Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, directed by J.J. Abrams (132 min.)

I don't fashion myself as a Trekkie.  I have no deep-seeded knowledge of the Star Trek pantheon, I have nowhere near an intricate working knowledge of the U.S.S. Enterprise or it's shipmates beyond what I have gathered through - for lack of a better term - "uninvolved" viewing.  I cannot speak Klingon.  So maybe there are things in these new films I enjoy that purists and fanboys will reject wholeheartedly.  There could be great disservices to these legendary characters going on right before my eyes.  That being said, I am familiar with all of the important players, I have seen the original films over the years, and I do enjoy the canon and what it represents to pop culture.  And I also know great entertainment when I see it, and that is what is on display with Star Trek Into Darkness; at least, through the eyes of a casual fan.

Star Trek Into Darkness is dark and lean and action packed, sprinkled with just enough pathos and wit and emotion to make the picture a quintessential summer adventure.  The whole team from the 2009 reboot is back and comfortable in their roles, with their youth helping to serve the action of the story.  Chris Pine is on target as Captain James T. Kirk, a wiry young hotshot who bucks authority whenever he sees the chance.  There is Mr. Spock, given great depth once again by Zachary Quinto, and there is his girlfriend Uhura (Zoe Saldana), who makes up the most central trio of the crew which includes Bones, Scotty, and Sulu to name a few.  As we open on the crew we see Kirk exposing the Enterprise to a fascinating indigenous tribe in order to save Spock, getting him in trouble with his commander, Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and having his ship taken out from under him.  Of course, this will not last long.

A new threat in the form of a mysterious Starfleet officer throws the crew and Kirk back into action.  This new threat is the infamous Khan, played this time around by Benedict Cumberbatch in a role made legendary by Ricardo Mantalban.  There is no fake chest or Mad Max gear this time around; this Khan is single-minded and threatening in his words as he attacks Starfleet and flees to a Klingon planet to hide out.  Khan's attacks set the gears of the plot into motion, a plot which up to this point had been a little too basic and a little too obvious.  Thankfully, they get these plot points out of the way quickly and push us into a story involving revenge and adventure.

The story itself, as I mentioned, is paint-by-numbers in the early scenes where the action is telegraphed by too much telling and not enough showing.  But these characters are so fully realized and have such wonderful chemistry that the weakness of the first act is overshadowed by banter and wit.  It was refreshing to see the great Peter Weller back on the big screen as Starfleet's big shot, Marcus.  I enjoy Pine's new incarnation of Shatner's invention, a bit more angry and a bit less lounge singer in my opinion.  And Quinto's Spock is more involved in the action from top to bottom.  There is plenty of organic comic relief from the likes of Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Bones (Karl Urban), and due to the relentless thrills the rest of the crew is so locked into their jobs on board they are merely window dressing.  I realize the original films were light on true, raw action, and The Next Generation even lighter, and these new films deal less in the Trekkie currency of sociological examination, but I would take the trade in the form of such a high-space adventure.

There are also a few nice little inclusions along the way to make Trekkies smile (unless they were frowning already by that point), and a nice hint at what the third film may bring as far as villainy is concerned.  And the third act is a slippery slope; a development happens which echoes one of the more popular earlier films, but the difference is significant and perhaps the story lets the audience off the hook in the end.  I know that sounds cryptic, and for good reason.  I don't expect anyone going to see Star Trek Into Darkness with fake Vulcan ears and crew shirts to be decidedly pleased with everything in the picture.  I wasn't particularly overwhelmed by the early portions of the script and the ending might be just a tad bit too neat.  But if there ever was a film to overcome its shortcomings with fun, thrills, and rousing spectacle, this newest Enterprise adventure does the job.