The Dynamic Duo, In Epic Proportions
In many ways, Star Trek Into Darkness is an easily comprehensible, digestible film that zips and beams its way through the infinite confines of outer space at a constant driving force. Three dimensions and an IMAX screen help create this vast sense of space and speed, polished with blistering and invasive special effects that come close to mastering its holographic deficiencies. But it is also, in that manner, a simple, loud, and frenetic piece of blockbuster capability, an overwhelming immersive experience that eventually becomes overbearing.
Like the first film, which infused ample doses of humor and spunk to the Star Trek franchise, Into Darkness takes place before its original arrival on both the big and small screen. Its creator Gene Roddenberry was wary of giving the show a social current, an intergalactic context for the universal issues inescapable from both man and alien. To say the motley crew aboard this starship Enterprise has no relatable reflections of life on earth wouldn’t be correct. But rather than provoke any deep social commentary, allusions to our current world more closely resemble the cast functioning of television show “Real World.” Call it “Real World: Starfleet.”
Leading this confrontational grouping is the continuous classic combo of James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the half-man, half-Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto), the superego to Kirk’s enormous id. Pine has never felt like the ultimate playboy, but it seems as though this franchise is trying to form him into one as Quinto suffers with bangs. Kirk is however always on the run in this film, specifically from its first sequence, bursting through red thickets away from a new budding species and erupting volcano. Spock is trapped inside it ducking lava and quickly a role reversal must take place. “What would you do in my situation?” becomes a motto both sides of the Freudian coin decide on, instinct acting on logic, rationality banking on emotion. Kirk breaks protocol early on and loses his captain’s badge from Pike (Bruce Greenwood). He’s later reinstated once disaster strikes.
But much of this balancing act is superseded by the film’s hyper-speed pace that explodes from its first frame and rarely lets go of the pedal. So much is happening, and happening at you, that in many ways certain characters seem like shells of themselves from when we first met them. JJ Abrams, the returning director of this born again franchise, prefers there be no rest stops on this journey that spans more interstellar road and even a trip to a Klingon planet. Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) don’t even have regular time to manage the space bumps in their relationship, so they do so while plummeting towards the planet in a small pod under duress. It keeps things tidy and economical, like the screen time Saldana receives.
Starfleet is in pursuit of an evil terrorist who blows up buildings and wipes out half a North American city with a smoldering ship later on. Captain Marcus (Peter Weller) meanwhile initiates torpedoes aimed at the man responsible after a large-scale assassination attempt occurs during a Dr. Strangelove style officials meeting. The name of the game is revenge, a staple in many sci-fi films, but one that Abrams relies upon to hold the narrative together. He has always been a director and writer who makes sure his characters drive his content, and his creations, like Super 8, have subsequently dwindled when he forgets about them. Sci-Fi however is one of those stages a director can get away with and make a starship battle, or a light-saber duel which Abrams will soon be administering in Star Wars, feel engaging to the actual story. It is also easy to get carried away by its enticing non-gravitational pull.
In fact in one scene, with the Enterprise in free fall, Kirk must sprint on the sides of walls amidst the shifts of the floor through the rotating labyrinthine of the ship. Kirk is constantly holding on for dear life, which eventually becomes a desensitizing dramatic plot point. Spock is the only one that can save, or at least control this id. The baddy responsible for all of this chaos is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the rising British actor of Sherlock fame and recipient of small, severe parts in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse. To some he may seem a vacuous villain, to others a perfectly cold mentalist. That may depend on how much you canonize Trek and its long, extensive history of characters and villains. Cumberbatch doesn’t have much time to torture here, and so the heights of his motivations and potential evil empire strike less realizable in comparison to the headiness of a Spock or even a Scotty (Simon Pegg).
He gets the most to do reviving his engineering role on the ship while Bones (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), and Checkov (Anton Yelchin) become more marginal players. Alice Eve provides a new face as Carol, but does little on board the ship except to be caught changing her clothes with just her underwear and bra on. But this is not nearly in a phase of blockbuster eye candy selling out- referring to both women and explosions- that’s equivalent to a Transformers or Battleship. Abrams, along with his devoted writers Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, is not in the trashy genre that considers anything metal colliding with metal full of buttery popcorn goodness. This unfortunately is a rare achievement in big budget summer flicks.
He just might be forgetting though that Star Trek doesn’t have to be filled with those elements at a never-ending pace and spectacle. Into Darkness is an agreeable sequel, but should maybe be more than that. After putting on the 3D glasses, you may feel like you’re inside (or outside) this intergalactic, final frontier world. It’s just not as deep and dark as you thought it might be.