J.J. Abrams straight-up has a way with ensembles, doesn’t he? All those survivors in LOST with their quirks and troubled pasts; the wee children in Super 8 with their small-town aspirations; even Tom Cruise, his spy team and their outlandish gadgetry in MI:III. As co-writer, Abrams gives his characters scripts in which they individually and collectively shine. And as director, he foments vivid, vital chemistries.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is the second in the rebooted mega-budget franchise at Abrams’ hands. And here, the brawny tomcat James Kirk (Chris Pine) is back in the intergalactic saddle, chasing down an enigmatic supersoldier-type (Benedict Cumberbatch) bent on what appears to be generic super-terrorism.
The plot is a variation on your standard revenge narrative, only this time it’s complicated by the underlying anxiety about Star Fleet becoming militarized (embodied by the gruff, war-mongering Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller)). Coupled with the sleek makeovers of London and San Francisco c. 2250 AD, the weirdest thing about this nutty poli-sci-fi plot is that at times it seems almost plausible.
The USS Enterprise’s roster is back in force — Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldan), Sulu (John Cho) and the gang. Zachary Quinto, as Spock, continues to texturize the Vulcan with revised layers of sensitivity and self-doubt. It’s a winning performance, especially in the scenes of simmering bromance with Pine’s Kirk. Hubba hubba, folks.
Regardless of how closely it adheres to the tenets of the original Star Trek series — not very — it’s a successful summer box-office smash in part because Abrams understands that Trekkies are an essential but ultimately very small percentage of its audience. This one’s fun for everybody. There’s enough callbacks and wink-winks to satisfy the baby boomers and enough mindless explosions and small words to transfix the PG-13 types who’d have a hard time distinguishing Klingons from Taylor Lautner.
But it’s the characters, and Abrams’ careful treatment of the ensemble at large, that makes this one rise above something like Iron Man 3, which relies on Robert Downey Jr. and basically nothing else. Every character on the Enterprise has an important role, a memorable scene. They’ve all got their mini-arcs which play out unobtrusively and really quite elegantly throughout.
It’s not an empty compliment, in the case of Star Trek: Into Darkness, to say that the most memorable thing about most of the action sequences is their dialogue.