Movie: Star Trek: Into Darkness; Director: J.J. Abrams; Studio: Paramount; Rating: PG-13; My finding: 3 1/2 out of 5.
J.J. Abrams has accomplished quite a thing with his "Star Trek: Into Darkness"; he made me care about Star Trek. For the entire two-hour runtime, I was engrossed in the story, the characters, the set design, and all the pretty colors.
Star Trek has always seemed, to me, far too clinical to be science fiction worth being excited about. It's the only series that seems to suggest humanity is on a path to righteousness and good, and that things will continue to get better. All the high-tech, sterile environments and plays on interactions between different species as a comedy of manners bored me to death when whatever incarnations were still on television. My taste veers much closer to the darker, apocalyptic environments of "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" or "A Boy and His Dog," or whatever, if I'm going to part with a few hours for the sake of watching science fiction.
The thing is, Abrams didn't wow me by bringing the concept closer to my own biases, but instead by maintaining the whole brand that is the Star Trek universe - and finally making it all work.
The genre is known for taking lessons of our own world and then changing the players, circumstances and setting in order to comment on whatever issue is at hand metaphorically. The same thing worked for "M*A*S*H," but I don't suppose we should rain on science fiction's parade.
"Into Darkness" yells out revenge and speaks in whispers about suicide bombings and ethnic fundamentalism. Here, though, there is just one real extremist and he is a force to be reckoned with.
The film follows Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and all the others onto the U.S.S. Enterprise once more, but the damn kids can't quit meddling with the rules.
The opening sequence takes place with the Enterprise stuck on the bottom of the ocean as Kirk and McCoy run through a forest, being chased by the extremely primitive indigenous population who all resemble Michael Stipe of R.E.M. with white facepaint on. (A note: fast-tracking scenes like running through a forest are killer on 3D viewing. The experience is a tad distracting, but that type of shot doesn't last too long.)
You see, a volcano on this alien world is about to explode, and Spock must freeze the magma before it destroys the entire planet (which sounds like the plot that would take up the entire film if Roger Corman were still directing movies). Spock becomes stranded inside the volcano and Kirk once again breaks the rules to rescue a crewmember.
There's quite the tongue-lashing over that one at the Star Fleet Command headquarters in San Francisco (which looks like by the time we have a Starfleet, the city will have lost all of its charm and succumbed wholly to the style of neighboring, clinical, boring Silicon Valley).
But Kirk will come back, because Jim is a hero and a leader at heart.
A Starfleet archive blows up, setting up a meeting of all captains and first mates. Also showing up for the party is John Harrison, who has taken a pseudonym in order to - in a strangely familiar way - single-handedly wage war on Starfleet and all of its members.
It's difficult to know how much more plot should be given away. The entirety of the plot is wound up in Harrison and his backstory, making big reveals necessary. If you're a major Star Trek fan you'll know what's going on. If you often forget Star Trek exists, you'll still probably know what's going on. The plot unwinds with moderate surprises, but the filmmaking draws you in so much that you'll see everything coming. And it's not the anticipation of finding out, but the anticipation of how things will go down that keeps the audience happy.
I took a couple friends along to the showing with me to gauge how fandom will perceive the film. By both accounts it seems to have been a success.
Chris Pine as James Kirk is a snarky one. The performance is a delight in that he keeps many of the traits - and is made fun of for them by other characters - that made the original James Kirk such a winner. Sure, he can speak his lines as though he's not gasping for air. But for the most part he comes across as someone less than a genius, but who knows when to trust his own instincts and when to listen to the advice of others, which along with great loyalty seems to be what makes up a leader in movies. He's got the requisites with a little humor to add.
Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock, though, was my favorite.
Despite the fact that the main character trait for Vulcans is going to the worst possible barbers, he seems to outshine this. He walks around spouting rules and regulations in a deadpan and has not one bit of understanding for sarcasm. Still, it's outrageous characters who are often given the widest berth for growth and it shows.
"Star Trek: Into Darkness" is worth the price of admission, even for jaded old figs like me.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)