Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

For Trekkies waiting to satisfy their craving for the latest incarnation of Star Trek it’s been four nail biting years. It’s been crazy long. It took longer to produce a sequel to the last movie than it took for the whole original Star Trek series to run on television! It’s infuriating. Can’t director J.J. Abrams put out a new episode at least every year or two, like the Harry Potter franchise?

Abrams definitely has the magic touch when it comes to Star Trek, but it is torture to make fans wait four years between movies. Perhaps new movies will now come out at a faster rate. Since Star Trek, Abrams has become a hot commodity. He has been asked to direct the next series of Star Wars movies. Whether the director of the next Star Trek movie will have Abrams golden touch remains to be seen but perhaps we will at least get movies cranked out quicker. Fortunately, at least with Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams delivers a fine sequel to the original movie, albeit way too late.

Trekkies are finicky lot. Delivering the goods in just the right dose is hard. You have to get the seasonings just right. There has to be plenty of action. There has to be plenty of character development even while the characters don’t really change that much. The characters have to mix it up just right and of course Spock has to be pulled from all sides. He sure has a demanding girlfriend. (Yes, he and Lieutenant Uhuru are an item now). Even when he is seconds away from being obliterated by an active volcano he has to worry whether he is sensitive enough to the communication officer’s feelings. There must be backstory. You got to work in Leonard Nimoy in there somewhere, at least while he is alive. He is making ancient look young, but at least one member of the original cast is still around. Scotty and Bones are gone, and William Shatner would no longer fit into the captain’s chair, at least not without significant widening and probably steel supports. And there must be plenty of violence, even though of course the Federation is all about peace and respecting the Prime Directive. Except, of course, this version of Captain James T. Kirk played by Chris Pine is just as bad about respecting the Prime Directive as the last one. That’s made clear in the first few minutes of the movie.

One of the curiosities about Star Trek is that despite all the 23rd century technology, the plot has to pivot around actions by people, stuff only humans can do, like a good old fashioned fistfight. It may be the 23rd century, but no one has developed a robot to go inside warp cores to realign them. What’s up with that, Scotty? The Enterprise, of course, has to get severely beat up otherwise what’s the point in spending all those millions on a blockbuster? Actors must do impossible physical acts and just in case seeing the Enterprise get all shot up isn’t enough special effects for you, why not lay waste to parts of London and San Francisco as well?

When you look at it objectively it’s all more than a little bit crazy but heck, this is entertainment! We need our fistfights and our petty interpersonal squabbles. We need Dr. McCoy to tell us he’s a doctor not a [fill in the blank]. We need Scotty to obsess about his engines. We also need candy for the longtime fans. Allude to Nurse Chapel. Reintroduce Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) who will probably eventually give Kirk an heir in this incarnation too. And reintroduce a classic Star Trek villain, Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch). Khan may have gone all British now but he is still evil. It’s unlikely Cumberbatch will ever be selling Chrysler Cordoba’s for extra cash. He’s too hot an actor right now to have time for commercials anyhow.

But what about the movie, Mark? Oh yeah, sorry about that! Star Trek Into Darkness gives us just the right blend of those special seasonings, proving Abrams hasn’t lost his touch with this franchise. If you have to wait four years between Star Trek movies, you had better get an A+ product, and Abrams delivers. It’s the actors though who really come through, losing none of their abilities to subsume themselves in their characters over four years. The special effects are all window dressing now anyhow. We’ve seen all these tricks before and they fail to impress. What really matters is the story. It is all fun, frenetic and gritty. The props and backdrops are mere window dressing. The franchise is pretty much how Gene Roddenberry envisioned it: a western shot in space. Khan is the bad guy, with elements of civil behavior. Kirk is the local marshal also with a few dents in his badge and his personality. It’s all entirely logical, as Spock would say, except of course it’s not that much. This is Star Trek and it’s far more about emotions and people interacting and tiffs and screaming and fistfights and heartfelt platonic love between Kirk and Spock than it is about a very coherent plot.

Regardless, you won’t care and you will be too entertained to be pissed that we get Khan appearing yet again in a Star Trek movie. Instead, you will be enjoying having Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) giving Kirk another slap down or watching Spock and Uhuru get in a tiff in a shuttle.

A few things though have changed. Uhuru is much more assertive and kick ass, particularly in this movie, than the modest miniskirted black wallflower that Nichele Nichols portrayed. Cumberbatch is terrific as Khan, even if he is British instead of Hispanic or Occidental. The U.S.S. Enterprise, however, seems doomed to keep getting shot through and blown up. But, like Sherlock Holmes, you can’t kill that spirit of Enterprise. And speaking of enterprise, this franchise continues to keep the profits of Paramount healthily in the black, with your pocket is picked clean by the $16 a person tickets to see it in IMAX. Ca-ching!

Well, at least you got your money’s worth!

3.4 on my four-point scale.

[xrr rating=3.4/4]

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