STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS – My abiding thought upon watching STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS was… enjoyment. From first frame to last I was just very captivated by the film, and completely along for the ride.
As a reviewer 2nd, but a movie goer 1st, I think it is very important to go into a film with as fresh eyes as reasonable to pique your interest. Beyond the broad stokes of a trailer or two, I avoid leaked plot details or guessing games about the storyline. Beyond broad generalities I think it is important to allow a filmmaker and a cast, to present the movie to you unfettered by too many preconceived notions or expectations.
Otherwise how can you fairly judge a film or a filmmaker’s work that you have in essence previewed? It’s hard to get moments of surprise and originality in films, when too many people these days go into the film with all surprises read and all originality already squandered before the film ever opens.
Increasingly it is the impetus of a cynical audience, that is numb to all but the basest pleasures, to take comfort in that self same cynicism.
JJ Abrams, much like the New STAR TREK itself, flies in the face of such cynical times, being a throwback as well as a leap forward to old fashioned film-making. A filmmaker who understands emotional resonance and story and character is every bit as important as blowing things up, but in his affection for the old, never loses the skill and love for crafting the new. JJ Abrams and his writing staff for my money for the 2nd time do the impossible, creating a remake that manages to brilliantly embrace the new, without invalidating the old.
It’s the choices he makes as a director (that others may deride as sentimental or romantic or syrupy) that are the choices that for me make INTO DARKNESS a great film, and Abrams a great filmmaker. Not an opinion I’ve always held on Abrams, but an opinion he has earned since his first Star Trek film.
There’s a scene early in INTO DARKNESS [extremely minor spoiler but feel free to skip till after you've seen the film] where someone goes traitor, you’ve seen it in numerous films if you are even a casual moviegoer. The bad guy has an inside man working for him, a traitor. It is a movie cliche and virtually no one ever looks at that character as more than a means to an end, No one ever asks or seemingly cares about the why of such a character’s actions. In this movie in a scant few minutes, in nearly wordless scenes, Abrams takes the time to paint the reason why someone would do it. And it is a reason that if we can not condone, we can understand.
In scant minutes of screen time he takes an actor I generally have not enjoyed on screen, and gives him I think his best role to date. A role that in nearly any other film, by any other filmmaker, would be a meaningless plot device, here resonates and is memorable.
[End of minor spoiler]
With that scene I knew quickly and completely…. that I was in capable hands.
And the film continues with such heartfelt performances, married to beautiful visuals. It is the Star Trek universe re-imagined, and it looks grand and mythic. And any film’s protagonists, must be measured by the quality of that which they struggle against and in that role Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a fantastic performance as a character who must be feared yes, but also respected. Well written is the film where there is no simple villains, or villains at all, but only people in conflict, with agendas neither completely right nor completely wrong.
I could go on, but to say more about the film is to ultimately say little, what is best in the film has to be experienced, not regurgitated.
I will however say about the theatrical experience that I saw this film in a matinee showing in RealD 3D format (only the 3D showing was available), and the 3D, to my surprise, did not annoy.
No doubt the pleasant experience owes some to the theater I saw it in, not your typical multiplex, but seemingly it is just handled well here. It became very immersive, just part of a rich tapestry that pulled me in. I found this viewing while not noticeably 3D, definitely noticeably beautiful to look at, and that is all that visually I ask of any film.
In closing, JJ Abram’s 2nd foray into the STAR TREK universe, INTO DARKNESS was a long time coming, but I think has justified its wait, being as smart, as fun, as energetic, and perhaps more emotional and more grandiose than the admittedly excellent first film. On all fronts, for this reviewer, an unqualified success, and a movie I see myself returning to often. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Grade: A.