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Dammit, Jim

Boldly going nostalgic

Dr. Carol Marcus and Captain Kirk react to the presence of an unattractive person onboard the Enterprise.
Dr. Carol Marcus and Captain Kirk react to the presence of an unattractive person onboard the Enterprise.

Star Trek into Darkness is a showcase for director J.J. Abrams at his most J.J. Abrams-y. Do you identify Abrams by his fondness for lens flares? You will not be disappointed. Lens Flare spends enough time on screen here to be eligible for Best Actor consideration. Do you expect Spielberg homages? The film opens with a scene of natives chasing Captain James T. Kirk after he’s stolen an artifact, but here’s the real act of larceny: almost every shot hails back to Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. And on a related note: does Abrams make you think of skillful past-mining for rich seams of nostalgia? Here is a brief list, from the top of the top of my head, of familiar Star Trek elements that you will find seamlessly and plausibly woven into the story: Vulcan nerve pinch, Vulcan mind meld, phasers set on stun, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor not a ,” “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” the Prime Directive, Tribbles. (And that’s not even including any spoilers.) And finally, if Abrams makes you think of mostly coherent action sequences, clean execution on both the level of story and character, and a feeling of old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment — well, all that is here, too.

As in the recent Iron Man 3, the bad guy here starts out with an act of domestic terrorism. (And, weirdly, as in the recent Iron Man 3, the bad guy’s collaborators are motivated by a desire to heal a sick child. Abrams treats us to a gruesome shot to illustrate the tension between private and public goods: in the foreground, a photo of the happy, healthy tot; in the background and through the window, a massive urban explosion.) John Harrison, played with controlled ferocity by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a Starfleet agent apparently gone rogue. But — one more time! — as in Iron Man 3, things are not as simple as they appear on the surface, and the terrorism, however horrific, is merely a stepping stone in a much larger game.

Movie

Star Trek into Darkness ***

thumbnail

Director J.J. Abrams at his most J.J. Abrams-y. A lens flare light show. A Spielberg homage (the opening is taken straight from <em>Raiders of the Lost Ark</em>). Deft nostalgia-mining coupled with equally deft placement of the extracted gems in the crown of his new creation (a Tribble plays a key role!) And finally, a series mostly coherent action sequences, clean execution at the level of character, and a feeling of old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is now in charge of his beloved starship Enterprise, but his cocksure attitude gets him in trouble. First officer Spock's (Zachary Quinto) strict moral reasoning, once seen as a stumbling block, assumes the role of crucial counterbalance in the fight against one-man WMD John Harrison (an impassive and ominous Benedict Cumberbatch). Of course, the thing about WMDs is, there's always someone who wants to use one. With Peter Weller, Bruce Greenwood.

Find showtimes

Happily, this is where Summer 2013’s second blockbuster diverges from its first. In Iron Man 3, the world must be saved so that hero Tony Stark can improve as a person. In Star Trek into Darkness, hero James Kirk needs to improve as a person so that the world can be saved. He opens the film as a hot-headed golden boy. He wants to do right, but he’s flying by the seat of his pants and counting on things to break his way. Unsurprisingly, his arrogance costs him control of the starship Enterprise, thanks in part to a report from his own first officer, Spock. “You don’t respect the chair,” says mentor-father figure Captain Pike. “You’re not ready for it.”

Needless to say, Kirk gets a second chance at the Enterprise’s chair. But where he once regarded Spock’s strict moral reasoning as a stumbling block, he is now forced to reckon with it as a guiding force, even when it runs counter to his instincts. Especially when it runs counter to his instincts. It’s a complicated world, and watching Kirk & Co. learn to deal with those complications is a positive pleasure.

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Dr. Carol Marcus and Captain Kirk react to the presence of an unattractive person onboard the Enterprise.
Dr. Carol Marcus and Captain Kirk react to the presence of an unattractive person onboard the Enterprise.

