Arts movie review

More of the same

The new Star Trek is as familiar as the classics


Star Trek Into Darkness

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Zoe Saldana

The latest big-screen installment of the Star Trek franchise is great news for all Star Wars fans (“Wait, wait... what?” In a minute.) Although as an action movie it may appeal to a broader audience, Into Darkness is designed to delight Trekkies, the more hardcore they are the better. It is the perfect Star Trek movie, with all the familiar trimmings of the old-school classics we have come to love.

Your Captain Kirk is at the bridge of the Enterprise, courageous and impulsive, human to a fault, driven by instinct and gut-feelings. Your Spock is there by his side, more Vulcan than President Obama, rational and cool, driven by logic and rules. And your Kirk-Spock interplay is there, with the constant friction, the witty banter and — as the plot thickens towards a resolution — a breaking of their respective stereotypes and the predictable reversal of their roles (Kirk serenely sacrificing himself for the good of the many, and Spock letting his emotions come to the surface), the subsequent deepening of their friendship and a renewed mutual appreciation of their complementary characters. Like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, or peanut butter and jelly, these two are made to go together, and they know it as well as you do.

The usual Star Trek laws of nature apply in this movie, too. People can breathe without the need for any special equipment in the most unexpected settings, be it on the surface of a foreign planet or inside the core of a warp reactor. Aliens are humanoid in everything but the skin, and most speak English better than Scotty or Chekov. As in the first movie, in J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the franchise, there is a cameo of an aging character from the previous cast, and a second character from that past makes an appearance with a new face.

So this is all familiar territory. Yes, the colors are more vibrant and the sounds are crisper, the special effects are more convincing and the uniforms are fancier (the fabric has this little pattern of Federation shields... pretty cool, if you ask me.) The most innovative thing may be that the Enterprise leaves behind a trail of twinkling confetti when it goes into warp, and the fact that the movie was filmed in 3D. At the risk of appearing to be a 21st century Luddite, I have to say that the 3D cinematography may actually have detracted from the movie. For the most part it proves distracting and makes it hard to follow the fast-moving action, to the point that half-way through the movie I wish I had bought a 2D ticket instead. I’m not blaming the technology, but just pointing out that this particular execution looks amateurish compared to, say, Cameron’s Avatar. The only point at which the 3D really pays off is in a sequence of a deep-space dive from one ship to another through a field of debris.

Compared to the previous installment, there is only one new character that brings a gust of fresh air. And I don’t mean the utterly superfluous daughter of a Federation General played by the visually stunning but histrionically challenged Alice Eve (from She’s Out of My League) whose sole raison d’être on board the Enterprise — as far as I can see — was to show off her perfect 10 body in lingerie for a few frames.

I mean the powerful and complex character played by the beautiful Benedict Cumberbatch: Khan Noonien Singh, frustrated and vengeful, a perfect blend of Q’s airs of superiority and disdain for the human race and of Neo’s cool looks and awesome fighting skills. Cumberbatch was a revelation to me, and the perfect match of his performance with his physical appearance — the contained rage behind the piercing blue eyes, the restrained yet menacing attitude hidden in the boyish yet wrinkled countenance — are what makes this movie memorable. Beyond him not much is new, for we have seen it all before, either in the previous Abrams movie or its more distant predecessors. Despite the new pajamas, this is your father’s Star Trek. And that is precisely my beef with it.

Which brings me to my comment about this movie being good news for Star Wars fans. Abrams could have taken an established franchise and injected new life into it with risky choices that pay off and take the narrative out of the familiar and up to new heights (i.e. what Casino Royale did for James Bond). Instead, Abrams went for the tried and true, taking little or no risk with Into Darkness. He has proven that he can start with a known, familiar universe, with its well-developed lore, characters and idiosyncrasies, and to churn out a whole new movie that fits perfectly with its predecessors. He makes new movies about an established universe, without renewing it — which is exactly what Star Wars fans need to know so that they can calm down after the news that Episodes VII through IX will be filmed and that Lucas would will not be at the helm. You can breathe easy now, my fellow Star Wars fans. If you want more of the same, if you yearn for new episodes of the already familiar tale, J.J. Abrams is the man for the job.