When JJ Abrams' spirited reimagining of Star Trek came out in 2009 to much fanfare and acclaim, I was a real stick in the mud about it. What is with all this action and edge? These Starfleet officers are young and viral! They jump off of fast-moving objects in the clouds and then land on other fast-moving objects and keep fighting. The new films are light on the conceptual science fiction (think overly simplistic analogy to explain impossibly complex theoretical physics principles) and heavy on the fantasy action/adventure angle. And so the tradition continues with Star Trek Into Darkness.
Fans will recall that we are not in a Gene Roddenberry universe anymore. Something happened in the first movie, a wrinkle in time or whatever, and now Spock, Kirk, Uhura, Bones, Scotty, Zulu and the rest are living in an alternative history. At the start of Into Darkness, Kirk's brazen attitude saves a primitive people's planet as well as Spock's (Zachary Quinto) life from an exploding volcano in a last-minute rescue (of which this film has many). His failure to follow protocol gets Kirk (Chris Pine) dethroned from the captain's seat, but he's only out of the chair for, like, seven minutes, so don't worry. A sworn enemy of Starfleet (Benedict Cumberbatch) blew up the federation's archives in Future London and has since absconded to forbidden Klingon territory, a people who you're doubtless aware are an enemy to the human race. It's up to Kirk to figure out how to bring the fugitive to justice without starting a war or infuriating his superior officer. Bear in mind, the fugitive is a young, incredibly fit Kahn and Kahn is our sworn nemesis.
My bad attitude about the new Star Trek is mostly misplaced. The television series is a relic of an obsolete time in television history. The plots for each episode were mostly static, and the characters were prudish and stuffy. You'd have to be a hopeless Luddite who hates change to cling so vehemently to the tired past. Star Trek Into Darkness puts the action film in science fiction clothing, at least, and well done there. Unlike some directors (I'm looking at you, Lucas), Abrams doesn't overreach with insane CGI aliens. True to tradition, they are bipedal and humanoid. It's fun to see a weird fish monster in a red shirt diddling on a touch screen in the background. And there's no product placement in sight, although everyone's communication transporters look suspiciously like Motorola flip phones, so maybe I'm wrong about that.
The action sequences are thrilling, well choreographed and abundant, but none of that matters if we don't care about the fate of the characters or understand what they're fighting for. With these criteria in mind, I'd say that Into Darkness is operating at about an 80 percent success rate. It's a well-written story, inhabited by smart, funny officers. Remakes that use iconic characters are a good formula for action; it saves time on character development.
I wonder about the title. There's not very much darkness in Star Trek Into Darkness. The main themes are familiar to the canon: There's Spock's never-ending battle between matters of the head and the heart. Is it better to follow protocol or do the right thing? And yes, the enduring power of friendship.
Star Trek Into Darkness fulfills its obligation to the audience, but I hope next time Abrams digs a little deeper. Kirk is such the hero, his only flaw is cockiness, and it's hardly a flaw when he always makes the jump and his instincts are never wrong. I want to see him fall on his face. Maybe in the third movie he could mess up the mission and start an all-out war with the Klingons. Who doesn't want to see that?
Star Trek Into Darkness continues at the Carmike 13.