When J.J. Abrahams took the already terminally ill Star Trek franchise, he had one idea stuck in his mind: to compress all the science and heavy metaphysics into a Star Wars spectacle, which, by the way was the main reason the whole film series began in the first place. If legions of people made the first of Lucas’ space operas a blockbuster, then the legions of TV Star Trek fans would respond to a new adventure. The 1979 version flopped with a slower than dead pace and too much futuristic philosophy for the recently established summer movie quarter. It wasn’t until the second installment brought a villain to compete with Darth Vader: the great Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban in a galvanizing performance that required no mask or special sound effect other than William Shatner’s primal scream “KKKKHHHHAAAAANNNNNN”, that Star Trek actually took off.
Then the series went completely down hill with a few ups and more downs, until J.J. happened to it, and in the new trend of revamps and rejuvenations, we have a new Kirk, Spock and full crew. The Enterprise is still the same but with the advantage of CGI, it’s more detailed than ever.
So, Into Darkness is the follow up to this reboot, still using the Star Wars franchise as its most clear model, from the fight scenes with the badass Klingons (which has been designed for the video game audience), to life on the planet complete with a futuristic architecture, tunnel-like interiors and big political offices where the fate of humanity is discussed.
Because the characters were very well built by Gene Roddenbery, writers of the new version can create their new story around them. That is why the film begins with Spock (Zachary Quinto, an actor that was born and raised to be the most famous Vulcan) descending into the active volcano of a red planet to detonate a devise that will save it from extinction. He does this not as an act of sacrifice, but as a duty, since Spock does not show extreme feelings (in true Vulcan fashion) and his morals can all be scientifically proven. On the other hand, Kirk (intrepid Chris Pine) will not abandon his friend. He is, of course, on the other side of the spectrum: very impulsive and loyal to what matters most: friendship and humanity.
This divergence of point of view creates the first plot device: Kirk has to part ways with the Enterprise on the grounds of his irresponsible behavior.
Here is where our new villain comes in to mess things up and set in motion a series of events that will take Kirk and his crew on another adventure, this time into the darkness. John Harrison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a super-human with an intelligence that surpasses any earthling. In a way, he reminds us of that terrible Khan, right? Well, he needs to be, or else there wouldn’t be an Into Darkness movie. Apart from this, the casting of Peter Weller as Admiral Alexander Marcus throws away too much too soon. I mean we all know this guy cannot be a good guy, even if he played the original Robocop in his younger years. But texture-wise and following the rules of cliché, J.J. casts young beautiful people (Pine, Quinto, Saldana, Urban, Cho… even funny guy Pegg) as the good guys, and older, hideously made-up and pale faces to confront them (well, that’s not entirely his fault. He has to follow on Roddenbery and the TV producers of the 60’s). Even a 4 year-old understands this simple equation and its solution. Not to defend Star Wars here, but those white stormtroopers as well as Boba & Jango Fett and even Lando Calrissian are as sexy as Han and Luke…just as a curious note.
I cannot reveal the plot twists here, although you’ve seen the previews and the poster with the Enterprise falling into a “dark” fate (something that has happened before too, by the way). But I can attest this is a non-stop (if not particularly original) action entertainment. It deals with the concepts all summer movies for children and adolescent should have (established by the Disney code of social acceptance and box-office attraction): a sense of belonging, responsibility, sacrifice and pride in humanity. Maybe that’s why Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim did not click with audiences, as it should have. It dealt with the David & Goliath story: the small humans (carrying a load-full of traumatizing background) fighting a bigger and stronger power in order to survive. No greater pride, no social conscience.
To ask for a blockbuster to walk a different path, like Andrei Tarkovsky did with Solaris and Stalker, would be inappropriate. This is pure entertainment, meant to keep the machinery working, money flowing, video games being sold and prepare the grounds for J.J. Abrahams next mission: the global-mega-blockbuster-to-be of the Star Wars saga continuation.