Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, J.J. Abrams)

The cumbersome writing would threaten to derail Abrams second stab at the Star Trek franchise, if the film ever slowed down enough for it to be noticeable. Star Trek Into Darkness moves at such a tremendous, invigorating pace  that there is rarely any room to think about any incongruities of plotting. So much so, that before you know it, after one set piece is chained to another for two exhilarating hours, the thing is over, resolving oddly right where it should be heightening.

In Into Darkness, _every trace of exposition or character development is conducted amidst an action sequence. Abram's ensemble share much of the same witticisms that they did in the first film, only now they occur whilst everyone hurtles towards certain death. Whether by establishing the initial contrivances whilst running away from a erupting volcano, debating allegiances whilst the voyager is spiralling towards earth, or coming to emotional realisations whilst being gradually irradiated, nothing occurs in stasis in _Into Darkness.

The sense of peril is so constant, and Michael Giacchino's score so intense, that all this excitement would come to undermine itself were Abrams direction of these sequences not so tight. The characters barely resolve one crisis before falling immediately into another, yet Abrams somehow manages to make each disaster as tense and exciting as the last. It is all very effectively staged, and stunningly realised, this film taking an even brighter colour palette than Abram's first venture, giving it a bold and beautiful look that appears inspired by the recent 70s Sci-Fi informed Mass Effect game trilogy. From the oversaturated red vines and yellow faces of the opening sequence, Into Darkness' action pacing is mirrored by a similarly excessive visual styling that even the darkening effect of £D can't obscure.  A little breathing room might have been welcome amidst the frenetic pacing and dizzying visuals,  but then the audience might have had time to sit back and unravel the gaps in the needlessly complicated narrative.

Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, the first two known for writing the Transformers films, and the last for Lost and Prometheus, who may all be hot property for populist nerd franchises, but don't exactly bring an expectation of cogency to viewers familiar with their style of penmanship. Lindelof in particular, seems to always end up asking questions he can't answer, adding lofty, searching elements to his scripts yet struggling to resolve basic plot points (Prometheus being case in point.) _Star Trek Into Darkness _suffers much the same fate. Abound with clumsy political subtext - references to 9/11 conspiracies, and an arguably pro-interventionalist, pre-emptive strike endorsing narrative that fans of the original series' peace-favouring themes may find troubling, as may any viewer. The trio waste time throwing out ill-considered allusions to real world situations, and don't allocate enough space to what should be the central drive of the film, the psycho-battle between Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and villainous Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch, as well as risking losing the sense of jovial comraddery of the first film.

This battle arises, as Khan, a kind of superhuman, emerges after being awoken by Kirk's superior Marcus (Peter Weller) in order to add military strength to Marcus' command, in case of potential war with Klingon forces. Of course, this plan goes awry and when Khan is found attacking first a future-London starfleet headquarters, and then the room in which all of Starfleet's leading individuals idiotically commune in emergency situations,  it becomes Kirk's responsibility to respond. This response opens a discourse on whether to missile Khan's location into oblivion, risking war with the Klingons, or bring him back for a fair trial, as well as opening doubts over the integrity of everyone involved. As Kirk and Spock scratches their skins and puzzle over what is right and what is neccessary,  Cumberbatch works his nefarious charms, making operations ever more complicated and explosive for Kirk and co. As seemingly ever with Lindelof, (to pick fault with the most talented, yet most infuriating, of the three writers) it is a relatively simplistic plot, made overly complex by a number of illogical strands that run nowhere and offer little. Instead of mounting towards the psychological matchup the opening complexities suggest, the writers provide a underwhelming fistfight aboard a in-flight vehicle. By the end of it, Abbrams has strung so many set pieces together that he can't find one that provides satisfying elevation and resolution. Into Darkness ends up feeling like the middle part in a trilogy, as opposed to the neat and self-contained feeling of the first.

In the first Abrams Star Trek film, the writing trio managed to avoid discontent over plot holes and narrative clumsiness by making the film decidedly character focused, gaining viewer attention by working on establishing memorable individual characters that were bonded together warmly and cogently. In this sequel, two things prevent this from happening again, firstly the constant action overshadowing character development, and secondly the homo-erotically infused relationship of Spock (Zachiary Quinto) and Kirk taking centrefold, dominating proceedings amusingly at the expense even of Spock's romantic relationship with ship compatriot, Uhura (Zoe Saldana.) Spock and Kirk's lovers tiff makes the bulk of the emotional content of the film, and as lovely as it is to see a single tear from the otherwise emotionless Spock, (who as in the first film is possessed by Quinto in such a way that it is now unimaginable that any other modern actor could play it) the strength of the ensemble is outweighed by the prevalence of these two. John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban et al are all back, but feature less, though Simon Pegg gets more time as the Scotty character, who is an irritating or lovable addition depending on perspective.

The first Abrams Star Trek had charm in abundance, and a string of great and warm characters driven by an ensemble that bounced visibly off each other. This new one sacrifices this to a degree in favour of a delluge of breathtaking action pieces. In both films, it takes effort  not to enjoy it all. Sit back and its mostly a well-staged blockbuster that lets ups a little by the end. Once any real attention is paid to what is going on, and what it all means in terms of the direction the franchise has been taken, that enjoyment is at risk, like the story, of falling apart at the seams.

**★

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