It’s tough to be a sentient and alert human being and not be a fan of J.J. Abrams’s better work. But never have I appreciated the visionary filmmaker and TV maestro more than when he went on The Daily Show recently and boldly went where few thought he would ever go–in the nicest way possible, he called out old-school Star Trek as the unwatchable garbage that it is.
He said he aimed to create a Star Trek that anyone could enjoy, implying that everything else that came before could only be enjoyed by easy-lay dingbats who overlooked dopey plotting, pathetic special effects and hambone acting.
Those could be easily seen as fighting words, but Abrams proves he can more than back up the smack, so series fans just need to cower as he backhands them upside the head. Star Trek Into Darkness is not only every bit the crowd-pleasing, thoughtprovoking breeze that Abrams’ 2009 franchise reboot was, but a hyperspace jump better. Now that Abrams has cleared away all the groundwork to shape his perfectly-cast Enterprise crew, he’s free to cherry-pick from Gene Roddenberry’s fiction to tell a bold, brilliant story of his own.
You can practically see the mega-budget cash wads sparkle on the screen with the sweet effects, which make the movie seem as though it was filmed on location in the Fanboy Wet Dreams sector of deep space. The story wastes no time getting the action pumping, with the Kirk (Chris Pine)-led Enterprise crew going rogue while trying to save a primitive planet by shutting down a volcano. What might have been a throwaway, though thrilling, action-gasm turns out to have important implications for the unfolding saga. And the thrill-pieces only get more stunning from there.
Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are punished, and the plot proper unfolds when a terrorist attack plunges them back into action in an ethically questionable plan of attack that eerily prods some recent U.S. foreign policy moves.
What results is a bromance between best frenemies forever Kirk and Spock as they deal with double-crosses, hidden identities among friends and foes alike and the everpresent threat from those dickish Klingons. Both leads deliver performances that are almost too good for the traditionally one-trick characters they inhabit, blasting away their shells with their phasers set to obliterate.
The supporting cast is nearly as phenomenal. Simon Pegg is a half-cocked parody, yet always funny, as Scotty, Karl Urban is ever on the verge as flipping out as Bones, and John Cho is a glue guy as Sulu. And Benedict Cumberbatch, whose name seems to have been pulled from a Lemony Snicket book, does what he can in a fairly thankless role as the villain du jour.
With the blistering fast-moving Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams shows why Star Trek always could have been great but never was. With his two movies, he has not only resurrected something pathetic that deserved to die in a thousand ways back to cultural relevance, but provided trembling hope for downtrodden Star Wars fans that the same is possible for their beloved series when Abrams takes a crack at it next. Nothing about the future is guaranteed – just look at Boston Red Sox miracle-working G.M. Theo Epstein’s failure of Cubs fans – but at least there is something resembling a new hope.
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Yrvan, Alice Eve, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Peter Weller and Anton Yelchin. Written by Roberto Ori, Alex Kurtsman and Damon Lindelof, based on Gene Rodenberry’s characters. Rated PG-13. 133 minutes.