Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

I would be lying if I said I was a gigantic Star Trek fan. After 2009, I noticed a slew of people who have supposedly always loved Star Trek. Quite frankly, I think that's a heaping pile of shit. After franchise reinvigorations like this, there always seems to be people who claim they've always been fans. I assure you, I am not one of them. Did I always appreciate the show for what it was? Of course. But I could just never fully become enthralled with the show. And that is part of the reason why I believe I enjoy Abrams' Star Trek films. He grew up a non-fan of Trek as well. And it wasn't until he was brought on board to tackle the first film that he became a Trekkie. The approach he took with the first film was interesting. It felt fresh without feeling as if it had to fit inside a specific mold. To sum up the first film, he reinvented iconic characters, injected a new visual style and ran with the rest.

With Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams managed to delve into classic dark second-installment territory, but without losing the popcorn fun that the first film had achieved. With Into Darkness, there are stakes involved that feel not only high but very real. With the first film, you almost knew no one significant was going to die due to being the kick starter to a newly-restored franchise. But with Into Darkness, I had myself thinking, "Shit, maybe he IS gonna' bite the dust...". The casting with these films are near-perfect. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, and the rest of the cast do a solid job. But there are two particular actors that were added to the cast that COMPLETELY owned the film. And I speak of Peter Weller and Benedict Cumberbatch. First and foremost, let me just say that it is FUCKING AWESOME to see Peter Weller in a major role again. He's not just a footnote in this film as you may expect. He's got some pretty decent screen time in this. And his character is not a simple character. He's complex as you may or may not expect. But I am sure all eyes will be on Benedict Cumberbatch. And any attention he does get after this is well-deserved.

When actors play villains, I always feel that if they do it well, they have hit their peak at an acting standpoint. When playing a villain, I believe it can become an outlet for most. From numerous interviews that I have seen and read, most actors tend to lean towards the "everyone has a dark side to them" remark. And by channeling that side, you create a character so unrecognizable and memorable that (again, if done well), it's hard to top. Look at DeNiro in Cape Fear, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, etc. Those characters work because it's rare for those actors to play characters, let alone, villains like that. But then you look at Jack Nicholson. You associate the word "villain" or "crazy" with him. And because of that, it has very little punch. Reason being, it's Jack Nicholson playing... Jack Nicholson. What Benedict Cumberbatch does with this character is incredible. I've only seen the actor in one role, but his talent is sure as hell displayed in this film. And much like Peter Weller's character, he's complex as well. He's not The Joker. There's a dynamic. Is what he is telling you really his motive? Or is there an alternative one? His "John Harrison" character is a very effective one. Far better than Eric Bana's Nero in the first film. He is unexpectedly brutal as well. Unexpectedly, because the guy is about 5' 11" and slender, but he has a very tactical combat style. It almost hurts to watch him assault the enemy. The violence in this borders PG-13 and R. Do you see anything? Not really, but there are some damn effective shooting and editing tricks pulled in this film. For instance, Harrison crushes a man's skull. You don't see any of it, but you HEAR all of it. And I've got to be honest, it's pretty damn brutal.

The first film successfully re-invented the iconic Trek characters, and this film only develops them more. Some characters are tested, and react in a way you wouldn't expect them to, and some do what may come to expect in a science fiction film. There are a few convenient devices used in the film to propel the dramatics, but nothing utterly eye-rolling. Amongst the crew, the most impressive character development was Simon Pegg's Scotty. He was the comedic do-what-you-ask figure in the first, and is mostly that in this film. But there is a pivotal scene where Kirk is instructed by Star Fleet to bring aboard torpedoes onto the USS Enterprise. Scotty strongly suggests that Kirk does not bring them on board. Kirk refuses to listen to Scotty, and Scotty resigns (temporarily, of course). To me, that defiance was necessary and much-needed. It makes you wonder who else may defy Kirk's orders, and what may come of the situation due to it.

Now to the more technical of things. First and foremost, the FX. The FX work in this is GREAT. I cant recall a scene with sketchy CG. Almost every scene had a fantastic marriage of practical sets and CG. And the 100% CG shots looked fantastic as well. Depending on what the rest of the year brings, Into Darkness should win the best Visual FX Oscar. This film is MASSIVE. That's partly due also to IMAX. The film has been released in IMAX 3D and is very impressive. Unfortunately it was not shot in native 3D, and was post-converted, but select scenes were shot in the native IMAX format. If you haven't already seen it, see it in IMAX 3D. And if you already have seen it, see it again in IMAX 3D. I can't say the 3D is phenomenal, but it IS good. The only option you have to see it in IMAX is IMAX 3D. And a little tidbit for you: If you're turned off by 3D due to the brightness levels, IMAX 3D films run off of 2 projectors with 2 bulbs as opposed to a regular 3D theatre that runs 3D films with only 1 projector and 1 bulb. With 2 projectors and 2 bulbs, you don't lose any brightness (the glasses are the only element that diminish the brightness).

Michael Giacchino is a composer who absolutely knows what he's doing with the films he scores. Star Trek Into Darkness is no different. He did a damn good job with the first film, and excels with this one. He has a very genuine traditional style. Nothing feels nudge-nudge about his work. Of course he plays around with some classic Star Trek themes (which is mandatory), but he blends his original material with the classic material seamlessly.

The only gripe I held onto walking out? The humor. The humor doesn't fail miserably, it just fell flat most of the time. Which is a bummer, considering that the humor was a very strong point in the first film. Dont get me wrong, there was nothing embarrassing, the humor was just generic.

JJ Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness? Easily the best movie of the year so far. The only question now is... What will JJ Abrams' Star Wars Episode VII bring?

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