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Star Trek Into Darkness: Abrams’ "Wrath" is convoluted but consistently fun

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Star Trek Into Darkness

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Contrarians may disagree, but I find Abrams’ first Star Trek to be as strong a “reboot” as we’ve seen in cinematic history. A terrific young cast, a fast-paced origin, and an epic scale led me to believe Star Trek would be a strong contender for the best summer blockbuster franchise moving forward. Abrams’ sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, certainly lives up to the blockbuster status: it’s big, it’s fun, and it’s jam-packed with tense action designed to make you squeeze the cupholder on your armrest until it shatters. However, you can’t help but feel a slight letdown from the first. Nothing sniffs the first ten minutes of its predecessor for majesty and emotion, as this one is bogged down to some degree by a massive plot. Abrams also inserts one too many “references” for Trekkies that make no sense: an extraneous character here, a forced line there. The first entry felt fresh and light, whereas Star Trek Into Darkness strains under the burden of trying to please both non-Trekkies and Trekkies alike, potentially fully satisfying neither in the process. It’s hard to complain about a film that is still an extremely enjoyable diversion in the theater: the actors shine, the set-pieces impress, the effects sparkle. It’s just noticeable that Abrams is trying to include too much plot, too many references, too much that gives the sequel a clutter that its predecessor didn’t have. Dammit, JJ, you’re a director, not a magician.

Confronted by a life-or-death conflict right from the beginning, Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zac Quinto) find themselves once again at odds. Kirk values heroics over regulations, whereas Spock would rather fail than break the rules. The Federation, unsurprisingly, agrees with Spock, as Kirk finds himself being reprimanded by his mentor Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and the esteemed Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller!). Yet much like in the first film, when crisis suddenly presents itself, Kirk’s punishment will have to wait. A young officer named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) blows up a Federation Archives building, and as they try to figure out why, Harrison remains one step ahead of them. Eventually this takes Kirk, Spock, Bones (Karl Urban), Uhuru (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) to the edge of Federation space, where war may be imminent, and Harrison may be a con artist, in more control of the conflict than the Federation realizes…

Confusion reigns with several plot points, as logic is tossed out the door occasionally in favor of a quicker pace. Who cares what was in Harrison’s bag in those photos at the beginning? If they’re standing around talking about bags, then there’s less time for action, am I right? While this is occasionally a bit tiresome, the chemistry between the actors and the excitement of the action minimizes any frustration I had with the heavy plot and its loose ends. Two performances in particular stand out: Benedict Cumberbatch is continually impressive in every role, and here he further confirms his greatness. His contribution as the villain can’t be understated: his backstory isn’t fleshed out as well as it should be, but his physical presence and the rumbling bass of his voice steal every scene. While Chris Pine is once again strong as Kirk, the protagonist, the real star continues to be Zac Quinto as Spock. It’s incredibly difficult to establish the balance between his infernal logic and the emotion locked within, but Quinto nails every moment. Kirk and Spock’s friendship is the heartbeat of the film, underneath all of the manic action, shootouts, chases, and so forth. There’s a moment towards the end that successfully tugged at my heartstrings… until Abrams needlessly shoehorns in a famous line from Trek history that didn’t need to be repeated and makes little sense in context. Such is the only problem with Star Trek Into Darkness: as enjoyable as it is throughout, the small frustrations woven into its fabric are undeniable. Still, for those of us disappointed that it’s not better than Abrams’ first entry, it’s thoroughly entertaining, funny, and thrilling… which makes it a nice consolation prize.

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