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Kirk and Spock are back in action, but is the thrill gone...?
Paramount / 132 Minutes / 2013 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: September 10, 2013
Whether we like it or not, J.J. Abrams has become our soothsaying sensei of 21st century science-fiction filmmaking. I suppose Joss Whedon and the Avengers universe falls into similar territory, but as the helmer of both major Stars (Trek and Wars), Abrams trumps their fantastical superhuman sensibilities: he quite literally has the future of two of the most beloved franchises in the history of the celluloid image squarely in his crosshairs.
When it comes to Abrams’ latest intergalactic endeavor, Star Trek: Into Darkness, even haters must admit that he grabs all the low-hanging fruit he can. This second installment of his newfangled Trek has some sensational special effects in it (watch the Enterprise ascend through a cloud!), a bridge full of good-looking space cadets, and a villain played by Benedict Cumberbatch with expertly-crafted gravitas and dedication. If that’s enough to legitimize Into Darkness’ narrative value for you, then Abrams has clearly done his job well.
Yet that’s where this Trek-loving dork’s frustration with Abrams and this latest franchise arrival turns from disappointment to anger: there truly is nothing happening beneath the super-sleek veneer of Abrams’ revisionist Trek world. Sure, anyone who saw The Wrath of Khan will recognize that Abrams and his screenwriters touch back to that smash hit as they reverse the final reel of Into Darkness into a simple fugue, but that and a couple Tribble references aren’t enough to excuse the movie’s dizzying lack of substance.
The argument could be, perhaps, that Abrams’ cinematic worlds don’t necessarily need legitimately established substance to achieve what the director has in mind. Instead of aiming for something profound or nuanced isn’t always a sure thing (even the great filmmakers miss the mark every now and then), and Abrams skirts away from it every chance he gets, instead directing his focus on easy targets that he knows he can hit every time. Is this method successful enough to impart remedial entertainment? Yeah – it’s likely that you’ll rent Star Trek: Into Darkness and enjoy its fleeting escapism. Just don’t think too hard about it or ask any questions.