There is a line that a sequel has to straddle. It has to "up the ante", as it were and deliver something new but still give us some of what we found so endearing about the original. The original, in this case, was 2009's Star Trek in which J.J. Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman and crew brought us the old familiar crew we know and love but in the "Abramsverse". It was an easy solution to giving us the same characters but different. It worked.
Okay. Hold up. Let me go back just a bit here. The new "first" journey of the Enterprise was a breath of fresh air in terms of science-fiction and this is coming from a franchise that is nearly 50 years old now. Abrams applied plenty of lens flare, smart action sequences and pacing combined with general silhouettes of characters that are as much a part of the pop culture mainstream as any others that gave the young actors license to give us what we knew but also make the characters their own.
I, at first, found Chris Pine as Kirk as terrible choice. Okay, fine, the look was perfect. Ice blue eyes combined this almost ever present smirk? That kinda feels like Kirk to me but I wasn't convinced of his acting chops at all. His efforts outside of the Trek franchise haven't made me anymore of a believer either. Here, though, after a brief conversation with fellow Zeitgeeks writer/editor-in-chief Sam Hurt, I started to look at Pine and, ultimately, the rest of the cast from a different perspective. Kirk has always had a swagger and been, to put it eloquently, a "dude-bro". Shatner's hamminess is the stuff of legend yet Pine gives us a James Tiberius Kirk that is underplayed. We get the tomcat and the rebel but without the Bill "I'm A Rocket..Man!" Shatner overacting we've come to known and love.
Zachary Quinto, in contrast to Nimoy's turn as Spock, gives us the same character but here we see the struggle between the Vulcan's logic and his less rational and more emotional humanity. We've gotten to see this bromance, a core pillar of the original series, grow by leaps and bounds. The interplay between the two has only gotten better. This movie would not have worked, much as the first one would not have, if Kirk and Spock's relationship didn't feel right. Thankfully. It does.
So, now that's out of way. Into Darkness definitely brings the hallmarks of an Abrams joint. There is action by the boatload, huge set pieces and lens flare out the wazoo. These are standard for damn near anything feature length he does. We already knew that was coming. I wasn't quite prepared for how gorgeous this movie was going to look, though, on IMAX. My God. It's breathtaking. The Enterprise has never looked so good. Word to the wise: I'd give the 3D a pass simply for the fact that seeing it 20-30% darker really robs the visuals of their impact.
The opening scene is pure space adventure. Kirk is running away from a marauding tribe of white-skinned aliens. He's got a large scroll in hand, accidentally stuns his ride and Bones is right there to chide him for it. They continue picking their way through this lush jungle that is a deep red while Spock, Uhura and Sulu are in a shuttle going towards the nearby active volcano. They are attempting to stop the cataclysmic eruption on its way via some cold fusion something or other. (This has all been shown in extended trailers and previews so I'm not spoiling anything.) Spock gets stranded within the heart of the volcano thanks to an errant magma plume. Logic dictates the only thing to do is activate the device and save the planet though it would end his own life. We see his acceptance of this. Kirk, however, won't stand for that. Prime directives of Starfleet are violated and, in the end, Kirk manages to beam Spock out in the nick of time. This leads to the two butting heads over protocol what with Kirk never giving a damn about the rules and Spock slavishly adhering to them.
It was such a wonderful essence of distilled Star Trek awesome. It set the tone for the rest of the film that is paced, frankly, rather frenetically. Into Darkness doesn't give us much room to breathe between the next action sequence. That is good and bad, in my opinion. The action is capably executed, as always with Abrams, but I could have used more of the banter, the dialogue that was, frankly, pretty damn good. This leads me to, perhaps, the best part of the entire film.
Benedict Cumberbatch, known by many from his work in BBC's Sherlock, is a phenomenal talent and he showcases it again and again here. John Harrison is our film's villain and his flagrant acts of terrorism are accompanied by a menace that is downright frightening. Cumberbatch, with only his voice, managed to send a chill down my spine. The film's progression shows us a man who is not only ruthless but highly intelligent and extremely dangerous. If THIS doesn't make him into a huge breakout star I'm not sure what will.
This is honest-to-goodness science-fiction spectacle. Abrams is fantastic at giving us blockbuster faire that is coupled with great characterization and pacing that is tight. This movie hums along and provides us with yet another, in just as many weeks with Iron Man 3, fantastic summer movie. This is fun. There is no denying it. Sure it has problems as Cumberbatch's turn, as amazing as it is, gets hobbled later on by some choices of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (returning to script again after they penned the first one) and Abrams alum Damon Lindelof. I've thought since the beginning that, maybe, some of the original concept of what Star Trek is about got lost in the sleek new reboot that came in 2009 and is further mired in spectacle and, frankly, kick-ass aesthetic. There is, thankfully, enough soul here to say that most of that worry is probably just me nitpicking at things.
You will have a good time watching this movie. If you don't well you're probably dead. We get the catchphrases we know and love (Holy SHIT does Karl Urban just channel Deforest Kelley), the crazy sci-fi of warp drives and diverse alien races and all the things that are so familiar with Trek. The action is superb and gives us more. Always more as is the way with the sequel. It's more humorous than I anticipated it being which was a blessing, I thought, as there is a lot of darkness in this movie. The fledgling Starfleet is starting to get into the "shit" as it were and we're seeing this for the first time now. It's an interesting point for the franchise. I have to wonder where we'll go next and, maybe, we'll get a director who doesn't think "Trek is too philosophical". (A quote from an interview Abrams did with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.) Sorry. The Trekker in me just came out.
Go see this movie. See it in IMAX if possible. Skip the 3D. If nothing else marvel at the vibrant colors, the pretty people and spectacle. Just try not to worry about if the humanism and optimistic soul of Trek was compromised just a bit to do so.