By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist May 20, 2013 at 3:37PM
This past Friday saw the release of one of the more hotly-anticipated blockbusters of a packed summer; J.J Abrams' "Star Trek Into Darkness." The film was already on the radars of many, thanks to its well-liked 2009 predecessor, but sci-fi geeks everywhere became doubly keen to see when it was announced earlier in the year that Abrams would be helming "Star Wars Episode VII."
However, the response so far seems to have been flavoured by a slightly underwhelmed note. Reviews have generally been positive, but few are doing backflips over the film with many, including ourselves, finding it to be inferior to the original, and some being far harsher than that. It hasn't quite lived up to box-office expectations either; it's done ok (much better overseas than at home, for one), but it certainly hasn't hit the expectations that Paramount had for such a major project.
The release of the film this past Friday means the U.S. has finally caught up to the rest of the world, so we wanted to go a little more in depth on the movie(as we already have this summer with "Iron Man 3" and "The Great Gatsby.") The fact that Abrams kept so much of the film in his 'mystery box,' meant that there was a certain amount that couldn't be talked about in reviews if you wanted to keep them spoiler-free. As it turns out some of those secret elements are amongst the worst aspects of the film, so *Spoiler Warning*, we've laid out below the Best & Worst of "Star Trek Into Darkness" -- let us know your own thoughts in the comments section below.
The opening is a lot of fun
It's been four years since we last saw the crew of the starship Enterprise, but that doesn't mean that J.J. Abrams and his crew are going to slow down to let us catch up. The opening moments of "Star Trek Into Darkness" are easily its most breathless and streamlined, both thematically and in terms of its core narrative. Yes, it’s ripping off Indiana Jones, among other things, but it’s also a perfect way to be reintroduced to 21st century Star Trek, dropping us into the middle of the action – Bones (Karl Urban) and Kirk (Chris Pine) and bolting away from a Mayan-looking temple, on a planet covered in red foliage. The primitive natives, with inky black eyes and caked-on ceremonial body-paint, are hurling spears at the Starfleet officers. Things then start to pile up – a cold fusion bomb needs to be planted inside a volcano; the zippy shuttle has to bail, leaving Spock (Zachary Quinto) inside the volcano; oh and the Enterprise is underwater, which like much of the movie, doesn’t make much sense, but is pretty nifty all the same. It all goes to help set up the sense that we’re stumbling into the end of a “Star Trek” episode; it’s just unfortunate that it seems to be more fun than the movie that follows.
The action scenes in general are strong.
The opening isn’t alone; the action set pieces are in general beautifully constructed and almost always flawlessly executed. There's the aforementioned opening sequence, which kicks things off with a bang and (from there) a series of wonderful sequences. There's the escape from the Klingon patrol ship, with Kirk piloting a small, disc-shaped ship away from a Bird of Prey by going through a tiny canyon. It’s followed later by the impressive ‘cannonball’ sequence where Kirk and Khan are catapulted out through a space junkyard to get to the Vengeance (easily the film’s best use of 3D, which in general is not very impressive.) A little while later there's an impressively loopy sequence with the Enterprise in freefall. This scenario, seemingly pulled off with "Inception"-like practical effects, has crew members running up and down walls and across hallways that have turned into chasms as the gravity shifts. It’s the most thrilling thing in the movie except for maybe one other bit; the "warp chase" where the hulking warship Vengeance chases the Enterprise as they are both travelling at warp speed, an action beat that’s never before appeared in the franchise. As usual, Abrams knocks most of these sequences (bar the dull final footchase) out of the park, which leads us to our next point.)
Abrams remains a technically adept director
The first Abrams-piloted "Star Trek" was ridiculed by some (at least after the fact) for what they perceived as excessive stylistic flourishes particularly for Abrams' use of lens flares, which were used by the director to make literal the kind of bright, starry-eyed optimism of the original series. By the end of that movie though, they had become so over-powering that the image began to strobe, creating an experience as wildly weird and psychedelically hallucinogenic as anything in "Spring Breakers" or "Enter the Void." While Abrams doesn't push things quite as far this time around (you get the sensation that he was hampered by both the 3D and IMAX technical limitations), he does direct things beautifully. The lens flares are back, but they carry with them ominous overtones – they are somewhat dimmer and blurrier; the previous movie's hopefulness is fading. The shots aren't as long and swirly, again reinforcing that this isn't a scenario that you want to luxuriate in. Additional Abrams-y flourishes including the kind of twinkly stardust trail the Enterprise leaves after it jumps into warp (something wholly absent from 2009's reboot) and a number of Abrams editorial tics, most notably the immortal "Khaaaaaan" call getting cut off by a zooming Vengeance nearly hitting the Enterprise, and Kirk realigning whatever-the-fuck it was in a series of successive, time-shortening quick cuts. Abrams' heart might not have been in this one as much, but that doesn't mean that he didn't direct the hell out of it, and it gives confidence in his technical abilities to take over “Star Wars” (if not in his storytelling abilities -- see below).
If there was one major triumph of Abrams' 2009 "Star Trek" it was the casting; the likability, and the fresh spins on the characters of the Enterprise crew managed to carry through the film, in spite of script flaws and other issues it might have had. The same is mostly true of the follow-up, at least when it comes to Chris Pine's Kirk and Zachary Quinto's Spock. The former is Shatner by way of James Dean, and he remains hugely charismatic, sometimes a bit silly, and sometimes sincere. It's his film, really, and he owns it. While Quinto has less to do this time around, he's still as strong as ever; in theory the emotionless Vulcan, in practice deceptively funny, and having a deep vein of feeling running under the surface. It's the latter that helps the film work better than perhaps it should; Pine and Quinto continue to have terrific chemistry together, and with the sequel staying away from the rivalry and one-upmanship of the original, they're given more time to build their friendship. The result, when Kirk is seemingly biting the dust, is that it's genuinely moving, and it's testament to the work that the two actors do across the two movies.