come fast and furious and they are peppered with humor and melodrama that’s all highly entertaining. This film must be seen in the IMAX 3-D if at all possible. The full frame IMAX scenes are beautiful and are added to the proceedings in a very dramatic way. The sounds in the film are just as stunning and come through with power in the 10,000 watt IMAX Theater. If there’s one thing Abrams really knows how to do it’s put audiences on the edge of their seats and he does it countless times in this film.
This film treads on very familiar ground for true Trek fans and for them there are little hints and moments that will make them laugh and even smirk with the thought that they got something that the mainstream audience missed. I don’t believe these moments are simple winks at fans though. It’s very possible that Abrams and his team are setting up some future story arcs for the franchise with these subtle little moments and character additions to the franchise.
Also I’d like to welcome the actual Star Trek approach to storytelling to the franchise with this film. Star Trek, unlike Star Wars always dealt with modern pop culture and featured social commentary and morality in its stories. This sort of storytelling grounded a story that was surrounded with the fantastic and made it relatable. The original series often featured commentary on civil rights and racism because those topics were being dealt with in our country at the time. Throughout the run of the franchise scientific study, meant for the betterment of man being coopted by the military has been a constant theme. In this film we return to that military versus science theme and throw in a little terrorism to boot. Finally the filmmakers saw while crafting this film what makes Star Trek a standout franchise in comparison to other sci-fi franchises. Now if only we can get the Enterprise actually involved in exploration and discovery we’ll truly be getting somewhere. The final act of the film sets up the possibility of the five year mission and the possibility of the franchise becoming more Star Trek than Star Wars in future installments.
Star Trek Into Darkness stumbles a little here and there just like the first film did but it also improves on everything that the first film set up for this new version of the Star Trek universe. There are many more issues I had with this film which you can hear discussed in Episode 263: of the CineGeek Webcast if you’re interested including some specific issues I had with Kirk as an unsure Captain. Even with all of the flaws this film is still just tons of fun. The action and special fx are riveting and the actors are all a joy to watch and they all have great chemistry together. Star Trek Into Darkness will be a tough film to one up in the sci-fi action genre this summer.