Having thoroughly enjoyed J.J. Abrams rebooted take on the Trek franchise with 2009s Star Trek, I was definitely looking forward to seeing what he would pull off with an expansion of the ‘new’ universe. The man certainly has a near-Spielbergian touch when it comes to his cinematic efforts (Just take 2011s Super 8, as a prime example) and seems eager to give his fans (for the most part) that which they want. So how does Star Trek Into Darkness measure up? Let me put it THIS way: Star Trek Into Darkness is a GOOD sequel but not a GREAT movie. It’s definitely enjoyable on a superficial level but I couldn’t help but to feel that something was missing on the script level. The story picks up soon after the events of the first film, catching up with Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew on a survey mission to a primitive planet whose indigenous population of superstitious savages are in danger of being wiped out by an impending super-volcano. Through a series of large-scale set pieces of action and peril, the day is barely saved due to the casting aside of a key piece of Starfleet protocol. This results in Goody Two Shoes Spock ratting Kirk out to their superiors, which in turn leads to the stripping of Kirks Enterprise command. The fallout and strain of these events bear down on the still-rocky ‘air’ between Kirk and Spock, not to mention Kirks relationship with his ‘sponsor’, Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood). While these interpersonal dramas play out, we then witness a devastating terrorist bombing at a secret Starfleet military facility deep under London. After the culprit is identified as a mysterious Starfleet officer named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), another attack is unleashed by Harrison himself on the upper echelon of Starfleet Command, resulting in much destruction and death, including that of a key character in the crews lives. Kirk and the Enterprise are ordered by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to track down Harrison and to straight-up eliminate his traitor ass using a load of experimental ‘proton torpedoes’. From here, the story plays out as a high-speed ‘cat n mouse’ game where the stakes seem to be continuously raised. One of the things that I really responded to with the first film was the slick, even pacing of the story and the way the it took it’s time to establish the characters and situations. With this one, I was left with a distinct feeling of choppiness and near-impatience in the pacing, which was strange when I realized that the flick ran 132 minutes. To me, it felt highly episodic and overly concerned with keeping the pace unnecessarily fast. Just when a scene was getting established, it seemed that we were suddenly shooting off to the next one. There is a ton of action present, but I’m not sure that all of it was to the films benefit. It seemed like the answer to almost any issue that the story ran into was solved by a Michael Bay-like flurry of explosions, punches and phaser blasts. Don’t get me wrong…all those elements are welcome in a flick like this but I wanted to see a bit more of this futuristic world that the crew of the Enterprise inhabits. A little more on how everything works instead of just how everything blows up. All of the original 2009 cast return, but only a few get anything resembling additional depth to the characters. Chekov, Sulu, Bones and Uhura don’t get a lot of expansion while Kirk, Spock and Scotty end up with the lion’s share of the screen time. What was nice was it seemed like Abrams and Co. did strive to maintain the charming action/comedy balance of the first one by seeing to it that everyone gets their prominent one-liner or beat of physical comedy. As the villain, Benedict Cumberbatch (who is fantastic in BBCs Sherlock series, BTW) makes for an effective ‘bad guy’, with his steely eyes and scenery-chewing line deliveries. There is a high-velocity sequence where the crew of the Enterprise must reevaluate their stance on Harrison (at that point their captive) and join forces with him to tackle a common threat. I thought this was a refreshing way to throw a slant into the typical protagonist/antagonist relationship, while adding a degree of unpredictability to the outcome. Which is not to say that Star Trek Into Darkness is devoid of predictability…if you’re even remotely aware of the events of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982), then some of the twists on the canon will be seen from a mile off, while either overjoying or severely pissing off the hardcore Trekkies. As expected, the CG effects are amazingly detailed and executed. There’s a ton of impressive deep space/starship action but the visceral sense of size and scope was somewhat lost in a surprising amount of (I’ll say it again) Michael Bay-itis. I remember distinctly trying to will a number of shots to widen or hold still so that we can get a good look at what was happening on-screen, as opposed to a lot of fast-cutting, lens-flarey closeups of machinery and explosions. I saw the 3D version and can readily admit that, for the most part, the 3rd dimension added an exciting sense of depth to the sci-fi environments and rampant destruction. I distinctly remember involuntarily catching myself ducking to the side, to avoid an arrow seemingly shot at my face. The bottom line (for me) is that Star Trek Into Darkness (a bit more thought on that title may have been good too) is a GOOD (but not GREAT) sequel that sacrificed the sense of sci-fi wonder and excitement of the first one in favor of more hard-hitting action, to possibly cover up the fallacies in the somewhat half-baked script, of which there are a few. I do recommend it for a theatrical viewing…just don’t expect to walk out with as much “Hell yeah!” as you may have had with the 2009 ‘original’.
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