Friday, May 24, 2013

Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Grade: A+
When J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise with 2009’s self-titled film he openly did so more in an attempt to convert a new generation to the long running sci-fi series than to please diehard fans. 2009’s Star Trek had something for everybody but featured more high-octane action, sexual suggestion, youthful angst, and pretty characters than the series was ever known for. For the first time Star Trek was a modern blockbuster and no attempt was made to disguise it with trailers featuring taglines such as “Not Your Father’s Star Trek”.

Into Darkness continues the ‘go modern’ approach but also is more geared towards those familiar with Star Trek lore than the first. For casual modern audiences the film is the most eye-popping spectacle driven event on screen so far this year, being composed of some truly outstanding and imaginative action scenes. Also the slender, dashing cast from the first movie returns in all their youthful exuberance and charisma. Previews for Into Darkness have not tried to distinguish the movie from the Star Trek of the past like the first film and instead have relied on the hope that modern audiences are familiar and infatuated with the new series and are now ready to dive right in to a high stake sequel.

While the first movie featured plenty of winks and nods to longtime fans the film was preoccupied with creating a new mythology to restart the franchise. Into Darkness is able to start freshly in the new Star Trek universe and as such is able to provide more subtle fan service for Trekkies. The relationships between Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the crew are as simultaneously fresh and reminiscent as ever. Whether this is your first or twelfth Star Trek film, there is something here for everybody.

Into Darkness centers on a mysterious new villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch from BBC’s Sherlock, John Harrison. Harrison, a former member of Starfleet, has gone rogue and commits acts of terror and treason against the United Federation. Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise are assigned with tracking down and eliminating the threat, but when they rendezvous with their target mysteries are solved and conspiracies revealed, unleashing a chain of events as fateful as they are explosive.

Despite previews suggesting a more serious and somber tone, Into Darkness picks up about where the first film left off. While there are some dramatic and tragic moments, for the most part the movie focuses on fun with exciting action, space spectacle, and the franchise’s signature dry humor. For young and old alike the film is pound for pound more entertaining than the excellent first iteration.

There is never a dull moment in Into Darkness. One of the movie’s greatest achievements is its pacing. Despite being two hours long, with plenty of twists and turns along the way, I simply could not believe the film was ending when the credits started to roll.

Abrams brings his signature style to the effort and provides another brilliant coat of fresh paint to the aging franchise. The famous lens flare effect so abundant in the first movie is back in full force and the sharp, bright colors and textures are equally striking. Abrams has succeeded in bringing a signature new look to the series that draws on and amplifies concepts of the original show. The space scenes are especially spectacular, in particular the sequence that has been highlighted in the trailers in which the Enterprise falls to Earth.

Throughout the film the cinematography is potent in not only keeping up with the action but also infusing an even greater energy to the on screen happenings. There are some exceptionally cool rear shots of the Enterprise blasting into space at warp speed, leaving a sparkling trail across the dark space sky. The soundtrack is dynamic and features a few signature motifs that tie elements of the plot together. Every element of mise-en-scene, from technological props and the gorgeous set of the interior Enterprise to CG backdrops of colossal planets and alien worlds is as drop dead gorgeous as one would expect from a benchmark of the science fiction genre.

The script, while sometimes predictable and a little action heavy, is solid and not only serves the compelling story but makes us care and relate to the beloved, enduring characters the franchise is renown for. Kirk is as honest hearted and bullheaded as Spock is cerebral and contemplative and the dynamics and depths amongst the crew is as inspiring, heartbreaking, and entertaining as ever before. The real champion of this aspect though is the cast. There is not a single lackluster performance in the film. Chris Pine again proves a perfect cast for Captain Kirk, with his boyish charm evolving to a commanding youthful roguishness over the course of the film. Zachary Quinto is simply brilliant as the not quite robotic Spock and Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely sizzles in his big screen debut, bringing a cold, steely, sharp-edged determination to the role that slices through the usually light hearted atmosphere of Abram’s Star Trek. Up and down the roster, from Simon Pegg as the goofy, hard working engineer Scotty to Zoe Saldana as the fiercely independent and capable Uhura, the cast is what truly brings the script to life and provides a rock solid foundation to what could have otherwise dissolved into an overly action packed CG eye candy fest.

As an adamant admirer of Star Trek: The Original Series and a big fan of Abrams first effort, my expectations for Into Darknesscould not have been higher and the film still managed to blow them away. Into Darkness has set a new precedent not just for the Star Trek franchise but for sci-fi action adventure in general. Easily the best film of the summer movie season so far and arguably one of the best science fiction efforts of the last decade, Star Trek Into Darkness now sits with its predecessor amongst the very best space adventures to ever blaze across the screen. It isn’t Academy material but I simply don’t see anyway Into Darkness,or any Star Trek movie, could be better.  

Editor's Note:  There is one way Into Darkness could have been improved - including William Shatner.
Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk/Page