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Go Boldly: “Star Trek: Into Darkness”

May 19, 2013

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Finally, the new Star Trek movie. And it only took four freaking years! Hey thanks, J.J. Abrams, for taking time out of your busy schedule to make good on the promise of the franchise reboot. I mean, I know you had to make that E.T.-Meets-My-Midlife-Crisis movie about the kids who dick around for two hours and then meet a monster. And, yeah, that was totally worth putting off the new Star Trek film for a couple more years. But, hey, the new movie is here and it was almost worth the wait.

I’m gonna talk about Star Trek: Into Darkness in the broadest terms possible, since the movie contains some killer plot twists, which I’d rather not spoil (even if some other sites haven’t exactly been diligent about that *coughIMDBcough*). I was lucky enough to go into this movie unspoiled, and I’d like to preserve that for anyone else who might also be in that boat.

I am contractually-obligated by Paramount to show this image.

I am contractually-obligated by Paramount to show this image.

Star Trek: Into Darkness stars in media res, with Kirk and Scotty (Chris Pine and Karl Urban) being chased by some funky-looking primitives through a lush, scarlet forest, while Spock (Zachary Quinto) plunges into a volcano in an attempt to neutralize it before it can erupt and kill all the villagers. This is Abrams way of reminding us that his view of Star Trek is much more adrenalized than traditional Trek. No singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” around a campfire here.

Well, Kirk’s flagrant flouting of the Prime Directive has not gone unnoticed by Starfleet Command, and Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood rocking some seriously troubling sideburns—no, really, they made me agitated and uncomfortable) informs him that he’s been busted down to Commander and has lost command of the Enterprise.

Fortunately, this status quo lasts about ten minutes, as John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a rogue member of Section 31—Starfleet’s black ops corps—launches a series of attacks on Earth, including one which kills most of Starfleet’s top brass. Why does he do this? Because he’s a real tool, that’s why. Or at least the story given by Admiral Marcus (the always-awesome Peter Weller), who takes control of the situation and gives Kirk back the Enterprise so he can travel to Klingon space and kill Harrison via long-range bombardment.

He traded super-human hair for a super-human tan.

He traded super-human hair for a super-human tan.

And so, against his better judgment and the entreaties of Spock and Scotty, Kirk undertakes what is an unethical, and, you know, probably illegal mission. Wackiness ensues.

So, as you can probably tell from the setup, Abrams kinda ripped off Skyfall with this premise. Fortunately, he takes the film in some different directions before it gets too derivative. If anything, Into Darkness is more of a spiritual successor to The Dark Knight than anything. It also uses analogy to raise troubling questions about the War of Terror, as well as how we’ve come to define ourselves in the post-9/11 age. Early on, when Scotty laments, “We’re supposed to be explorers,” it’s impossible to know how heavily it will weigh over the events of this movie.

Jumpsuits: Forever the garb of the future.

Jumpsuits: Forever the garb of the future.

Of course the big difference between The Dark Knight and Into Darkness is the latter plays out these themes with a morose, borderline-sociopath who likes to dress like a bat and spend his free time hanging out in a cave with an old British dude, and the latter gives us Captain James T. Kirk, who wants nothing more than to command the flag ship of planet Earth and have threesomes with twin hotties with prehensile tails (tell me you wouldn’t hit that…you’d hit that). So, yeah, this movie is going to be more fun.

Abrams works the same magic with the cast’s chemistry as he did with the last film, and it helps make the movie breezier and more enjoyable than it has any right to be. It helps that Abrams loads up on the derring-do, and enough cannot be said about this. Abrams may have his faults, but he’s one of the few filmmakers working that seem to understand the difference between action and violence, and as a result, Star Trek feels like a throwback to a more innocent time (which, I guess, by definition it is) when movies could have great fight scenes that were divorced enough from reality and infused with enough moral direction that they didn’t seem pulled from the id of an antisocial teenager.

"Oh, shit."

“Oh, shit.”

That having been said, Abrams added Damon Lindelof to the writing stable this time, and that…(sigh). That’s just not a good idea. Look, I know that he created the first couple seasons of Lost, but if Prometheus and Cowboys and Aliens have taught us anything it’s that he has no sense for writing feature films. His pacing is weird, his storytelling is usually riven with inconsistencies, and he seems to forget that, unlike TV shows, movies are a one-shot deal without 20 more installments to flesh out their ideas.

As a result, Into Darkness has more than its share of WTF moments, which never quite come around to making sense in the end. The third act is a bit of mess, too, lurching from action setpieces to smothering emotional drama and back again. Abrams’s direction is always assured, but it never unfolds cleanly, like an action movie should. Compare this to the ending of Wrath of Khan, which manages the same feat with far more economy and narrative cohesion and you’ll see what I mean.

'Safe to say our insurance premiums are going up."

‘Safe to say our insurance premiums are going up.”

Still, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a fun, summer movie. It’s a nice follow-up to the original, and if its plot never quite makes sense, it’s still nice to spend time with these folks and look at the pretty pictures Abrams and his FX team come up with. Was this worth a four-year wait? Probably not, but it’s what we got and it’s more than adequate.

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