Friday, May 24, 2013
Star Trek Into Darkness (Release Date: 5-16-2013)
And to think, just a half-year ago, it was just a movie. Re-teaming nearly the entire cast from the beloved 2009 entry, Into Darkness again stars a wily, dangerously self-assured Chris Pine as Captain James T. Kirk, and Zachary Quinto as his rhetoric-spewing, biologically-stoic first mate, Spock. The two again clash, Kirk once more knocked down a peg by Spock's compulsion toward rule-abiding, right before the peril of Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) continues to set the main plot in motion. What's this plot, you ask? Why, it's a revenge mission to track down the quasi-human terrorist played by a usually-attractive foreigner (I see your Eric Bana, and raise you a Benedict Cumberbatch!) who hit the crew right where it hurts, and just might have much, much bigger plans in store.
If you're experiencing a little déjà vu, you're not alone; while Into Darkness is a fun watch for nearly all of its two hours plus runtime, there's a sense that things have already gotten a bit stale. Many of the '09 entry's cute nods to the original series are repeated almost verbatim, the players seem to be experiencing the very same character arcs all over again, and there's enough running around that damn ship to exhaust a cross country team. The only immediately observable tweak comes in the form of an even greater emphasis on action, a ratio of story-telling to things-blowing-up that was already out of sync in the first film, and is now pushed to the outer-limits of space. It works well to get you engaged at first, an adrenaline shot of an action sequence opening the film in sublime fashion, but by the time Spock goes latter-day John McClane to track down the baddie in the finale, you might need a cup of coffee, or a nap.
This isn't such a problem in, say, the Transformers movies, where the most memorable things about Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox are a Strokes t-shirt, and a bare midriff over a steaming vehicle. We like these Star Trek characters, and it's a testament to Abrams' cast and the director's understanding of human elements that we still connect despite the rampant chaos. Pine and Quinto's bromance again takes center-stage, endearing, funny, and actually kind of touching when it's not pushing too hard (you'll know the moment when you see it, and no, I don't care if it's a reference. They still tried to wring emotion out of it, so mocking laughter is fair game). It's also an honest-to-goodness knee-slapper, an increasing point of interest for big budget film-makers all over Hollywood of which Abrams and Joss Whedon appear to be the forefathers. Finally, the thing is flat-out gorgeous, a flick that cost millions to make, and never fails to look the part. From costumes to camera work to production design, Into Darkness is eye candy through-and-through. Piles of cash burn right before your eyes!
But despite all the impressively mounted set-pieces and glittering surfaces, Star Trek Into Darkness feels smaller than it should. Part of this is because of the aforementioned broken-record syndrome, but a lot has to do with that fateful day, January 25th, 2013. The fact that Abrams would bail on Trek for Wars is the final piece of a puzzle that we all should have put together long ago: The last two Star Trek films wish they were the Star Wars prequels, and vice versa.
Abrams' Roddenberry revision jolted a beloved franchise back to life with excitement, nostalgia, and unmissable sizzle, all spheres in which George Lucas' latest trilogy failed miserably. The lambasted prequels wove politics and stayed pacing into a universe that wanted nothing to do with them. One product is clearly superior to the other, but all of the enormity, destruction, and kinetic energy that J.J. and company wedge unnecessarily into Star Trek Into Darkness reveal what we should have known from the start: Abrams has been devoutly Team Wars all along. Fun as these last two Enterprise outings were, this feels like a good break-up. The proven hit maker finally gets to hold what's really been his baby all along, and Star Trek, given new legs by the last two installments, can finally take its time with characters we've learned to love again. Abrams' Trek might have prospered, but as certain, 'spinning wheels,' moments of Into Darkness will readily attest, it was never designed to live long.