Star Trek Into Darkness
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof (screenplay), Gene Roddenberry (TV series)
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana and Benedict Cumberbatch
The second installment of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot checks all the necessary boxes to make it an effective summer blockbuster, which is its biggest problem. It feels like a laundry list of co-mingling plot points and action set pieces, more calculated business venture than artistic Enterprise. Abrams is a good enough ringleader that all the pieces fall together nicely and the high tech toys he gets to play with are a good action showcase, but the movie will fizzle away when a new good enough sci-fi blockbuster opens in a couple weeks to take its place.
Into Darkness, despite its heftier title, is not a plunge into darker territory, as second franchise installments often are. Sure, one of the series’ most famous villains, Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), surfaces, but it feels just as light on its feet as Abrams’ 2009 reboot. The best thing about it is still the chemistry between Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), whose humorous ideological clashes provide the movie with much of that lightness. There are exceptional action sequences, including an astonishing sequence of space diving to an enemy ship, but they aren’t nearly as entertaining as watching Spock attempt a romantic relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana).
Saldana has much more to do in this second installment than she did in the first, and she as well as Quinto and Pine are more than up to the task. Cumberbatch was a gamble to cast in such a villainous role, and his performance is quietly menacing, but ultimately rendered obsolete by the cramped plotting in the movie’s final act. At times the movie almost seems in a rush to get everything checked off its list, which is its biggest problem.
Even at 132 minutes, the frantic action sequences seem almost like a refuge from the relentlessly over-plotted screenplay. Kirk and company travel to a potential war zone to track down Khan after he orchestrates a bombing at a secret government base in San Francisco. From there the movie goes on a series back stabbings and internal conflicts, and thankfully it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Abrams has made a career out of slick sci-fi outings like this, and the recent news that he will also be helming the new Star Wars reboot seems like a mixed blessing. There will likely be plenty of competent dazzle and the mythology will be kept largely in tact, just like here, but will it feel like more than just an equation for drawing in the biggest audience?