They’re back! That’s right, the team that most people probably think of as J.J. Abrams (but actually includes writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (plus Damon Lindelof), cinematographer Daniel Mindel, and various producers) has followed up their alternative universe Star Trek (2009) with a parallel universe Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). Having seen the movie, I’m not quite sold on the title being very descriptive, but it’s evocative (of something it evokes but once) and they’ve got revelations to reveal and “Star Trek II” is taken. I also don’t care for the lack of colon (punctuation) as it suggests that this is a trek into darkness via stars, which isn’t the case. Do you want to be entertained in the theater? Is this not why you go? Well, then, go and be entertained.
Capt. James Kirk (Chris Pine) intervenes to save a primative planet, breaking all sorts of regulations to do so. This gets him demoted and sent back to the academy except, in pretty short order, his mentor Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) puts him under his command on the Enterprise. Then there’s an explosion at Starfleet archives, killing hundreds. So, after something happens, Kirk is given permission to take the Enterprise along with some super powerful torpedos to go in hunt of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a rogue intelligence operative who had been spying on the Klingons until something happened (we don’t know what). Then things get a little more complicated.
It’s a funny thing, but these Star Trek movies have a way of getting to me. In the last one, I remember getting teary almost immediately when Papa Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) went in to finish off those Romulans or whatever. You have to admire their powers of manipulation. In Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams & Co. had me tearing up not once, but twice. And this is that kind of movie you hear when you’re two theater screens down the hall. It even has a clear political message for us, just like the original series did sometimes in between silly fights with silly creatures (one of which gets a little cameo). The rest of the movie is sheer architecture. It ain’t timeless, but it’s sturdy.
Part of its non-timelessness is the incredible pace (with a hiccup or two along the way) and another part is the sound. No, it’s not just that the explosions are super loud, but the fact that I remember the music about as well as I remember the sound of the explosion or air lock opening or phasers set to stun. The music (Michael Giacchino) isn’t bad or indistinctive, but it’s just not memorable or iconic. No one will hear a few bars of the soundtrack and be reminded of the movie. I had this thought while I was in the bathroom of the theater, thinking that I was listening to one of the six or so screens this movie was showing on. Turns out it was Iron Man 3 (2013) (Brian Tyler). Doesn’t that just say it all?
Since this is an entertainment, it’s hard to be nit-picky about flubs of pacing or acting, but I think J. J. Abrams tries to be a cut above, a successor to Steven Spielberg (who is, you know, still alive). The thing is that he’s only really one cut above. He brings heart to his movies, but not with the soul (or soul-manque) that Spielberg can bring. I’m willing to blame the writers for most of that. The best movie written by anybody on this writing team is Prometheus (2012). These guys are about cramming ideas for an entire TV series into a single movie discarding any subtlety along the way. It’s why there isn’t so much development as there is character milestone after character milestone. And Abrams has the heart to make it survive.
That’s in answer to the question “How was Benedict Cumberbatch (I liked him so much in Sherlock (2010-)?” It’s not really a sound question. He can deliver lines better than most. He can convey anger better than most. He can be restrained and menacing. He’s an actor. But, as Mr. Holmes once said, “I cannot make bricks without clay.” He was given clay and he made very pretty bricks. The problem is that bricks are very unclear as to motivation.