Star Trek Into Darkness
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Star Trek Into Darkness boldly retreads where other episodes have gone before.
3D: The Final Frontier
The latest Star Trek is designed to elicit gasps and cheers from Trekkies, but the magic might not impress the uninitiated. It's a sequel chock full o' surprises and spoiler-caliber material, so it'll have to be discussed here in broad strokes and generalities.
On the plus side, the movie is good, albeit not great, and the 3-D is fun, including one particularly nice in-your-face effect during the opening action.
On the down side, the way characters are jerked around - Starfleet rankings, friendships, jobs, and lives are tossed to and fro with reckless abandon, accompanied by Michael Giacchino's oftentimes intrusive score - it becomes obvious the heartstrings are being pulled in the service of insincere storytelling. Throw in plot twists, over-the-top action scenes, and crashing starships and the end result feels a lot like watching a steroid-addled gerbil running ramshod in a discovery ball. It's entertaining for a while, but then it starts to grate on the nerves.
Those dulled senses are a disappointing end game for a movie that starts off so strongly and confidently.
The Dark Star Rises
The action begins on a primitive planet with aboriginal beings in pursuit of Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine, Unstoppable) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban, RED) while Spock (Zachary Quinto, Margin Call) is on a mission to cool off an overheating volcano that's threatening to wipeout an entire civilization. All the while, the Enterprise is hidden at the bottom of the ocean. Yeah, it starts that big.
That pre-title action sequence is followed by a very interesting change in tone and pace. This part of the movie unfolds in a sweetly lyrical fashion, almost entirely without words and with one of Giacchino's best arrangements. A London-based Starfleet officer's daughter is deathly ill. Then the officer meets a man who can save his daughter's life - for a tremendous price. There's a keen sense of excitement that perhaps this story really will be bold and go somewhere new.
Those events kick off the main storyline, one that acknowledges the traditional Star Trek mission of exploration and peace is going to be temporarily put on the back burner in favor of good ol' fashioned interstellar butt-whoopin'. As is rapidly becoming commonplace in the comic book, fantasy, and science-fiction genres, the zeitgeist, current events, and recent history lend a bit of gravitas to the story.
In this case, though, the movie's dedication to post-9/11 service men and women comes across as a little disingenuous. Right before the dedication, Kirk warns of the dangers of becoming a monster while fighting a monster. The solution, instead, is to put the monster on ice and, ostensibly, allow the monster to become someone else's problem.
Lost in Space
The 2009 reboot was fun to watch, much of the entertainment stemming from the pitch-perfect cast taking on the mannerisms and tics of well-known characters. That sense of fun resumes here, but to a limited degree; the novelty's worn off. The banter is good and, for better or worse, that weird romance between Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana, Avatar) is still chugging along. And Kirk is still struggling to balance his ego and libido with the tasks at hand; his short fuse is given loads of moral dilemmas to address. It's as if Kirk is faced with one Kobayashi Maru scenario after another.
But... Not much more can be said along those lines. Suffice it to say Earthlings are in danger and this Star Trek features an E.T.-like moment that should generate a state of euphoria, but instead it falls flatter than a tribble trampled by a herd of banthas. Pardon the mixed metaphor, but don't forget director J.J. Abrams is set to direct Star Wars Episode VII. As for that E.T. moment, it's simply one more setup for manipulative tugs at the heartstrings wrapped in a time warp of Star Trek's greatest hits.
It's wishful thinking, but maybe primary writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who wrote the reboot along with a slew of J.J. Abrams' TV projects - and also the first two Transformers movies - should take some time off. The final frontier is in need of some fresh air.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.