Friday 10 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) - J.J. Abrams

Star Trek often has a bad reputation amongst mainstream audiences for being too complex and nerdy.  With J.J. Abrams’s 2009 reimagining of the series he brought Star Trek to the masses, but its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, doesn’t quite hit the same balance.

Abrams’s interpretation of the Trek universe is filled with humour, much of which is welcome.  The large use of extreme close-up brings us, literally, closer to the colourful cast of characters, whose constant banter is a source of much amusement.  The emotionless Spock (Zachary Quinto) grates against his Captain, the womanising Kirk (Chris Pine), whilst one scene is comically interrupted by a relationship argument between Spock and the smart, sassy Uhura (Zoe Saldana).  The cast bring a likeable warmth to the screen, the script ensuring that the film never takes itself too seriously.

On the other hand, Into Darkness somewhat waters down the series, with a fairly basic plot that sees Kirk meeting his toughest adversary yet – Benedict Cumberbatch’s ambiguous John Harrison.  It has little of the complexity Abrams is known for – with Lost in particular – instead including plenty of cheesy cuts and overly stating obvious and easily predicted plot points.  The ending, meanwhile, feels rushed and could easily have incorporated a longer denouement.

The main reason for this?  More Cumberbatch.  His performance brings a sense of Shakespearean grandeur, commanding the screen with a richly ominous bass voice and stillness.  When he does spring into action, the effect is frightening.  The result is the best nemesis in any blockbuster in recent memory – a character so absorbing and awe-inspiring, audiences may find themselves siding with the enemy.  The plot may be simple, but the emphasis on character is a welcome one.

Into Darkness is a rarity in modern cinema - a film that finally makes good use of 3D.  In that respect, it rivals Avatar.  We are truly drawn into each planet of the Trek universe and space scenes literally stretch into infinity.  The opening sequence erupts from the screen in dazzling colour and impressive layers for immediate impact.  Later, ships rotate with gravity-defying force, whilst the warp speed effect is gut-wrenching.  This would mean nothing if it weren’t for the stunning art direction that combines futuristic and contemporary architecture for a world that’s almost believable.  The action sequences are explosive and intense, with dizzying camerawork that sucks the audience into the film, all aided by Michael Giachinno’s sweeping score.

Into Darkness isn’t quite the complex science-fiction masterpiece some may be expecting, but it’s epic nonetheless and one of the best blockbusters of the summer with a tone that wavers between whimsical and operatic.  If Abrams can do for Star Wars what he’s done for Star Trek, he will truly be the current master of science fiction.