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25 Movies to See Before the Oscars: 22. Star Trek Into Darkness

Nominations: Visual Effects

(L to R) Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Chris Pine in 'Star Trek Into Darkness'

After the massive success J.J. Abrams had with completely reinventing the origin story of the Starship U.S.S. Enterprise back in 2009, a sequel was inevitable. Star Trek Into Darkness, the second chapter in a planned reboot trilogy, continues on the trajectory of finding a new identity for the fictional twenty-third century in the actual twenty-first century. Despite what the Trekker blogs would have the rest of the world think, Darkness is, even with its oddities and shortcomings, a fantastic film with ideas evolved and refined, if not bettered, from its point of reference.

The film opens with a fantastic sequence of the Enterprise crew endeavoring to save a primitive race from extinction, manic and exciting with a kind of swashbuckling energy reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. It paints a definite and energetic picture of the main characters, just in case your aren’t familiar, with Chris Pine’s sexy frat-boy Captain Kirk dumping all over the rules and Zachary Quinto’s ultra-cool Spock ignoring the futility and trying to get his friend to go by the book. But something terrible is brewing in the universe, and Starfleet tasks Kirk and his crew with hunting down the mysterious one-man war machine known as John Harrison, played by rising star and official badass Brit Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch’s Harrison a.k.a. (SPOILER) Khan Noonien Singh serves as the perfect anchor to the film, calculating and full-realized and far more believable than the laughably miscast Eric Bana and his hell bent Romulan Nero, completed re-imagined and far-removed from despotic psychopath that Ricardo Montalban over thirty years ago. The film has a great deal of twists and turns to it, which admittedly can get confusing and frustrating, but its expansion into the world of more sympathetic and therefore more realistic characters adds dimensionality that makes the film not just fun but interesting; it opens it up for intellectual debates that have nothing to do with geeky sci-fi minutia (although, I still don’t understand why Kirk gets to flagrantly disregard the freakin’ Prime Directive and get away with it).

The crutch of the original Star Trek franchise was its obsession with its own science-fiction-ness – an entire mythology created to explore the plausibility of fictitious devices and creatures. The tendency of Darkness to veer so far away from this credo may have chalked it up to cinematic garbage in the eyes of the geek masses, but discarding something great because it doesn’t fit the mold of the idolized and obsessed-over source material is silly. So Abram’s little movie doesn’t cohere with the laws of the Roddenberry-verse; so the plot makes giant intellectual leaps that leave puzzling plot holes because science-technology-future-I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I; so…what? Star Trek Into Darkness is a great movie, and so much fun to watch, heads and tails above the average mindless summer blockbuster (but I love you anyway, Michael Bay). And that scene with Kirk and Spock toward the end of the movie… I witnessed grown men cry over it. So it has no chance of winning the one thing it’s nominated for, not with big bad Gravity poised to grab every technical award on the Oscar docket, but it is an awesome movie any way you slice it. Just enjoy it.

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