Star Trek Into Darkness
When last we left the starship Enterprise, Captain James T. Kirk had been given control of the ship and he was joined by his ragtag team of faves to scour the universe for life and knowledge. The first episode in the reboot was a fun spectacle that remade the franchise as " ’Star Trek’ for ’Star Wars’ fans."
It’s no secret that director J.J. Abrams, a life-long "Star Wars" fan, will be headed off to reignite that other major sci-fi franchise. So it’s a bit disappointing that the follow-up is a somewhat humorless, incessantly dark spectacle that seems to be confined to a few locations and overridden with CGI sets and backgrounds that make it feel cheap. Add in 3D that looks post-converted and had ghosting and, well, this isn’t the "Star Trek" I was hoping to see.
We open with a somewhat rousing, but head-scratching, opening in which we are thrown into the middle of a mission on a fuchsia colored planet where Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) dash through the foliage with some sort of scroll in their hands. Meanwhile, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is preparing to go to the surface of the planet just as a volcano is about to explode. His logical and sacrificial acts in this sequence set up his future problems with girlfriend Uhura (Zoe Saldana), even though their bits feel forced into the film to add some sort of romance.
This whole set-piece, similar to the opening of an Indiana Jones film where it’s more just for fun than anything connected to the plot, is okay, and it ultimately sets up something interesting that is never used. Who was the undeveloped race the Captain and Dr. McCoy were running away from? Much was made about the fact that allowing the beings to see their ship would change the process of their development in ways that could be detrimental to their way of life. All interesting stuff, but it’s all set aside.
Instead, we move swiftly back to planet Earth, where there’s some stuff about Kirk getting kicked off the Enterprise and having to prove himself (which he does fairly quickly), just as a new threat emerges in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch who plays a one-man weapon of mass destruction. This threat brings the crew to dangerous enemy territory where they have to deal with their arch-enemies the Klingons in order to stop this new menace.
The villain in this movie is tremendously unnerving, and Cumberbatch ("Sherlock Holmes") plays him to perfection. The problem is everything else around him. Pine shines as Kirk, and has a fair amount to do; he and Spock are most engaging, and Zoe Saldana as Uhura is okay too, but the rest of the beloved cast of characters is shoved so far to the sidelines that they barely register. I think John Cho’s Sulu was only on screen for a few minutes, and Anton Yelchin as Chekov just runs around out of breath and then disappears.
For the most part, the emotional core of the film is the bromance between Spock and Kirk which mirrors and flips the beats from "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan." This will surely please fans, but for the casual viewer it won’t mean much. It works, but there still seems to be something missing. Moreover, it’s too dark in that Christopher Nolan sort of way, and there aren’t enough set pieces to make it feel like an epic sequel.
With the last film, things were bright and fun, and there were some terrific twists to the franchise (the time-travel Spock plot point was ingenious), but there isn’t anything that matches the previous movie here. Cumberbatch’s monologues are great, and the darkness he brings to the proceedings is awesome. But when you walk out of the film and have practically forgotten everything about it, that’s not a good sign.
Here’s hoping Abrams can sustain the "Star Wars" franchise with the joy it had from the beginning. The fear is that the drop in fun from the last "Star Trek" to this one could spell a bit of trouble for another beloved franchise.