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Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Movie Review

After J.J. Abrams boldly rebooted the dusty "Star Trek" franchise in 2009 (and that's coming from a die-hard fan), he returns with an ill-named sequel, "Star Trek Into Darkness", that plays more like a transitional story than its own film. Whereas the reboot threw several sacred Trek cows under the bus, this film ironically suffers from hewing too closely to canon.

The sequel finds Kirk and company on a "routine mission" to explore a "strange, new world". Naturally, things go south and the crew find themselves narrowly escaping death while breaking several Starfleet rules and regulations - including the coveted Prime Directive. This little stunt gets Kirk on hot water with the top brass. Just as he's being chastised, a terrorist attack destroys a major Starfleet installation, and it's up to Kirk to set things right.

If this all sounds very pat, it pretty much is. But if "Iron Man 3" taught us anything, it's that the right script can take a familiar formula and make it feel fresh again. Unfortunately, the "Into Darkness" script - again by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, this time with Damon Lindelof - isn't the right script. It has several promising moments, but it doesn't coalesce into a meaningful whole. And it jumps through logical hoops to get its many elements to fall into place.

It doesn't help that the actors aren't playing characters yet, they're mostly playing representations of the characters we remember. That was fine in the first film, but now they need to stand on their own. Instead, Kirk and Spock (Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, relaxing into the roles) are all about bold pronouncements and meaningful looks but they haven't earned those moments yet. The gravity of their relationship is only made meaningful by the weight we bring to the film. The "Star Wars" prequels had the same problem.

The action scenes are a mixed bag as well. Some are thrilling (a zero-G base jump, a fire-fight at warp speed), but others (a chase through a red forest, a fistfight atop a floating cargo ship) could be taken from any sci-fi spectacle. And Mr. Abrams' shaky, hand-held directorial style does not lend itself well to 3D (plus, his signature lens flares are hard to make three-dimensional).

The first Abrams "Trek" was at its best with a knowing wink (a tribble here, a green woman there) rather than a broad homage. "Into Darkness" falters when it tries too hard to repeat the success of old Shatner/Nimoy series; the filmmakers are better served by creating their own moments. The film struggles to find a balance between the old and the new. But if we learned nothing else from the first film, it's that the need to please the many outweighs the need to please the few.

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