Can I just write “Wow” five-hundred times and have that count as my review of this film?
Obviously, J.J. Abrams’ latest installment in the Star Trek franchise not only meets with my approval, but is in my opinion the best Star Trek movie since 1982’s “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan”. “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” was a great final outing for the original crew of the star ship Enterprise, if you were okay with the thinly-veiled JFK assassination plot. Likewise, “Star Trek: First Contact” not only had some very good character development and science fiction “what if?” elements it was also a load of laughs (“You told him about the statue?”). Still, neither “The Undiscovered Country” nor “First Contact” comes close to the glorious successes and excesses of “Into Darkness”.
From the first scene “Into Darkness” propels you into 132 minutes of virtually nonstop 3D action and intrigue. The film starts out as straightforward mission to capture a rogue Federation Agent, but quickly turns sideways. Kirk (Christopher Pine) comes to realize that the greatest enemy to the Federation and peace with the Klingon Empire lies at the very heart of the Federation. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the film’s principle villain (nope, I’ll not give that character’s true identity away!) and it is through interactions with this bad man that Kirk grows to appreciate the grave responsibilities that accompany the chair of command.
During those brief moments when the action in “Into Darkness” slows enough for us to catch our breath and get a smattering of plot-moving dialogue there are plenty of fun “ah-ha” moments. Alice Eve plays Dr. Carol Marcus whom many will remember should go on to have a child with Kirk as per “Wrath of Khan”. Kirk, Spock and Uhura land on the Klingon home world of Kronos in a ship that was impounded the previous month during some affair involving a fellow named “Mudd”, obviously the loveable charlatan rogue who appeared in two separate episodes of the original series. (Quick question: Anyone else think funnyman Jack Black would make a great Harry Mudd in Star Trek 3? Let me know, better yet, find a way to let J.J. Abrams know.) Nurse Christine Chapel is mentioned in passing and Leonard Nimoy even makes what may be the briefest cameo of his career as old Mr. Spock pointedly not advising his younger self. Perhaps the best homage moment came when Scotty (Simon Pegg) lamented the lack of power from the Enterprise.
The sets and special effects of “Into Darkness” are all top drawer and beyond imaginative. The Engineering section of the Enterprise is immense yet decidedly not terribly science-fiction-like; as one might imagine the engineering room of a high energy physics-driven star ship. The City of London is envisioned in the 23rd century as being overgrown by buildings that dwarf St. Paul’s Cathedral (which is visible in one scene but you have to look for it down around the base of the skyscrapers). The artificial gravity on board the U.S.S. Enterprise goes haywire at one point and we’re treated to one of the most dynamic gravitational mix-up scenes ever filmed, wherein the way “down” keeps shifting at the most inopportune of moments. All this filmic pizzazz and 3D cinematography blend seamlessly to create a visual joy ride worth twice the price of admission.
Since this is my first review of a 3D film I think I’d like to address this recently-reborn format. 3D lends itself very well to high action films such as “Into Darkness” where it can be utilized to bring space flotsam flying at you or have spears flying into the fray from behind you. In more intimate settings, the true artistry of the format can be seen when focus is shifted from foreground to background and multiple points in between very much the way our own eyes shift focus while scanning our 3D world. These shifts can be used to focus and hold our attentions, guiding us gently through what might otherwise be a very flat scene - pun intendedJ. 3D is definitely a format that has come of age in the past five years, but an exploration of its impact not only on “In Darkness” but on film in general should, and will, be the subject for a forthcoming essay.
I know there are many Trekkies and/or Trekers out there who are still freaking out over the recasting of the original series’ legendary characters. There are also some who would point out that Gene Roddenberry himself is on record as never wanting Star Trek to look back but always look forward. To those people I say, with respect, get over it. As long as the characters are respected and the story lines aren’t cheapened, why not explore where today’s cinematic technology can take Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and all of the crew of the gallant NCC-1707?
With a price tag of $185 Million - and every penny of it on the screen! – “Star Trek: Into Darkness” goes well beyond operating on all thrusters. This film has everything: action, drama, romance, bro-mance, strong special effects, Klingons and even a Tribble! In the end this Star Trek blazes ahead at Warp Factor 9 promising to take us once again, where no one has gone before.