Sorry, Stanley Kubrick, but why couldn’t J.J. Abrams have faked the moon landing? After seeing his new movie, “Star Trek Into Darkness” (released May 17), I’m sure it would have been a space adventure of epic proportions starring Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin with music by Michael Giacchino. Following up 2009’s “Star Trek,” Abrams returns viewers to the lens flare-filled world of Star Fleet and interstellar travel with this exciting and action-packed sequel, which, in my humble opinion, is better than the critically acclaimed 2009 reboot.
Abrams brought back screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (both were writers for the first film), who skillfully crafted the clever script of the sequel, with the addition of Damon Lindelof (“Prometheus” and co-creator of “Lost”). Filled with throwbacks, amazing visual effects by George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, exciting action sequences, a cohesive and understandable plot, smart dialogue, terrific performances, and a great score, this film provokes an instant “nerdgasm” for Trekkies and science fiction fans alike. This is truly the first blockbuster of the summer that really delivers!
The sequel starts off at warp speed, and its momentum only grows over the course of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. “Into Darkness” opens in an “Indiana Jones” style with Capt. James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) and company running from a group of spear-chucking natives who look a bit like the Engineers from last year’s “Prometheus” on a Class M planet covered in beautiful red foliage known as Nibiru (interested yet?). The mission is to render an active volcano inert before it wipes out the indigenous people, which entails an exciting sequence of lowering the logic-driven Spock (Zachary Quinto) into a boiling volcano with a device that turns the molten rock into solid stone. While this mission almost compromises the first officer’s life, it also goes against the Prime Directive that prohibits interfering with alien civilizations. Needless to say, this suspenseful first scene is just a taste of things to come, and I was instantly hooked.
The main focus of the film is underway when Star Fleet comes under attack from John Harrison (“Sherlock”’s Benedict Cumberbatch), a manipulative one-man killing machine with superhuman capabilities, an infamous villain from the original television series. Cumberbatch’s villain is menacing and unreadable, making us guess what his next move will be. To put it into perspective, he is Star Trek’s version of Loki from “The Avengers.” Throughout the movie, he is able to blow up a Star Fleet intelligence base known as Section 31 under a London archive (named after Abrams’ grandfather, Kelvin), attack Star Fleet headquarters, crush someone’s skull and take out a group of Klingons singlehandedly.
Kirk and his crew take on the mission to pursue Harrison and bring him to justice. The whole gang comes back together, from the hilarious, wise-cracking Scotty (Simon Pegg) to the no-nonsense Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) and his iconic catchphrase, “Jim, I’m a doctor, not a(n) (other profession).” Alice Eve plays newcomer Dr. Carol Marcus, a character with a link to one of the film’s villains. Other than that, the British blonde bombshell doesn’t do much except give Abrams the opportunity to include some brief nudity.
Along the way, the crew of the Enterprise encounters some twists, betrayal and action. Pine is perfect as the cocky yet brave captain of the Enterprise who uses the rules more as guidelines. None of that Shatner overacting here, thank you very much. Like a true playboy, he’s flying through space one minute and enjoying intimate time with a pair of sexy alien chicks the next. Quinto was the logical choice for the role of Spock the pointy-eared commander who lets his human side creep out of his hardened Vulcan exterior at just the right moments, especially when it comes to his relationship with Kirk. Nevertheless, some diehard fans of the series may object to his romantic involvement with Lt. Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), something that deviated from the original series and films. Still, one must keep in mind that Abrams created an entirely new timeline in the first film in order to distinguish these movies from the originals and manipulate the story as he saw fit. As a result, some famous occurrences are flip-flopped here. Nevertheless, a funny scene has Spock and Uhura bickering like an old couple of the future. As the crew cruises through space, we get breathtaking and realistic-looking shots of nebulas and planets, something I have dubbed “galaxy porn.”
The action sequences are beautifully destructive arrays that grab you by the collar and never let go. All of them are suspenseful and climatic and involve the Enterprise plummeting to Earth (think of it as “Titanic” in space!), a starship crashing into the San Francisco headquarters of Star Fleet, and an exciting fight between Spock and Harrison. There are plenty of explosions along the way, and the effects are top notch, making the action feel real.
I was lucky enough to see this movie with my father, a fan of the original series and movies, who was able to point out all the references to Gene Roddenberry’s 1960s television series that only ran for three seasons on NBC. Tribbles, phasers, Nurse Chapel (Spock’s original love interest) and Leonard Nimoy (the original Spock) are just a few of the throwbacks included in this movie. My dad also assured me that the sleek look of the Enterprise has not changed since he was a kid, a real sign of dedication and reverence for the source material. The overall look of the film is a sci-fi nerd’s dream, as Abrams constructs an expansive futuristic playground for his characters. It is a world of spherical ice cubes, self-tying seat belts, cryogenics and dilithium crystals that make interstellar travel possible. The color tone of the film is somewhat gray, denoting the impersonal, more calculating feeling of a future filled with technology that takes care of all our needs.
The film’s music was done by Giacchino (“Up,” “Ratatouille,” “Super 8”), the extremely talented music man who has been a longtime collaborator with Abrams, evoking the Spielberg-Williams dynamic. His epic and horn-filled score fills us with wonder and emotion as we traverse through space with such colorful characters. As the final credits role, his adventurous rendition of the show’s original theme is just perfect.
Abrams is truly the master of his craft, proving that he can crank out satisfying movies from original and adapted material. While directing television adaptations of “Mission: Impossible III” and “Star Trek,” he also wrote and directed 2011’s Spielbergian nostalgia fest “Super 8.”. The man behind “Lost,” “Alias” and “Fringe” has proven his sci-fi worthiness, and it is for this reason that I have no doubt that he will do great justice to the seventh “Star Wars” film, slated for a 2015 release. From what we’ve seen thus far, I think you can trust Abrams to boldly go where no man has gone before.