Monday, May 27, 2013

Movie Review: "Star Trek: Into Darkness"

Now that's how you do a sequel! Iron Man 3 and this, the second installment of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek redux, have proven that not all summer movie sequels are tired retreads of their predecessors. I really loved this movie and might be so bold to say I liked it even more than the first film, which I thought kicked some serious ass.

When the movie opens, the Enterprise is exploring a primitive planet which is destined to be destroyed by a volcano. But the crew decides to save the planet by detonating a device that will neutralize the volcano. As you might imagine, things go somewhat awry, which leads to Kirk (Chris Pine) deciding that in order to save a member of the crew, they must violate the Prime Directive, meaning that these primitive people would see their spacecraft, which could have serious ripples in the space/time continuum. (It makes more sense in the movie.)

Kirk's decision leads to a great deal of friction—between him and Spock (Zachary Quinto), between Spock and Uhura (ZoĆ« Saldana), and between Kirk and Starfleet, which is tremendously unamused at Kirk's constant flouting of the rules. But tensions are put on hold when Starfleet is attacked by one of their own, the mysteriously dangerous John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, magnetic and seriously badass), who has 70 of his comrades cryogenically frozen in photon torpedo tubes. Harrison is, of course, far more than meets the eye, and again, Kirk and his crew must decide whether or not to trust Harrison or to follow their instincts. The crew's interaction with Harrison and those with whom he has allied himself (and those that have dared cross him) is the catalyst for some great action, some humor, and even a little emotion.

When the first movie in Abrams' series premiered four years ago, people were amazed at how well the actors embodied their television/film predecessors. But they are far more than caricatures or imitations of the original actors—many have fleshed their roles out beyond what we're familiar with. Pine combines William Shatner's bravado with a surprising vulnerability; Quinto's Spock has a sensitivity and complexity beyond Leonard Nimoy's; and Saldana's Uhura is undoubtedly the superwoman that Nichelle Nichols probably wished she could have been during the television series' run. Simon Pegg (Scotty), Karl Urban (Bones), and John Cho (Sulu) each have their wry moments—in my opinion, only Anton Yelchin (Chekhov) seemed a little too bumbling.

But this movie honestly belongs to Benedict Cumberbatch. Powerful, dastardly, sly, and sensitive, his embodiment of John Harrison is in the mold of Javier Bardem's portrayal of Silva in Skyfall last year—a villain so complex and so damaged you don't know whether you should fear him or empathize with him. One can only hope we'll see his return in future installments.

I am not a "Trekkie" although I watched the original series and many of its spinoffs, and I saw the first two movies with the original cast. I understand that some have said this was a great movie but not a good Star Trek movie. All I know is I was captivated from start to finish, far more emotionally invested than I would have thought, and had a great time. And I don't know if you could ask for much more from the summer movie season.

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