Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Rest easy Star Wars fans.  If Star Trek Into Darkness is any kind of indicator, then the fate of a galaxy far, far away is in very good hands.  In what is clearly a down year at the cinema, J.J. Abrams’ second entry into Gene Rodenberry’s universe is easily the best film I’ve seen this year.  Sure, there are plot elements in this film that are sure to enrage the guys who dress as Klingons for Comicon every year, but to those who are not wedded to some sense of cannon or are relatively new to Star Trek, this film will absolutely delight and entertain. 

When last we saw Abrams’ version of the Enterprise crew, all things Trek had been turned upside down with a nifty reboot.  Some four years later, we find Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the team exploring and observing civilizations on different planets.  When a mysterious figure named John Harrison emerges from the shadows to wage a one-man war against Starfleet, Kirk and crew find themselves caught between a web of dueling machinations executed by the aforementioned Harrison and Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller).

To say anything more about the plot, would venture into spoiler territory and you want to stay as spoiler free as possible going into this film.  There are twists and turns that unfold throughout the film that not only manipulate the plot but will also play with your emotions.  Does everything stand up to compulsive scrutiny?  No, there are a few logic leaps, but mostly the kind that should be checked at the door for a sci-fi action film.  Abrams and his team of writers (Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof) weave a tale that is as much about space travel and war as it is about family and friendship.  It’s not easy to balance hand-to-hand combat and bombastic explosions with character development, but the creative pulls it off. 

The cast that you came to know and love in the Abrams’ first Trek is back and each slip into their respective roles as though no time has passed.  Chris Pine’s Kirk is still cocky and defiant showing glimpses of the sensitivity and compassion that brims beneath Kirk’s bravado.  Zachary Quinto brings the same consistent effort to the role of Spock this time out and expertly elevates the character when the script calls for a new emotional layer for the beloved Vulcan.  Karl Urban as Bones remains a great sidekick to Pine’s Kirk, playing a great straight man for Pine’s sarcastic barbs.  But of the original crew Simon Pegg as Scotty steals the show by being the most likable of the bunch, adding the perfect amount of comedic relief to offset the grave tone of the second and third acts. 

As for the newcomers, it is hard not to be impressed with Benedict Cumberbatch.  The role of Harrison requires him to move seamlessly from cold and calculating to unbridled brutality and he does so admirably with the kind of presence that is necessary to be one of the key driving forces of a plot that is so large in scale and scope.  As for Peter Weller (Admiral Marcus), I found his work to be satisfactory at best.  Weller is no stranger to sci-fi action films and that may have contributed to his casting, but there are a large number of actors who could have easily brought a lot more to this role.  And rounding out the newcomers is Alice Eve as Carol Wallace.  Eve (from She’s Out of My League fame) is a nice actress who is very easy on the eyes, but she isn’t given much to do in this film beyond serving as a wink, wink to hardcore Trek fans.  Unfortunately, in a film with so many interesting characters, Eve’s Marcus get lost in the shuffle; a fate she shares with returnees Zoe Saldana (Uhura), John Cho (Sulu), and Anton Yelchin (Chekov).

The long and short of it is that Star Trek Into Darkness is a really fun action movie.  The film takes the crew of the Enterprise on a harrowing journey that not only provides huge cinematic moments punctuated by expertly framed action scenes, but also allows for character development.  Perhaps the greatest trick Abrams’ pulls off is to make the movie feel like a stand-alone product while at the same time bridging it to its predecessor in a way that shows growth and the continuation of the reboot that defined the first Star Trek (2009).  In a year that has produced very few must see movies, Star Trek is the best of the bunch and a must see on the big screen.  Going forward, here’s hoping J.J. Abrams and company can bring this kind of storytelling to Star Wars Episode VII.

Standout Performance: Simon Pegg.  There were a lot of capable performances in this movie, but in my opinion, Pegg hits every mark with just the right touch.


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