At its best, Star Trek Into Darkness is majestic and thrilling. At its worst, it is conventional and repetitive.
Director J.J. Abrams takes us on a rowdy thrill ride through bumpy space.
At its best, Star Trek Into Darkness is Cumberbatch; at its worst, it's cumbersome.
Benedict Cumberbatch, as the enemy of the Federation, is the one element that brings fresh energy to Abrams' follow-up to his initial Star Trek (2009).
The first Abrams' Star Trek was lean and whip-sharp; the follow-up is ropy. In the first movie, the chemistry between Chris Pine as Jim Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock was fresh and inventive. Now that they know what they have, it is less so.
Writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, et al. are less clever than previously. Bones (Karl Urban) says, "You don't rob a bank when the getaway car has a flat tire." Huh? Where did that come from?
Abrams likes loud. So he has Scotty (Simon Pegg) yell all his lines - maybe thinking that will give them more life.
Abrams also has a heavy knob on his soundtrack. It blares incessantly throughout.
He also loves close-ups, especially close-ups that move even closer on faces.
The success of Abrams' first Star Trek has made the creators more blunt.
Chris Pine is still appealing as the impulsive Kirk, and Quinto still has engaging credibility as the serious, logical Spock.
Bruce Greenwood and Peter Weller bring fierce humanity to their roles of Star Fleet officers.
Alice Eve brings color to the character of Carol. Is there such a thing as being too blond?
But the actor who adds most to Star Trek Into Darkness is Benedict Cumberbatch as the estranged John Harrison. Cumberbatch usually is a laid-back actor - e.g., as British tv's Sherlock Holmes and as Peter Guillam in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011).
In Star Trek Into Darkness Benedict is forceful and has power. His strong voice has resonant impact.
Cumberbatch portrays a rogue who has turned on his previous colleagues, and now threatens the Federation with destruction. Kirk and his crew launch pursuit of him.
The writers give Cumberbatch's character a motivation that has a distinct relevance to today's politics.
In a telling line, Scotty says to Kirk about being fighters, "Is that all we are now? I thought we were explorers."
Star Trek Into Darkness is an impressive experience - especially in IMAX and 3D.
Ironically, Abrams and his crew - like the Enterprise's cast - seem more interested in fighting than exploration.
For better or worse, Star Trek Into Darkness is pounding cinema.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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