Now Playing Review

New Star Trek hits warp speed, and stays there

lars logoYEP YEP – J.J. Abrams must drink an awful lot of coffee.

Not only is he a prolific creative force in both film and television, but the guy understands the patience, or lack thereof, of today’s movie-going audience, and he constructs his pacing accordingly.

Star Trek Into Darkness is big time high-octane summer popcorn and Red Vine movie fun.

James Tiberius Kirk and the Starship Enterprise are back – and this time they slow down for no one!

The film opens with a scene unapologetically reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark – Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) desperately fleeing from a tribe of generic indigenous spear-chucking warriors. The visuals here are rich, the forest in which the chase happens dangles vivid red branches, and the warriors are painted white and yellow. Meanwhile, Spock (Zachary Quinto) toils away at the center of the planet, trying to prevent a volcanic eruption. He becomes engulfed in molten madness and it looks like Kirk and his crew are going to have to cut their losses and leave ol’ Spock behind to become one with the lava.

star trekClassic Star Trek dilemma, right? Say it with me…”the Prime Directive.” Well done. You know the one that says the good of the one does not outweigh the good of the many.

Except Kirk and Spock are homies from way back, so it’s not all that clear-cut.

SPOLIER ALERT: They do not leave Spock behind to become one with the lava.

This decision, however, costs Kirk his command and sets the real storyline racing forward. The one involving the thawing out of a 300 year old nemesis named Khan. Apparently there’s more wrath in his fanny pack than we knew.

So no sooner does Kirk regain control of his beloved Enterprise, than he is faced with a new dilemma – whether or not to negotiate with terrorists.

“There will always be those who wish to do us harm,” Spock says to Kirk. “To stop them we run the risk of awakening the same evil within ourselves.”

My favorite of all of the Star Trek films (there have now been 12!), is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The late great Ricardo Montalban played the bitter, disenfranchised Khan with mucho gusto. If you’ve never seen it, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Montalban KhanThis time around Khan is played by Brit Benedict Cumberbatch. Don’t let his name fool you, this chap can not only act, he brings some sweet menace to the role. Much like Tom Hiddleston elevated the tension as Loki in Thor, Cumberbatch makes the stakes legit here, fighting to the death to not only get revenge, but preserve his still-frozen ancient crew.

Good stuff. This is a fun ride.

Don’t know who deserves the lion’s share of the casting credit. Whether it’s director Abrams, casting director April Webster, or a clutch of hopped up power agents in Beverly Hills and Century City; but it was obvious with the last film (Star Trek, 2009) that they got it right, and now it’s even more apparent. This group of actors is so well-fitted to these iconic roles, they might just rattle off another half-dozen “episodes.”

Pine and Quinto bring a ton of depth and humanity to their relationship – crucial for theses films to work. Sexy, sassy stars, Zoe Saldana and Karl Urban add just the right urgency and integrity as Uhura and Bones. Funny man Simon Pegg supplies the perfect comedic relief necessary to contrast all of the life or death circumstances as Scotty. John Cho and Anton Yelchin round out the Smithsonian ensemble perfectly as Sulu and Chekov.

Again, huge props to casting director April Webster, not only for how spot-on these actors are in these incredibly familiar roles, but for getting them all back for this sequel.

I’ve always believed that the reason Gene Roddenberry’s  Star Trek was such a popular television show, aside from its campy melodramatic style (intended or not), was that it was a show about ideas. Big ones. Philosophical, political, religious, spiritual. Ethical.

Star Trek Into Darkness is about loyalty and friendship. It’s about the human cost of sacrifice and the age old notion that “it is better to have loved and to have lost than to never have loved at all.”

I can get with that.

However, one growing complaint I have with all of these blockbuster sci-fi superhero action films (see my review of Man of Steel) is the casual way they go about wreaking violent havoc on major urban areas while simultaneously trying to enlist us in caring about the fate of their characters. Especially with Star Trek and its pre-occupation with the mortality theme.

The plot will not suffer if, for instance, the plummeting spaceship lands in the harbor and crashes into some unattended sea vessels, stopping at lands end, rather than decimating countless skyscrapers. We’ve seen what that looks like – and it’s not entertainment.

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