News, Views, and Reviews
Without wanting to spoil anything, and with very little to criticize, it’s hard to know where this review should start. Into Darkness is quite possibly THE best science fiction adventure movie. Yes, it’s that good. I don’t know how it can be, or who will, top such an extraordinary film. Perhaps only J.J. Abrams will be able to top himself, with Star War VII, no less. Seriously, it’s hard to criticize anything. For two hours and twelve minutes, it rarely slows down, yet all that action contains so much intelligence and heart, it doesn’t need to. It can’t. Abrams hasn’t just made Star Trek relevant again, he’s revitalized science fiction. And action movies. REALLY. It will be hard to watch movies that aren’t held to this standard from now on.
Story: Again, I don’t want to spoil anything. Fans of the original series will have a lot to appreciate here, and newcomers will also love the story. Instead of discussing specifics, I can explain HOW the story is delivered, and demonstrate why it is worthy of such praise. As a gamer, the best analogy I can think of is comparing a video game that breaks up its action sequences with boring, non-interactive cut scenes, to a video game that merges the exposition and story telling WITH the game play. Into Darkness is a lot like the latter; carry on with the action and fill us in as we go. Even the impressive character development is squeezed in there somewhere.
As for story details, I suppose I can reiterate that original series fans should be happy, AND, anyone at all familiar with Kirk and Spock will be immensely entertained. In other words, prior awareness helps, but isn’t necessary. I think that’s the brilliance of this rebooted series: the clever “new timeline” established with the 2009 movie makes just about anything possible. Like any good time-traveling tale tells us, there will be ripple effects. It’s pretty fun for fans, for instance, to have these “a-ha!” moments like “oh, right! since that didn’t happen, and this happened, now what will happen?!” yet the movie is entirely entertaining to non-fans. It’s a win/win situation.
With all the attention I’m giving to visualization, characters, and acting, I feel I should be very clear about something: Into Darkness is still VERY MUCH Star Trek. There are PLENTY of deep discussion through out the movie: arguments about the Prime Directive, responsibility, sacrifice, family, etc. I think the sentiments that Abrams has taken the “Trek” out of Star Trek are totally unfair. Heck, even the title “Into Darkness” suggests some very, very deep thought provoking material, and the movie does not disappoint.
Characters: When a story focuses so strongly on main character development, there is bound to be small sacrifices given by minor characters. That’s not to say the support characters don’t have anything interesting to do, far from it. They each have their moment(s) to shine. If anything, they fill their roles exactly as they should – as support to the main characters. Sometimes you can learn a lot about a hero, not by his or hers actions, but how others look up to them. With all that said, I have to add more hyperbole: This is the most layered, deep characterizations of Kirk and Spock that I have ever seen. Ever. I also appreciate the attention paid to Uhura that continues from the 2009 movie. If I had to voice any complaint, it would be that the dynamic between Kirk and McCoy could be stronger. Their banter seems to be across communication channels rather than in person, so maybe just the delivery of that famous dynamic is all that has changed here.
Acting: Obviously, I couldn’t rave about great characterizations without strong performances. Really, everyone nails their parts. Continuing the comparison to video games that merge their story telling with the action, the beautifully framed shots and sequences in this movie are carried by the actors. Adding to that compliment, I have to point out, again, that the action rarely lets up. The fact that we get such strong performances and exciting action sequences is a great achievement. There is no doubt some talented actors here, but I want to give some credit to Abrams. He seems so capable of pulling emotional detail from the smallest sources; a glance here, an expression there, a watery eyed moment, and so on, that it all contributes to that merging of story telling AND action AND character development.
Visualization: Wow. Just, wow. Its hard for me to concede my current bar, the high esteem I hold for The Avengers movie, but I think Into Darkness surpasses it. Every sequence, every shot, every frame is just so artfully presented, it’s hard to maintain my enthusiasm. I have to mention that I watched Into Darkness in 3D, and loved it. I should also mention that Abrams is apparently NOT a fan of 3D, and in fact, the movie was post-production-converted to 3D. But you could never tell, as the scenes are really done justice by the effects. I am really of the opinion that 3D simply works best in fantastic settings, and Into Darkness should definitely be considered fantastic. Even without the 3D effects, Into Darkness is gorgeous. Which, if you think about it, is a tremendous achievement for a movie primarily set in the darkness of space.
I do have some personal reservations, some preferences, regarding the art style. Into Darkness shares the mechanical art style of the 2009 film, and I have to admit, I’m not a fan. I’m used to the sleek, smooth surfaces and the monitors and engine rooms contained on the small sets of TV shows. The engine of the Enterprise, for example, looks like the insides of a giant power plant. Maybe that’s more “realistic” or maybe I’m just distracted by how “modern” it looks, instead of looking more “futuristic” or fantastic. Strangely, that same mechanical sensibility is applied to the Klingons, and I actually liked it a lot. A Klingon “Bird of Prey” starship just looks so much more menacing when the “wings” move, as they do in the movie. I suppose going with this mechanical, industrial art style “grounds” the Star Trek world into reality, so I may eventually come around to liking it. That style is extended to the iconic “Phaser” weapons – and firefight sequences suffer, I think, because of it. Instead of “beams” of light flashing back and forth, the weapons seem to fire projectiles – which makes the firefights hard to follow. It’s an interesting choice to not include slow-motion sequences in an action/adventure movie. That choice, interestingly enough, is shared by the Star Wars movies.
Sound: I love the soundtrack. It’s a brilliant blend of new themes, bombastic action sequences and percussive moments, merged with the original, familiar, Star Trek theme. When a scene is perfectly framed, and a capable actor is carrying an emotional moment with just an expression, it helps if that scene is also supported by the perfect back ground music. The sound effects are also well done, but again, its strange not seeing – or hearing – the iconic Phasers. That’s definitely not a deal breaker, just something I couldn’t help noticing. It was fun to see J.J. Abrams name in the credits for at least one of the songs!
Conclusion: I hope this review is helpful. I find it hard to criticize anything about Into Darkness, and it’s a strange commentary on our culture that I should even be expected to. Why can’t a review be full of nothing but praise? I believe old fans and new fans should be pleased with this movie. I can’t stress enough that it has it all: action, drama, thought provoking discussion, character development, humor, and intelligence. I may do so reluctantly, but I do think it surpasses the quality of The Avengers. With that said, I find I’m more excited than ever for Star Wars Episode VII!
Star Trek Into Darkness hit theaters on May 16th, runs 2 hours and 12 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Violence.