So...my little film Blog is still finding its voice, which includes my finding the ability to post frequently enough for it to be interesting. Will I review art house fare, like "The Gatekeepers" or bubble gum summer movies like "Star Trek: Into Darkness"? Well, with his Blog post, I have answered that question as "both...for now".
Like most serious lovers of cinema I am past the useless debate about whether movies such as J.J. Abrams's latest Trek entry are 'serious' or simply manipulative and shallow. Anyone who saw last summer's "The Avengers" knows how well-crafted (including well-acted) a blockbuster super-hero CGI fest can be. And the consensus on Abrams' first entry in 2009 was fairly unanimous - he had re-booted a beloved franchise and satisfied both longtime nerds and those who just love a good action flick.
I would say the Bad Robot himself -- along with his usual posse of Alex Kurtzmann and Roberto Orci, et. al. -- have clearly one-upped themselves with "Star Trek: Into Darkness".
Full disclosure: I am a fan of the bespectacled one so I have to distance myself a bit when reviewing one of his films. I loved his TV series, Fringe, and think his films, even the flawed "Super 8" have been splendid interrogations of issues that, imagined or real, really do haunt us. What if there was at least one alternate universe where there was an alt.you - leaving aside whether it were possible, what marvelous moral and personal questions would have to be asked (and are asked so ably).
The latest Trek entry fairly hums from the opening shot - action, special effects, snaring of a pastiche of Trek tropes (the Prime Directive, the Enterprise itself as Badass) and the film does not let up one minute from there on in. The basic of the plot summary is Kirk and crew have flexed their young muscles, and been found wanting, a serious baddie with real Trek bona fides comes to destroy the world, and, well, you know the rest. Said baddie is played with delicious, scene-chewing relish by Benedict Cumberpatch, and the back and forth of "is he really bad" or "is he perhaps good" helps propel the story forward. Any more and I would have to put the tiresome Spoiler Alert in my review.
What struck me most about this Trek entry -- and in this it reminded me of the similarly excellent "SkyFall" -- was how well it paid homage to the unspoken narrative arc of the franchise. There are echoes from TOS (the original series, for those of you not in the know), the original film series and the mythology that Abrams and his crack writing team helped add to with their first entry. Again, you might have already heard about some of these, so I don't want to spoil them for you. But hey, it won't ruin things if I tell you that this crew does not have trouble with Tribbles.
No, what has always made Star Trek so important is not that it is science fiction -- although at times some of the best Sci Fi genre work has come out of it (can any one say Jean-Luc Picard?) -- but that it interrogates important moral and political issues in a deeply personal way. And despite the fun we like to have with William Shatner, great story writing and acting has been a hallmark of Trek-dom. This entry is no exception - Chris Pine, Cumberpatch, Karl Urban the entire cast is expertly chosen.
And this really brings me to my point. Did you ever see Kirk cry in TOS? I have been re-watching it on Hulu (praise be!) and so far nary a salty drop in sight. The male cry count in Darkness is three - count it, three. OK, well, perhaps if we restricted it to human males, or 100% human males it would go down. But there are three distinct emotional nadirs in the film at three crucial moments - and the guys cry. They cry. Wow. One might be faked (again, no spoilers) but at least two are legit, and quite powerful. This is important, not because culturally we may be much more accepting of men letting out their emotions (although that is important) but because the emotional resonance in Abrams' Trek entries itself resonates with Trek's ability to take on issues head-on. What if you had to make the decision between living, or saving hundreds of lives - you wouldn't necessarily be noble about it, in fact you might be pretty darn scared. Facing death? Not for the faint of heart, nor for lesser actors or actresses.
So the real genius of "Star Trek: Into Darkness", for all its crisp plotting and great special effects is how it uses that platform to tell more than one deeply human story. And, how the actors -- some of whom, like Pine are really coming into their own -- rise to the occasion.