Director: J.J. Abrams
Studio: Bad Robot Productions, K/O Paper Products, Skydance Productions
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana
The biggest surprise in Star Trek Into Darkness—the latest voyage in director J.J. Abrams’ smart, shiny relaunch of the iconic franchise—is how, rather than boldly go where no man has gone before, it flies straight into old, familiar TV and movie series mythology.
No spoilers here (although the info is pretty much everywhere else), but the recycling of a throwback plot and characters feels like a letdown after the fresh, joyful, respectful and highly entertaining experience Abrams and company made of their first Star Trek flick in 2009. Maybe we were looking for reinvention where none was intended, but, really, isn’t it too soon for a reboot to go retro? Anyway, the new 3-D movie, scripted by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, kicks off with a big, juicy volcano sequence that sets the tone and reveals one of the big themes straightaway: unthinkingly messing around with other planets, other cultures, brings consequences. With incursions into Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan as subtext, and arguments about quick fixes versus moral fixes, the plot sends us back to earth where decisions made by Starfleet’s brainy hothead Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) result in beatdowns from both Spock (Zachary Quinto, terrific again) and from his boss Admiral Pike (nicely played by Bruce Greenwood), who strips him of his post.
There’s a sadder but wiser quality to the movie and a maturity to the characters that give the show a certain wised-up gravitas. The script takes time for conversations and characters. But in no time flat, after some terrific action set pieces, quick cutting and a truckload of lens flares, an antihero rises in the person of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who, if you don’t already know him from Danny Boyle’s stage sensation Frankenstein or from Brit TV’s Sherlock, is very much the real deal. The character Cumberbatch plays is vengeful, brilliant, lethal and relentless, and the actor plays him to the hilt. If only he had better dialogue he wouldn’t have to be so reliant on glaring charismatically and flexing his extraordinary vocal chords. Still, when he’s onscreen, nobody else stands much of a chance, even though Pine and Quinto are, once again, especially terrific in their scenes. The enjoyable Scotty (Simon Pegg), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and crab apple Bones (Karl Urban) all get their licks, but it’s up to engineer Chekov (Anton Yelchin) to run around trying to fix the devastation Cumberbatch unleashes. Eye candy Alice Eve plays a super-bright new recruit (with an easy-to-guess secret!), but while she may start off looking like the right kind of trouble, her impact blurs as she gets pushed to the margins as the film races on. Star Trek Into
Darkness looks great, tosses candy to all the fans and, generally, ticks all the boxes. Fun, smart, diverting, it delivers the goods without actually making the pulse race or the spirit soar.