Star Trek into Darkness is a showcase for director J.J. Abrams at his most J.J. Abrams-y. Do you identify Abrams by his fondness for lens flares? You will not be disappointed. Lens Flare spends enough time on screen here to be eligible for Best Actor consideration. Do you expect Spielberg homages? The film opens with a scene of natives chasing Captain James T. Kirk after he’s stolen an artifact, but here’s the real act of larceny: almost every shot hails back to Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. And on a related note: does Abrams make you think of skillful past-mining for rich seams of nostalgia? Here is a brief list, from the top of the top of my head, of familiar Star Trek elements that you will find seamlessly and plausibly woven into the story: Vulcan nerve pinch, Vulcan mind meld, phasers set on stun, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor not a ,” “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” the Prime Directive, Tribbles. (And that’s not even including any spoilers.) And finally, if Abrams makes you think of mostly coherent action sequences, clean execution on both the level of story and character, and a feeling of old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment — well, all that is here, too.

As in the recent Iron Man 3, the bad guy here starts out with an act of domestic terrorism. (And, weirdly, as in the recent Iron Man 3, the bad guy’s collaborators are motivated by a desire to heal a sick child. Abrams treats us to a gruesome shot to illustrate the tension between private and public goods: in the foreground, a photo of the happy, healthy tot; in the background and through the window, a massive urban explosion.) John Harrison, played with controlled ferocity by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a Starfleet agent apparently gone rogue. But — one more time! — as in Iron Man 3, things are not as simple as they appear on the surface, and the terrorism, however horrific, is merely a stepping stone in a much larger game.

Movie

Star Trek into Darkness ***

thumbnail

Director J.J. Abrams at his most J.J. Abrams-y. A lens flare light show. A Spielberg homage (the opening is taken straight from <em>Raiders of the Lost Ark</em>). Deft nostalgia-mining coupled with equally deft placement of the extracted gems in the crown of his new creation (a Tribble plays a key role!) And finally, a series mostly coherent action sequences, clean execution at the level of character, and a feeling of old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is now in charge of his beloved starship Enterprise, but his cocksure attitude gets him in trouble. First officer Spock's (Zachary Quinto) strict moral reasoning, once seen as a stumbling block, assumes the role of crucial counterbalance in the fight against one-man WMD John Harrison (an impassive and ominous Benedict Cumberbatch). Of course, the thing about WMDs is, there's always someone who wants to use one. With Peter Weller, Bruce Greenwood.

Find showtimes

Happily, this is where Summer 2013’s second blockbuster diverges from its first. In Iron Man 3, the world must be saved so that hero Tony Stark can improve as a person. In Star Trek into Darkness, hero James Kirk needs to improve as a person so that the world can be saved. He opens the film as a hot-headed golden boy. He wants to do right, but he’s flying by the seat of his pants and counting on things to break his way. Unsurprisingly, his arrogance costs him control of the starship Enterprise, thanks in part to a report from his own first officer, Spock. “You don’t respect the chair,” says mentor-father figure Captain Pike. “You’re not ready for it.”

Needless to say, Kirk gets a second chance at the Enterprise’s chair. But where he once regarded Spock’s strict moral reasoning as a stumbling block, he is now forced to reckon with it as a guiding force, even when it runs counter to his instincts. Especially when it runs counter to his instincts. It’s a complicated world, and watching Kirk & Co. learn to deal with those complications is a positive pleasure.

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Comments
9

Lol at the photo caption.

