By Malice Intended
Starfleet’s day of reckoning is at hand. A terrorist attack has them on high alert. The threat of war has allowed Captain James Tiberius Kirk a stay of execution. His repeated lack of humility has made him subject to federation discipline. However, due to the crisis at hand, the rod is spared. Instead, Kirk and crew are sent into the heart of darkness to engage the enemy. Their descent into the underworld will be bring them face to face with most formidable enemy. In this case, failure is most definitely not an option.
With Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams continues his extensive overhaul of fandom’s most s seminal sci-fi property. Last time out, he swung a wrecking ball through a hallowed structure. This time, he looks to the franchise’s past for inspiration. He locks on its most celebrated entry, and applies his own personal touch. The result is an entertaining, though thoroughly uneven, summer blockbuster.
J.J. Abrams can be considered a tamer and more coherent version of Michael Bay. He specializes in the conveyance of visual noise. His aesthetic is all about sensation, as it keeps the viewer focused squarely on what’s happening in the moment. The larger context and implications don’t matter. Abrams has also developed a collection of visual ticks, the most obvious of these being his repeated use of lens flares. He also relies heavily on medium shots and close ups, as if he has an aversion to negative space. The visual slight-of-hand works, but it’s a parlor trick that becomes all too obvious in hindsight.
Abrams is a known disciple of Spielberg, and that devotion shines through in the action sequences. In keeping with the spirit of the Indiana Jones films, he’s turned Star Trek into a 1940’s adventure serial. Into Darkness restlessly bides time between set pieces, bounding from one cliffhanger to the next. The energy is infectious, but again, there’s deception afoot. Everything feels borrowed from an earlier source, and most of it doesn’t stand out. Truly great amusement parks have a number of memorable attractions. Into Darkness doesn’t quite manage that, but tries to compensate with a hopped up energy level. Again, Abrams succeeds in spite of himself.
It’s in the story department where the cracks finally begin to show. The film’s internal logic operates at the convenience of the plot. At times, the characters exhibit a sixth sense in regards to the actions of their adversaries. At other times, they ignore their gut instincts. Glaringly obvious red flags likewise go ignored. It’s like watching a game of speed chess played by a pair of idiot savants. This is made all the more maddening by an overly convoluted plot. That film still manages to be entertaining despite these self-imposed obstacles is nothing short of miraculous.
Ensemble pieces live and die by the casting. Fortunately, Into Darkness contains a thoroughly likeable crew that audiences will follow into the depths of Hell itself. Zachary Quinto absolutely shines as Spock. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a villain whose true identity has been poorly concealed thus by the film’s ad campaign. Despite that telegraphed punch, it offers a different take on an iconic character. That take is actually rooted in another sci-fi universe: Alien. The parallels are inescapable. Like the title creature of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horro classic, Cumberbatch plays a “perfect organism.” Fans may balk, but the changes mostly work.
Star Trek Into Darkness is an enjoyable though unstable thrill ride. Though replete with bumps and rattles, it still gets the blood pumping. At this juncture, Abrams needs to refine his blueprint. For now, his iteration of Star Trek will suffice, but he needs to take a closer look at original show. Gene Roddenberry crafted a rich mythology that offered genuine insight into the human condition. Abrams doesn’t care much for such high minded concepts, and that is to his detriment. They could’ve added real weight to his admittedly fun vision.
3.75 Out of 5
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