“I told you we’d fit!” “I’m not sure that qualifies.”
I have said this before: I never really liked Star Trek. Growing up with The Next Generation, Star Trek was always that show with the bald guy in spandex my sister used to watch. So, as you might recall, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and not only was thoroughly entertained, but finally understood what was so appealing about the multicultural guys in space in the first place. And as I saw Benedict Cumberbatch in the teaser for Star Trek Into Darkness, my mind was blown: They could literally surpass the sky as the limit.
But did they? (They did.)
Into Darkness is a pretty straightforward continuation of where we left the Enterprise’s crew back in 2009. I could describe in great detail what it’s about, but like the superhero movies it (very nicely) emulates, it’s enough to say it features the Magneto of the Star Trek universe: Kahn.
As a story, Into Darkness holds together greatly. The screenplay was written by, amongst others, LOST’s Damon Lindelof, and while it might occasionally show in scene set-ups we’ve already seen in his previous work (two people at opposite sides of a window not being able to get to each other? Why I never!), it is a damn fine story: just enough predictability, a few nice twists here and there, but mainly an excuse to watch people getting sucked into space.
Now a lot of people have been screaming this movie doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t. But seriously guys, it’s Star Trek. Since when does it have to make sense!?
The science of Entertainment
Personally, I think film makers deserve praise for making a movie like this. Sure, you might go the cynical route – everything is possible with digital effects, so everyone has free reign to do whatever he pleases, right? Well, sure, although you there is a certain art to writing or directing a good action scene – having a certain grasp of physics springs to mind, being able to see how things move without actually, you know, moving things.
Into Darkness’ merits, however, do not lie in its action scenes, however entertaining they are. Where movies like these usually fail is emotional relatability: The moments between the action scenes are there to remind us why we want these guys to succeed. In some movies, this creates a lull: The tension drops to bare minimum, we feel our asses sinking into our seats and wait until something happens. The reason? You just don’t care about the characters. They’re just Nicholas Cage with a drinking problem looking for a way to save the world and reconnect with his son.
Into Darkness gets this: It knows it needs to have insanely interesting characters to make us care about it’s stupid seventies-style space backdrop. And it succeeds – you see, Into Darkness has been meticulously engineered to a state of entertainment perfection. If a scene isn’t entertaining, it’s cut. If there’s no stuff that can explode, there’s jokes. If there’s no jokes, there’s drama. And if there’s no drama, there’s stuff that can explode. Notice how two of three things need relatable characters to get us on the edge of our seats?
Style and Flare
Other than that, Into Darkness is exactly what you’d expect. There’s crazy action scenes with crazy action twists. There’s Kirk and Spock kirking and spocking. There’s tacky seventies-style pants suits and mini skirts. And, of course, there’s lens flares – which, oddly enough, didn’t seem so prominent with 3D glasses on. Must be because all the other effects were so nauseating I didn’t notice. Let this be a short plea to film makers everywhere: Don’t do this shit. Space is way past the final frontier for 3D effects. You cannot have Enterprises spiraling through space, tossing our heroes around their ship every which way, and then add 3D to that. Just thinking about it is enough to make my nose bleed.
And, if I may be entirely honest, the exhausting 3D is not my only gripe with Into Darkness. In a way, my second problem is worse and watching it on DVD won’t fix it, because it stems exactly out of what attracted me to the film in the first place: Cumberbatch. Sure, the guy plays a very interesting villain, and he plays him interestingly enough. But I get the impression there were little to no scenes where he could really unfold. The actor seemed too good for the scripts, and seemed to suffocate in what little space this space movie gave him. Things got better as the story powered along, but they never reached any of the true scariness I’d been hoping for given the actor and the role. A damn shame, but one that might be remedied down the line. There is one constant of the superhero genre: No villain stays defeated.
It felt so great to see the crew of the Enterprise again. From minute one, it felt like greeting an old friend: As if I’d never left. I can’t really place my finger on why – if it comes down to it, characters like Chekov or Scotty don’t really have that big a role in the first movie. Yet what little material was there was immediately unforgettable. I think Into Darkness’ stellar opening action sequence reminded me how I loved watching that rag-tag group of social misfits save the world the first time over. Add to that a few great additions to the crew and one of the most fearless villains ever and you’ve got a recipe for an entertaining 130 minute film that feels half its length. And isn’t that precisely what good entertainment ought to be?