Thursday, May 23, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

It was already a stretch to show the Enterprise built in the atmosphere of a planet. Now it can function underwater?! Some limitations need to be maintained... Looks cool though.
*** out of ****

In the new Star Trek, the needs of the many always outweigh the needs of the few… or me.

With Star Trek Into Darkness, screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci, and Damon Lindelof continue an incredibly shallow take on the Star Trek franchise investing more thought towards action setpieces than profound science fiction concepts. Like many flawed Trek films, it deliberately stands in the shadow of a much better film in the series. If you don’t know which one, it’s best left unsaid… It’s The Wrath of Khan. There are plot holes aplenty and ethical decisions that would have Gene Rodenberry rolling in his grave… So why did I have so much FUN watching this movie?

For the fourth time, J.J. Abrams, as a movie director, has gotten away with a weak story because he puts on a strong show. This is the second in his reboot/prequel/alternate timeline Star Trek movies and in his version of the universe, there’s more attitude, personality and action… and it mostly works in spite of the nerd heresy that comes with it.

Just like the last movie, there is hardly a boring moment in the film. Any fan of action movies, no matter how much they may think they hate science fiction, will get a rollercoaster ride out of it. Abrams movies are always a rush of bright colors and kinetic energy of gorgeous proportions. He knows how to entertain.

He has successfully revitalized an old and ailing franchise and given its fans and non-fans alike a portrayal of its universe that seems more real and alive than ever before. This is almost to a fault, because the more real its characters and environments seem, the more noticeable are the failures in the story’s logic.

In this story, Kirk (Chris Pine) is briefly demoted for a mission he botched by disobeying a well-known Starfleet regulation in order to save Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) life. Later on, a renegade terrorist played by the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch, attacks Starfleet headquarters and takes refuge in Klingon space. Kirk winds up back in the Captain’s chair with special orders from Admiral Marcus, amusingly played by Peter Weller, to take the Enterprise on a mission of questionable retaliation. 

That’s all I’m giving you on the story. The rest is full of surprises -and I must admire the studio for the secrets that were kept in the marketing for the film.

Getting back to the “nerd heresy,” I mentioned earlier, it is a complicated subject. I don’t mind the personality makeovers these classic characters got in their recasting back in 2009. This new version and its alternate timeline stand as a good excuse to give this series an upgrade. I’ll spare you the list of actor acknowledgements and simply say that I approve of EVERYONE they cast. It is so clear that the casting was based on essence and not physical similarity. What I do mind is the risky business of “fan service.” References to the things of Star Trek past, range from gratifying to groan-inducing.

Near the end, this movie features what is supposed to be a key dramatic scene that echoes and inverts one of the most touching scenes in Star Trek history. How conceited were the writers and Abrams, when they decided to take the movie in this direction? I have to be vague, but if you’re a fan, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They may have thought it belonged, but this incarnation of Trek is too young to have earned the right to pay an homage to drama of this level. As a result, it borders on parody.

My real gripe with this movie is that it may be built strong, but not to last. It’s instant gratification cinema, with loud personality and the best special effects ILM can deliver, yet, I can imagine with repeat viewings, when the rush of the production has worn off, I'll be left with little to think about. 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is corny, with goofy acting and simple sets, yet the movie still endures as a story about the sacrifices that come with age.

When I think about it, Star Trek Into Darkness is about the post-9/11 atmosphere, but what action movie isn’t lately? This franchise has its fair share of plots revolving around the Federation failing to live up to its ideals, which acknowledges the cynical outlook Americans may have about their own country. I’m done with “war-on-terror” themed fantasy. It has nothing new to say or do but make us think about mass destruction and that’s not what Star Trek is about.

It’s about exploration and learning from new discoveries, for which this movie wisely sets the stage -when a third movie is made. Let’s hope J.J. succeeds at making a Trekier Trek movie with the same level of entertaining production he guarantees. However, he has Star Wars: Episode VII next -and the lively adrenaline rush that is Into Darkness lets us know he’s unquestionably the man for that job.

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