JJ Abrams continues to stake out new frontiers for Star Trek franchise
Although it plunges “Into Darkness,” this round of Star Trek has a surprising lightness. Oh, there is still drama: deaths being avenged, worlds being saved, and romances becoming tense. But JJ Abrams’ follow-up to his 2009 reboot of classic TV-series-turned-film franchise feels like a perfect popcorn flick: It’s forgettably fun, in an endearing way. Abrams has managed to turn Star Trek into, for better or worse (depending on how Trekkie you are), a shiny new toy for 21st-century viewers.
While retaining some of the series’ core themes and most of the original characters, Abrams has created something with mainstream appeal for a generation (myself included) that won’t need to know the history of Star Trek to enjoy these new films.
Chris Pine is a young Captain Kirk, and this mission into space for the leader of the Starship Enterprise is motivated by vengeance. After a mentor of his is killed by terrorist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) at the Starfleet headquarters, Kirk takes his crew to Kronos, the dangerous planet of the Klingons, where Harrison has fled. Discovering the real reasons why Harrison—a former Starfleet agent—has gone rogue makes for one of the most interesting twists in the story. There are a few big ones, in fact, but all I can divulge is that Cumberbatch plays Harrison with a chilling presence, and is easily one of the strongest parts of the movie.
As for those lighter moments, they originate from strong on-camera relationships, most notably the one between Captain Kirk and first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto). Their famous friendship might be the original “bromance,” and the chemistry between Pine and Quinto is strong enough to sustain that theme. Almost all the big decisions made in their mission are first talked over, heart-to-heart. They always boiled down to what’s more important: going with guts (like Kirk) or logic (Spock style). Although this argument gets a little tiring, it creates tension for the serious moments, and comic relief, too. I appreciate when the strongest relationship in a blockbuster film doesn’t have to depend on traditional romance.
It’s when Into Darkness tries to be especially dramatic that it loses some credibility. (A few over-the-top close-up shots beg for a Saturday Night Live spoof.) To be fair, the film must be caught up in its own spectacle, because everything is expected to be such a scene: from battle sequences to dramatic pans of the beautiful Starship Enterprise. This works impressively well most of the time for this action/adventure film, but Abrams, who’s also responsible for some less-bombastic dramas (Felicity, Lost) should know how to tone it down with the interpersonal Star Trek scenes.
Regardless, it’s worth jumping on board for this journey, even if (especially if) you’re not a Trekkie. You don’t have to make a lifelong commitment to the Enterprise crew to enjoy this summer ride.