Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (Revivals)

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I may spoil by suggestion, inference, allusion and omission. That still spoiling?

Like Harve Bennett before him, J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek for Paramount. Both took a loved but semi-popular franchise and had to reimagine it to serve the fair-weather fan and the audience who treated the mythology like a religion. Both found ways of marrying the universe’s allure with its “science” and, now, both have entered Star Trek’s most discussion-worthy sequels.

While Bennett’s sequel was the Toy Story 2 of its franchise (in number and accomplishment) Abrams’ sequel (well, second prequel) is with more juvenile concerns. But Abrams’ needs those young bodies because his story moves at a break neck pace that future Spock can’t follow and what we lose amidst all the strategy and speed is sensuality. On the one hand, “Huzzah!” he’s made a pretty, violent movie that still qualifies as PG-13 and can play the Bible belt. (It can, right?)

Eh, Abrams trades philosophy for chess maneuvers and the result is a feeling that we’re all having cake and eating it, too. Nothing is the original—the series’ low rent effects were like an impediment you had to overcome to get to its ideas, and wow did that make the ideas feel like glowing discoveries. Into Darkness is already shiny all over: the explosions (MANY), the destruction (MUCH) and the death toll (HIGH) feel like someone demanded this sequel “take it up a notch.” My favorite side-lined addition is the relationship between Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller!) and his daughter Carol (Alice Eve), whose battle of wills ends with conflicted heroism from both parties. She runs from his grasp and it’s glorious.

Benedict Cumberbatch is a villain in the vein of He Who Must Not Be Named—not just because he’s so British he constantly recalls Harry Potter, but because revealing his identity has been declared a big dumb spoiler. In a film that inverts most of the plots it references, Cumberbatch’s casting and character are the film’s hardest inversion: he’s sexless and strategic, with no kinship to the identity he references except a fleet of torpedo/popsicles.

The standards are the same with slight alteration: Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is still swaggery, he’s just sweaty because he’s kinda green. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is still cold and emotionless, but now he’s dating Uhura (Zoe Soldana) and sometimes veers (I think unwisely) into visible upset. Scotty (Simon Pegg) is still snarky, Sulu (John Cho) is still severe and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is barely there. Bones (Karl Urban) spews similes and when Kirk commands him to “stop it with the metaphors” it’s almost a reminder to you to stop using “like” and “as” in your head. (This movie knows you're making comparisons.)

There’s an episode in Gene Roddenberry’s original series in which the Captain and his officers study a despotic sex pot revived from a centuries long cryogenic sleep. They’re thrilled by his ballsiness. Spock is confused: “We can admire him and disapprove,” Kirk explains. “You feel his magnetism,” Dr. McCoy says. In another room, a lady officer feels his perpetually bare chest. In 2013, feeling isn’t so pronounced, but remembering (and comparing) is, and when you hear “is the ship out of danger?” delivered with hope, exhaustion, strained officiousness, a hand on the glass, the past is not present but still sweet and welcome.

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About Sara Vizcarrondo

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Sara Vizcarrondo is a freelance film critic out of San Francisco. She runs Opening Movies at Rottentomatoes, teaches film/media studies at DeAnza college and writes on film for Popdose and The SF Bay Guardian.

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