Apparently, gone are the days where liking Star Trek means you are super-uncool. Under the direction of wide-eyed, whiz kid J.J. Abrams – who sits upon this franchise’s Captain’s Chair for the second time and who will direct the new Star Wars film coming in 2015 – it’s hard not to like this re-invented, re-imagined science-fiction adventure. But the further Star Trek treks under his guidance (the newest film hits theaters today), the further away it seems to get from the bread and butter of what made Star Trek great in the first place.
Finally, Star Trek is cool. It just doesn’t seem like Star Trek.
Star Trek Into Darkness is the second film in this rebooted franchise and the twelfth Star Trek film overall. It comes on the heels of the 2009 movie that took us to the very beginning of the story, where eventual Captain James T. Kirk and the logical Vulcan, Spock – along with the other staples of the starship Enterprise like Bones, Chekov, Sulu, Uhura and Scotty – were first propelled into action. That first film was anchored by an amazing script that managed to re-invent a very familiar story – to long-time fans at least – done in a way that was meant for new fans to jump on board. By introducing a cataclysmic event, it respected all of what has come before on Star Trek while at the same time allowed for a new path to be followed in what could be considered an “alternate” timeline.
At the beginning of this new film, we are literally dropped directly into a dizzying action sequence, as Kirk and Bones attempt to flee an alien race on an undiscovered planet. The intensity never really dissipates from this moment until the film’s last, which again nicely sets up the franchise for future installments.
But in-between the first and last minute, woven into the breakneck pace of the action, we are basically given the re-telling – as it exists in this new timeline – of one of the best and most revered Star Trek stories, featuring one of the best and most revered Star Trek villains. To give more plot away than that, as Spock would say, would be highly illogical.
This is very much a Kirk and Spock film though, with the other crew members shoved to the background to make room. Alice Eve is introduced as Carol Marcus, a character that Trekkies know plays an important part of Kirk’s past…er, future.
But to say that it doesn’t “feel” like Star Trek is both a compliment and a nag. On one hand, the reason it doesn’t feel like what we are used to is because of the intense action and the over-blown but well-done special-effects that clog nearly every frame in the film. Gone are the days of tactical space battles, where Kirk is forced to outsmart his adversaries in order to win. Why out-maneuver your opponent when you can just point every last proton torpedo at their face and charge full steam ahead? With the old TV series, you get the feeling that perhaps some of those “tactical” battles were done out of necessity: The technology didn’t support, nor did the budget, anything beyond a rubber alien or an animated laser attack.
Now that we can do anything on screen, why not do it? That mindset has been a problem for me on an ongoing basis with films like this one.
On the flip side, this lack of a philosophical, “thinking man’s” tone will help people embrace the new Star Trek. Even J.J. Abrams – who was not a fan of the series until he became its director – admitted that Star Trek was always a bit too cerebral for him. I wouldn’t necessarily say that he has dumbed Star Trek down for the modern audience, but he has definitely decided not to embrace the intellectual side of it. Instead of actually saying something, Abrams would just rather entertain us and I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, because he succeeds.
While not as clever or riveting as the first chapter, Star Trek Into Darkness does raise hopes that Abrams will be able to handle the Star Wars franchise next. He definitely has delivered on pacing and visuals and has also shown no fear in his ability to put a fresh stamp on an iconic franchise that – for better or worse – is hurdling forward at warp speed into the future.
Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek of course, was made to say something, about us humans and about society at the time. It also gave us a promising and optimistic view of the future. Star Trek‘s future in those regards does seem to be moving into darkness indeed.
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure
Run Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller, Alice Eve
Written by Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof (Star Trek, Lost, Prometheus)
Directed by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8, Mission: Impossible III)
Opens locally on Friday, May 17, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time