Having seen and enjoyed the perfectly-cast 2009 “Star Trek,” I shared the enthusiasm of the throngs entering movie theaters last weekend to see director J.J. Abrams’s new movie, “Star Trek: Into Darkness.”
Abrams has the knack, after all. And his terrific cast—Chris Pine as Kirk, Karl Urban as Bones, Simon Pegg as Scottie, and so on—were all back for the sequel.
Nor did the new movie disappoint. “Into Darkness” is almost wall-to-wall action, all of it imaginative and well-filmed. The movie has pace. It looks good. And thrown in gratis were new characters played by Alice Eve, who you may remember from “She’s Out of My League” and “The Raven,” by journeyman Peter Weller, and by the most recent PBS and British television Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch.
“Into Darkness” is more like the recent instant-classic James Bond film, “Skyfall,” than like anything else. The difference between the two is that Bond movies are at least partly about style and the characters in “Star Trek” movies are all geeks.
The closest Kirk gets to shooting his cuffs after dropping onto a heavily damaged passenger train is his sliding the length of a passageway after Scottie pulls open the back door of the film’s death star to let his boss in. And heck, Kirk would never make it to the door with his cracked visor if the mysterious superhuman Harris hadn’t redirected him in space. Bond’s supposed helper, Moneypenny, shoots him off the top of the moving train.
No. Maybe 007 is as loyal as Kirk turns out to be. But he works best alone and has considerable panache. The Star Fleet Captain gets his crew into all sorts of trouble and looks like a Jiffy Lube operative in his uniform.
Nevertheless, in its science fiction future, “Into Darkness” starts out just like a Bond movie, with a self-contained action sequence followed by a brisk discussion, at headquarters, of the nature of the movie’s threat. In the oddly-named “Into Darkness,” the action begins with Kirk and Bones sprinting through a forest of red trees, cased by white-painted alien natives, as Spock is dropped with some sort of lava-freezing device into a smoldering volcano.
The priggish Spock (Zachary Quinto) reports to Star Fleet command that Kirk allowed the primitive aliens to see the Enterprise—thus violating the Prime Directive—in order to get the ship into position to save Mr. Pointy Ears’ life. But before Kirk can be properly disciplined, Harris attacks and destroys a London training facility preparing fleet officers for a likely war with the Klingon interstellar empire.
Kirk is able to stop Harris from successfully killing the senior officers at an emergency meeting at the fleet’s San Francisco headquarters. So the commanding admiral has special photon torpedoes loaded onto the Enterprise and sends it under Kirk’s command into Klingon territory to chase down and destroy Harris.
But Scottie can’t countenance the plan, so he stays behind. This is lucky as he puts himself into position to save the day for Kirk. Everybody saves Kirk at least once, it seems, including the admiral’s engineer daughter Carol (Eve), who catches the captain’s eye.
Oh, and there’s a more advanced romance between half-breed Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Anton Yelchin’s Chekov gets some business here, but poor John Cho (the Harold of Harold and Kumar) doesn’t get enough to do, perhaps because he’s the best actor of the members of the regular cast.
But, then, what does Ralph Fiennes get to do in “Skyfall”? And given all the ways “Into Darkness” is like that great Bond movie, doesn’t that suggest Abrams’s new “Star Trek” film is pretty solid entertainment? You betcha.