“STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

A.k.a, the wrath of John Harrison. 

Star Trek Into Darkness is a sequel of excellent caliber, a science-fiction movie that not only lives up to the expectations set beforehand by its fans, but in many ways, surpasses them by making a much more efficient, fluent, exciting, and overall, more well-made film.  The movie is everything a science-fiction epic should be and more: it is exciting, suspenseful, entertaining, visually spectacular, and surprisingly emotional.  Were we expecting this?  I think we were not.  

Taking place a few years after the events of the first film, Star Trek Into Darkness finds the newly-appointed Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his first-mate Spock (Zachary Quinto) as they have just started breaking into their roles as pioneers of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  As they continue to carry out their duties, however, a new threat has arisen to challenge them and the entire Starfleet: Captain John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a sniveling criminal who has betrayed Starfleet for unknown reasons.  As Kirk and Spock begin to investigate further into Harrison’s history, however, they uncover a dark secret that will haunt their lives forever.

This is everything a great sequel is supposed to be: exciting, suspenseful, engaging, emotive, and reminiscent of the original.  The key ingredient to this recipe is its writers and director: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who are responsible for the witty and intelligent dialogue from the first movie, and J.J. Abrams, who is nearly a master at making blockbuster movies.  Abrams, whose most recent film was the intelligent and highly entertaining sci-fi Super 8 shows once again why he is one of the best filmmakers in the business: he is great at manipulating emotion.

In one scene, for instance, he shows a light-hearted, funny, rivalrous exchange between its two leads, Pine and Quinto.  In another scene, he shows an explosive, exciting, and suspensful mid-space gunfight through all of the lense flares and visual effects.  In another, he shows a sad, tragic, emotionally stirring moment between two close characters, almost bringing its audience to tears in the process.  With Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams does what every great director should: he doesn’t let the visual effects run on autopilot.  He illustrates every emotional moment of this film with alluring precision, and it only makes us all the more excited knowing that he’s going to be in the directors chair for Star Wars: Episode VII.  

Regardless of Abram’s direction, however, this movie would not have survived without Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman’s intelligent, creative, and captivating screenplay.  This movie once again reminds me why they are among my favorite writers in the industry: they highlight character motivation and emotions and embed them into gripping, fascinating, and exciting science-fiction stories.  This is prevalent in all of their work: Mission Impossible III.  Transformers.  Eagle Eye.  Even the first Star Trek was focused largely on character than it was in explosions and special effects (although, as you can guess, it didn’t disappoint in either category).  With Orci and Kurtzman, they do here with any of their screenplays that makes their writing the highlight of the film: they make the characters appealing, funny, likable, and sympathetic.  Even the bad guys have a soft spot we can root for.

Which leads me to my final point: the performances.  Specifically Benedict Cumberbatch, who gives such a rousing performance as the film’s villain that he stands out in my mind similar to The Joker from The Dark Knight, or Loki from The Avengers.  Cumberbatch, who is most known for portraying the title role in BBC’s Sherlock, plays here a villain so contrasting, so ruthless and unforgiving in nature, that one could say he’s a more driven antagonist than Nero was in the first Star Trek.  His movements are stiff in STID, his gaze cold and calculative.  But when his intent is revealed, its a secret so shocking that it shakes the entire theater like the collapsing corridors of the Enterprise when it is shot and going down.

That, and this movie has endless amounts of explosions, gunfights, spacefights and CGI, which only makes the movie all the more better.  The only thing this movie lacks is the originality of the first film, and it somehow doesn’t evoke the same sense of fascination the first one did either.  That hardly matters, because Star Trek Into Darkness is still a wonderful science-fiction story while paying homage to the earlier Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan, although I dare not say precisely how.  All you need to know right now is that Star Trek Into Darkness is engaging, intelligent, touching, shocking, energetic, and fun.

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