Friday, May 17, 2013

Another Bold Go

Returned a while ago from the 11:00 showing of "Star Trek Into Darkness" (really liking the omission of the obligatory colon), with friends, old and new. It is difficult to believe that it's been four years since I reviewed its predecessor.

Clearly, JJ Abrams and his team have been using the time wisely and well!

There have been reviewers (who I am feeling heartily unmotivated to search out, and who, frankly, I do not believe deserve the traffic) who have decried this as a smashing action movie which has nothing to do with The Spirit Of Star Trek.

I can state with unassailable Trekker credentials that, whatever it is they have been smoking should be tested forthwith for all manner of unsavory additives.

This impeccably-paced, visually arresting piece of cinema is positively redolent with all that is finest in Trek. And I'm not just talking about the cornucopia of deft homages (I'll get back to that). It's all here: the Prime Directive, the needs of the many, the emerging triumvirate of Spock (Reason), McCoy (emotion/empathy), and Kirk (Will), the spectre of the Kobayashi Maru, the moral balance between expediency and justice, the triumph of the competent get the picture.

This. Is. Trek.

End of report.

Yes, the story blazes through set-piece after set-piece...but not in a jagged, fragmented way, and not just for action's sake. The fact that Star Trek may now be painted on a broader, more frenetic canvas does not diminish its fidelity to the franchise one jot. Sheesh!

One of the things that has (to coin a phrase) fascinated me about this new Trek is the way that the alternate time-line allows for the opportunity to explore the Deep Question of what sorts of things will tend to diverge from an altered set of initial conditions (a la Butterfly Effect), and what sorts of things will display a more durable tendency to occur, despite those altered conditions.

Toward the end of the first movie, the characters' personalities --despite wildly different life histories, as a result of Nero's rending of the Trek Prime timeline-- had begin to coalesce into their familiar configurations (with a number of twists). The promise of this has put my fears to rest by receiving a wildly satisfying payoff in this second iteration of the new franchise. Each of the beloved characters is given something Important to do, something which allows us to see how they are both known and new.

Similarly, there are aspects of the Federation which resonate in familiar ways to those who are conversant in the various series and movies from the Trek Prime universe. But the rippling consequences of the changes which spawned this new timeline have had far-ranging consequences whose implications become clear as the film reveals its secrets (a privilege I am resolved to not usurp in this review!). There are resonances with the Trek which we know....but they are just that: resonances. These are not retreads, nor slavish repetitions. Echoes of events which unfolded as we know them from the familiar Trek universe are present (and many more foreshadowed). But they all bear the stamp of the new conditions under which they arise, and so they retain their ability to surprise. And surprise they do!

Naturally, this makes my inner Chaos/Complexity Theory Geek emit all manner of undignified SQUEES!

All that said, this is a very entertaining film! I had the pleasure of seeing a special preview of the first 9 minutes of it, attached to The Hobbit, back in December. Although the Peter Jackson Extravaganza that followed all-but obliterated those 9 minutes, enough of a trace remained that I was TERRIBLY excited to see what would follow. And I was not the least bit disappointed. The blend of genuinely funny humor and jaw-dropping eye and ear candy is very much still in evidence here.

You. Will. NOT. Be. Bored.

Could I predict a few of the plot twists ahead of time? Sure. Did it telegraph these a bit? Yup. But it was neither insultingly obvious nor maddeningly coy about this. Were there sleeper subplots which languished, unrevisited, till the story required them to re-emerge? Sure. But not every story needs to be told in detail, if the telling will derail the overall tale (that's what Deleted Scenes are for!).

Suffice to say that, long before the iconic Alexander Courage theme rang out at the end, I was SOLD on this New Trek's spirit, its reverence for its roots, and its...well...boldness to grow in truly different (but thematically consistent) directions from those roots.

It appears that the Final Frontier encompasses even wider expanses than we'd thought.

And I could not be any more ready to warp out and explore them!