Darkness Lights up Summer
By Carl Kozlowski
Four years ago, Hollywood mastermind J. J. Abrams took the reins of the Star Trek franchise and brought it back to life as the director and producer of a reboot that followed the original TV series’ lead characters from their origins as young officers working for the Federation. Combining a riveting story with surprisingly funny dialogue and state-of-the-art special effects, he crafted an entertaining movie that earned $209 million at the US box office, making it the biggest moneymaker in the 11-film history of the franchise.
Now he’s back with the follow-up Star Trek: Into Darkness, working from another script by the team of writers Alex Kurtzmann and Roberto Orci with Damon Lindelof, but the results aren’t quite as stellar. Jumping on the 3D bandwagon, they have opted to create a more visually flamboyant movie while setting it in a more claustrophobic environment, with the result that many of the action sequences—especially laser-strewn firefights—are headache-inducing and hard to follow whose shooting, hitting or kicking whom.
They’ve also stumbled by having several scenes appear to be lifted from other movies, with strong reminders of Skyfall, Minority Report, Oblivion and even Die Hard dotting the plot points. While the overall movie is still entertaining enough to be worth seeing, with other plot points that are genuinely surprising, it’s a shame that the core creative trio couldn’t keep things as thoroughly fresh as their prior film.
The story of Into Darkness begins with the USS Enterprise exploring a planet that is about to be blown to pieces by a volcano. Going against orders, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) orders Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) down to the planet to set off cold fusion bombs that can neutralize the volcano and save the endangered planet. But when they thoroughly violate Federation orders by allowing the planet’s natives to see the Enterprise and Kirk is caught lying in his incident report, he is stripped of his command and reduced in rank to become the first officer of his mentor Christopher Pike.
Just then, the Federation’s London archives are blown up by a Federation employee who’s blackmailed into committing the dastardly act. At a subsequent top-secret Federation leadership meeting, Kirk notices that in the surveillance footage of panicked crowds in the aftermath, a mysterious Federation member is seen calmly walking with a suspicious backpack—a fact that is disconcertingly similar to the real-life April bombing at the Boston Marathon.
Before Kirk can really advance this argument, the Federation officers are under attack by that suspect employee, killing off Kirk’s mentor Pike and putting Kirk back in charge of the Enterprise. He leads a mission to Cronos, home planet of the Klingons, to track down the mysterious man, but instead Spock convinces him to capture and return him to Earth for a trial.
That’s when the movie hits its best stretch, a sustained series of events in which the mystery man is in fact revealed to be one of Kirk’s all-time greatest nemeses. Yet, despite the man’s capacity for evil, Kirk still needs him to assist the Enterprise crew in taking down an even more complex and diabolical person and avert an all-out, politics-driven war against the Klingons. And there’s still a twist or two to go from there.
Where the first Abrams Star Trek film had an epic scope throughout, Into Darkness is more claustrophobic and psychological in its showdowns. Much of the movie takes place aboard the Enterprise and another, bigger ship of a surprise enemy, rather than across vast swaths of space, but this approach works to its advantage as writers Kurtzmann and Orci have our heroes grapple with issues that parallel those we face in present-day Afghanistan: When is it morally justifiable to kill someone? Do even terrorists deserve a fair trial? Do even our seemingly noblest leaders seek out excuses to start wars?
The crackling good dialogue and three-dimensional performances that Abrams draws out of his cast also help Into Darkness through its rough patches. If you’re looking for summer blockbuster entertainment that can also make you think, Star Trek: Into Darkness is just the ticket.