The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Star Trek Into Darkness

With his 2009 reboot of Star Trek, J.J. Abrams did something amazing: he made a film that satisfied hardcore Trekkies, while also keeping it accessible enough for people who don't really like Star Trek (*cough* LikeThisGuyRightHere *cough*). The sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, adheres to the old idea that anything that worked in the original should be amped up for the sequel. This approach creates a few problems, including a tendency to pander to the Trekkies in the crowd, although it doesn't stop the movie from being fun for the rest of us. Not as fun as the first one, perhaps, but still fun.

The story begins when a villain named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) launches an attack on the Starfleet Federation, then hides out on the Klingon planet. Starfleet Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) orders Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) to fly the Enterprise out to the edge of the neutral zone and launch missiles at him. Once in location, Spock (Zachary Quinto) convinces Kirk that it's immoral to kill the man without giving him a fair trial. They zip down to the planet and take Harrison into custody. Only when he's on board the ship do they learn that he has many secrets, some of which may spell doom for the Enterprise crew, as well as mankind in general. Simon Pegg returns as Scotty, Zoe Saldana again plays Uhura, and Alice Eve joins the cast as a comely science expert who conveniently strips down to her underwear at one point for no real reason. Because that's what attractive blondes are doing in movies this summer, right Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man 3?

Star Trek Into Darkness is more action-packed than the original, giving us several elaborate set pieces. All of them are very good, although I tended to prefer the ones that were a bit more dramatic in nature, such as the Enterprise free-falling from space, to the ones that were more stereotypically action-y, like the shootout on the Klingon planet. Perhaps the best involves two characters shooting through space in rocket suits, dodging debris the whole time. Abrams directs these sequences with clarity; we always know what's going, despite rapid editing and frequent use of shaky-cam.

Some of the character development is pleasing, too, especially as it pertains to Spock. The film initially milks his lack of emotion for laughs – particularly in regard to his relationship with Uhura – but by the end, he has grown in ways we could not have anticipated. Kirk evolves too. He's still a hotshot who takes wild chances based on gut instinct, yet the story allows him to humble himself on occasion. Pine and Quinto do strong work, distinguishing themselves from the actors who originated these roles. Probably the best performance comes from Cumberbatch, who makes Harrison legitimately menacing without tipping over into camp. He's a great bad guy.

There's no major thing I can pinpoint in identifying why I thought the first Star Trek was slightly superior to this one. It's more like a bunch of little tiny things added together. The plot tends to be a bit all over the place, as it tries to cram in as many character arcs and story twists as possible. A few of the characters, like Sulu and Chekov, get short shrift this time. There is an overused cliché involving someone we think is good who turns out to be bad. Perhaps most bothersome to me was that the movie, on at least three occasions, throws in out-of-nowhere, pandering references for the hardcore Trekkies. Intrusions like this took me out of the film momentarily. Abrams' Star Trek is best when it's forging its own path, not harkening back to the original iteration of the series.

Star Trek Into Darkness doesn't collapse under the weight of these minor problems. Enough solid material exists to keep things humming right along in spite of them. The movie has exciting action, effective performances, and excellent special effects – all the things we expect in a summer movie of this variety. But when the third Abrams Star Trek adventure comes around, I hope he reins it in a little bit. Give us a simple, character-based story with some well-timed scenes of excitement. That formula is what made the first installment great. Star Trek Into Darkness is just good.

( out of four)

Star Trek Into Darkness is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence. The running time is 2 hours and 13 minutes.

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