The iGeneration’s Star Trek crew are back on the USS enterprise, turning dials, gawking at screens, swiveling in chairs and squinting through a layer of lens flares in director J.J. Abrams’ second stab at the monolithic sci-fi franchise.
In his 2009 reboot, Abrams established himself as Hollywood’s go-to guy for sequences bathed with flashes of techie-looking light and colour. In Star Trek Into Darkness he does his best to ensure gratuitous use of lens flares will live long and prosper. Only the most ambitious film critics profess to interpret why he does this, other than to observe that the effect looks kind of cool.
Use of such arbitrary aesthetic would ordinarily provoke lashings of “style over substance” finger pointing, but it’s apparent from the get-go Abrams is better than that. Like his last trek, Into Darkness is a mighty piece of work: epic in size and stature but lovingly nuanced with small details, and tied together with fist-pumping oomph equally as appealing to devotees and non-Trekkies alike.
Following the footprints of recent blockbusters The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3 and Olympus Has Fallen, Into Darkness‘ story hinges on an act of terrorism, which launches a plot about a manhunt that operates outside official protocol. Ethical dilemmas clog the mind of James Kirk (Chris Pine) — dilemmas about pursuit of justice, the rule of law and (of course) possible war with Klingons.
There’s a generous serving of buddy-buddy action, Zachary Quinto’s Spock given a mean psychological and physical workout including a terrific scene on top a flying something-or-other (Star Trek analysis 101: don’t attempt Trek jargon unless you know precisely what you’re talking about) indicative of Abrams’ skills as a director.
When the 46-year-old blockbuster powerhouse sends his set pieces into an editing suite blender, chopping, changing and whirling between chunks of eye candy, he errs a little too close to Michael Bay’s “fuck the frame” aesthetic, sacrificing some visual cohesion in the process.
But Abrams’ ability to smash set pieces and whip together high octane action sequences is up there with the best of them. At their peak, his high-impact moments are breathlessly good – visceral, gloriously detailed and intricately choreographed slabs of sass and spectacle.
On a human front, Into Darkness‘ outer-space ambitions come hurtling back to earth. Chris Pine couldn’t be any more “all American” if he face planted onto a pumpkin pie pilfered from a farm house windowsill. Try as he might, Simon Pegg can’t get his accent right for Scotty, though it’s fun watching him do his darndest. None of this ultimately matters: J.J. Abrams is so good, and so assured, in the director’s chair that even the naff elements come together slickly.
For those more interested in the Millennium Falcon than the Enterprise, Into Darkness provides good reason to get excited for the first post-George Lucas Star Wars movie, which Abrams will direct. The Force is with him.
This review first appeared on Crikey