American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Less a classic "Star Trek" adventure than a "Star Trek"-flavored
action flick, shot in the frenzied, handheld, cut-cut-cut style that’s
become Hollywood’s norm, director J.J. Abrams’ latest could have been
titled "The Bourne Federation."
plot pits the Enterprise crew against an intergalactic terrorist named
John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, giving his honeyed baritone a
workout), who’s waging war on the Federation for mysterious personal
reasons. There’s a joke, an argument, a chase, a spaceship battle, or a
brutal close-quarters firefight every five minutes, but all the action
is intimately tied to character. The major players, particularly Chris
Pine’s James T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Mr. Spock, are as finely
shaded as the incarnations played by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.
This new voyage of the starship Enterprise
is brash, confident, and often brutally violent, and features the most
lived-in production design I’ve seen in a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster
since "Minority Report."
Why, then, is the film ultimately disappointing? I suspect it’s the pop culture echo chamber effect: Abrams and his screenwriters (Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof) are so obsessed with acknowledging and then futzing around with what we already know about Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty and company that the movie doesn’t breathe. "Star Trek Into Darkness" is peppered with nods to past films and episodes: Kirk’s impetuous decision-making and horndog sexual proclivities; Spock’s denial of his half-humanness; Dr. McCoy’s cranky witticisms; Scotty’s protestations of what he and the ship “canna” do; references to tribbles and neutral zones and the Harry Mudd incident. The central plotline refers to one of Trek’s most celebrated storylines — a callback that alternately seems to honor the original, then turn it on its head, then honor it again. The final act includes an homage to one of the most famous scenes in the entire Trek canon — but this, too, is an inversion, or appears to be, until the script springs another whiplash reversal.
like to be more specific in my complaints, and feel as though I have a
right to be. After all, the “surprises” Abrams would prefer I keep
secret aren’t surprises if you’re passingly familiar with the Trek universe. (All you really need to know is that the film is plotted like a Bourne film or a season of 24,
and that Harrison is not as he seems, or as he represents himself; his
layers have layers.) But I’ll save a detailed gripe list for a blog post
this weekend, and say here that "Star Trek Into Darkness" is one of the most aggressively self-conscious summer blockbusters ever made.