May 15, 2013

Thanks, Matt, I was wondering whether I should wait for this to go DVD or get to a theater near me. I'm a big Trekkie. And, regardless of where it came from, every director should take anything they want from Raiders, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Great cinema should be repeated at every opportunity,

May 15, 2013

Early in this film, Admiral Pike tells Kirk that the young captain isn't yet mature enough to command, and we might say the same to J. J. Abrams. He, like Spielberg, still has some growing up to do. In the meantime, let us mourn the loss of Gene Roddenberry's vision, and in particular the camaraderie he instilled among the characters of The Original Series. Instead, this Star Trek rushes the dialogue to get to the next whiz-bang wham-blam, and it's only after the din subsides that we start to wonder: Doesn't space provide a better hiding place than seawater? Why does no one question the logic of a man ensconcing himself on an abandoned, lifeless planet? (Getting good sushi must be hell.) Can sensitive engineering devices really be repaired by banging into them full force with one's heels? How can you have a fistfight atop a vehicle careening through town at a zillion miles an hour? Why is that "weapons expert" out of uniform, and what is she doing in this film in the first place? How cadaverous will Leonard Nimoy have to get before we're done with him? Director George Cosmatos rose up for Tombstone; let's hope that someday J. J. Abrams tackles a similarly worthwhile script.

May 29, 2013

Re: dialogue. After the rat-a-tat whizbangery of Iron Man 3, the back and forth between Kirk and Spock felt positively laconic. Re: camaraderie. If you don't think the camaraderie is stronger here than in the first, I'm confused. And by the end, Spock and Kirk are pretty darned tight. Remember both of these films take place before the Original Series. Re: plotting. Good point about space v. seawater. I think the thought was that Harris fled where he did because he thought it would put him out of Federation reach. Sort of like Osama hiding in a cave? Anyway - you're right; there are plenty of plot holes. They weren't quite the point, I don't think. Abrams is about feelings. Thanks for posting!

May 30, 2013

I take your point that because this film takes place pre-TOS we might logically excuse its lack of camaraderie among the cast, but I'm not expecting any sequels to improve upon the human element. It's snappy one-liners from here on out. The original Space Seed, with no CGI to distract it, told a more compelling story in under an hour with ample commercial breaks. As for Harris's flight into Klingon territory, what exactly was he going to be doing there all alone for eternity? There's only so much Xbox one can take, and even Osama wasn't alone in a cave at all. Surely you jest when you say that Abrams is about feelings. He's about technical wizardry. And lens flares.

May 30, 2013

Did you see Super 8, Dragonfly? I think that's exhibit A in the "Abrams is about feelings" department - provided you grant that nostalgia is a feeling. The Star Trek films continue in that vein, in my view.

May 31, 2013

It's not that I'm anti-Abrams (I liked the first two seasons of Alias, and the Abrams-produced Cloverfield) but Super 8 and most of the rest is really young-adult fiction, and it's in this way that I'll agree with you that the new Star Trek films continue in that vein. My guess is that Steven Spielberg is largely to blame (I'm thinking primarily of E.T. and Indiana Jones) for the juvenilization of cinema, and without him we might not have the likes of Quentin Tarantino and J. J. Abrams. I'm tired of all this boyish exuberance. For all the faults of the first Star Trek film, Robert Wise gave the project some gravitas. I say give the reins of the next Star Trek film to Walter Hill!

May 31, 2013

Wow, you put Spielberg ahead of Lucas on that score? You're a tough one. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a 30s cliffhanger homage; Star Wars was Flash Gordon with better production value. You also provide the first occasion for my ever hearing "boyish exuberance" applied to Tarantino. I'd say the final showdown at the end of Hill's Bullet to the Head was as juvenile as anything in Trek.

June 2, 2013

Yes, you're right that Lucas is equally to blame, although if Raiders was an homage to 30's cliffhangers then just as equally Star Wars was an homage to Errol Flynn swashbucklers and Japanese chanbara. Kurosawa could direct an action film with cojones, but Tarantino is just another precocious kid flinging dog shit with a wrist rocket, and "Django Unchained," for all its mayhem, was infantile. Hill has had his lightweight moments, but he can claim more than his share of mature action/adventure films with excellent scripts: Hard Times, The Driver, The Warriors, Streets of Fire, Extreme Prejudice, Trespass. That said, I ruefully admit that he hasn't directed a first-rate film in twenty years.

June 3, 2013

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