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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Star Trek Into Darkness



STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS  (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.: J. J. Abrams, 2013

Perhaps Star Trek Into Darkness should have been called Star Trek 12: The Wrath of Spock. Even numbers, you know.

But no, that’s no good: producer-writer-director J. J. Abrams hates colons. Anyway, Star Trek Into Darkness turns out to be just what you might have expected from a 100 million- dollar-plus-budgeted blockbuster, released in 3D, 2D  and IMAX, directed by Abrams (Lost, Alias,Super 8), and acted and written by Abrams’ high-grade team on the 2009s re-boot re-hit Star Trek. That movie, coming after an 11-year Star Trek space-hiatus,  was a shrewdly calculated, well-executed, entertaining show, with its share of  surprises, heavy-duty action scenes, big emotional moments  and nostalgic nods to the long 47 year history of Star Trek. And so is this one. I’m not in love with it, but I certainly enjoyed it — and so, I imagine, will much of its audience, as the movie rolls and soars and explodes its way toward  a 100 million dollar or so opening weekend. Which it probably deserves.

What do you expect? Back on the Enterprise are the whole immortal crew, headed by Chris Pine as the impulsive, courageous, reckless (and horny) Captain James T. Kirk (who was originally William Shatner), and Zachary Quinto, as the pointy-eared, magisterially logical and seemingly unemotional  First Officer Spock  — once played by Leonard Nimoy, who‘s back in this movie with a cameo as Spock Prime).

Backing them up — as Kirk and Spock quarrel once again about the superiority of logic or instinct, science or soldierly action, brain or brawn  — are that crackerjack  space-crew of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), Chief Engineer Montgomery “Beam Me Up, Scotty” Scott (Simon Pegg), Communications Officer Niota “Knockout” Uhura (Zoe Saldana),  Helmsman Hikaru “Smiley” Sulu (John Cho), and Ensign Pavel “How-Did-a-Russian-Get-On-Bboard?” Chekov (sic) (Anton Yelchin) — all the parts originated in the 1966-1969 series, and the first six Star Trek movies (1979-1989) by DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei and Walter Koenig.

One of the great appeals of the first six Star Trek movies, was always the appearance of that sort-of-magnificent seven. — not necessarily because they were great actors (Shatner  stopped that argument single-handedly), but because they were the peop11le’s choice and because we knew them for so long and we liked them — and because Shatner, no matter what you think of his florid line readings, fit his part of  the gutsy but sometimes anguished leader and okay guy, bemused by his intellectual buddy Spock. 1.

Another familiar face this time, along for at least part of the ride, is the tormented-looking Bruce Greenwood as Kirk‘s mentor from the 2009 Trek, Admiral Christopher Pike. (Pike was the Enterprise’s original captain, the character played in the Star Trek pilot show by Jeffrey Hunter).  And the new blood in this new movie includes a real scene-and-planet-stealing villain, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock himself) as the cold-blooded ex-Starfleet renegade  John Harrison (an alias), plus another admiral, Peter Weller (of Robocop) as the demanding and hawkish Alexander Marcus, head man on the U.S.S. Vengeance.. There’s even an Enterprise stowaway, Alice Eve as hubba-hubba Science Officer Carol Wallace (another alias).


In Darkness begins with a bang in the twenty-third century, with a standard James Bond-Indiana Jones blast-you-out-of-your-seats opener, on the Planet Nibiru, where the always reckless Kirk and the often-exasperated Bones McCoy are being pursued by hostile pale-faced Nibirites, while Spock, in a heroic, self-sacrificing but unemotional mood, has lowered himself into  an active volcano, to try and save the planet. Spock does save the planet (as you might expect) and Kirk saves Spock (as you might also expect), and Kirk for violating the Starfleet Prime Directive about opening action scenes, is demoted from Enterprise Captain to First Officer, and separated from Spock — a mistake that’s  rectified after the super-terrorist Harrison, attacks and plunges into carnage a  Starfleet admiralty meeting in London. This results in the death of  Admiral Pike and Kirk’s  and Spock’s reinstatement as your favorite captain and first officer on the Enterprise with order to hunt down Harrison to the ends of the universe — or actually the Klingon planet Kronos, where he’s hiding out.

The action starts right at the beginning and then keeps on coming.  In Darkness is a typical sci-fi war movie in the post-Star Wars style, whereas the Star Trek TV Show, which would have a fight every now and then, mostly was a series of  science fiction fables, with Ray Bradbury-style messages. Darkness, as advertised, does have surprises in store — and, by the way, you should strenuously avoid the IMDB cast list, if you want to stay surprised. If the movie has a major problem, and many wont consider it  a problem at all, it‘s the need to keep the action scenes and space battles popping up at fairly frequent intervals.

What most people remember, and even treasure, about the TV show, is not the space battles (what there was of them), but the characters and their tense interactions –most especially the ongoing moral-philosophical debate between Kirk and Spock. Kirk was the constant hothead; Spock the professorial type who cooled things out. The two Abrams movies continue that conflict between two guys of widely differing temperaments, who basically love each other (as we’re told again and again). When Kirk, seemingly dying behind a glass door, reaches out his hand toward Spock‘s on the other side, you may think you’ve seen the gesture before (and you have), but the point is that most of us never get tired of it. Along with Ralph and Norton in “The Honeymooners” and Andy and Barney in “The Andy Griffith Show,” and  Cosby and Culp on “I Spy,”  Kirk and Spock were one of the great key TV bromances, and the new Star Trek series exploits and expands on that feeling.

It also shows them as young and heartily sexual, and full of juice and shenanigans. Chris Pine’s Kirk isn’t yet as full of himself as Shatner’s Kirk sometimes became, but the writers have turned him into a real ladies’ man. (In an early scene, we see him waking up from a threesome with two blondes, which is probably a Star Trek first.) And Spock has an often physical flirtation going with Uhura. Alice Eve is also aboard of course — but that seems a down-the line Kirk  adventure. As for the rest of the crew, I guess that have to stay celibate or explore new dimensions for the post-war five year exploration, or hope that the Enterprise finds intelligent life in the universe.


In many ways, it’s a relief watching this picture. After a decade of Patrick Stewart and company, and then more than a decade of franchise silence, 2009’s Star Trek ingeniously brought the original seven Enterprise crew members back together — in the process, demonstrating a  flair for matching the new younger actors playing the old characters with our memories of the original crew — and, as it turns out here, some others memories as well. I was happy that those blasts from the past included writer David Gerrold‘s pesky little Tribbles, with whom the old crew had such memorable troubles on the TV show long, long ago. And this isn’t just a walk-on, or roll-on. One of the Tribbles is a self-sacrificing star..

Anyway, this follow-up is just as careful to plow into the future, without jettisoning too much of the past — long-time Trekkies, or Trekkers, or Trekkeroos, or Tribblers, should be just as pleased with most of the movie as new-fangled Trek-Techs, or whatever the Star Trek gang is called now. (Don’t answer that.)

As you can see, In Darkness is a typical sci-fi war movie in the post-Star Wars style, whereas the Star Trek TV Show, which would have a fight every now and then, mostly was a series of  science fiction fables, with messages. Darkness, as advertised, does have surprises in store — and you should strenuously avoid the IMDB cast list, if you want to stay surprised. If the movie has a major problem, and many won’t consider it  a problem at all, it‘s the need to keep the action scenes and space battles popping up at fairly frequent intervals. It does. But though Benedict Cumberbatch is one grand hellfire villain, I kind of still prefer a Tribble or two.

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I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

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