Friday, May 17, 2013

The Wrath Of Khan Goes On

Reel To Reel: Star Trek Into Darkness

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana (and yes, Leonard Nimoy!)
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Action violence, phaser shooting, one very brief sexually suggestive scene involving aliens

I liked what director J.J. Abrams did with the first Star Trek reboot. With the second, he is walking a fine line between reboot and remix, as he walks that other fine line of staying true to the vision Trek fans love while bringing in the next generation. Star Trek Into Darkness borrows a little too liberally from 1982's Star Trek II, but at least it cribs lovingly.

The film opens with Capt. James T. Kirk (Pine) and Spock (Quinto) cribbing from another 1980's film as they run from an indigenous tribe in an alien jungle. I'll pause here while you film geeks make a few guesses. In the process of escaping the planet and trying to save it, Kirk violates a list of Starfleet regulations. He loses command of the Enterprise, which we're amazed to find also works as an amphibious vehicle.

Just as Kirk is contemplating life out of the command chair, a terrorist threat hits Starfleet in the form of one man with explosives and a portable transporter beam. He takes out part of headquarters and Kirk's mentor, leading to the former captain getting a new mission: find this guy and take him out, even if it takes him into Klingon territory.

And who should this guy be but -- cue the drum roll -- Khan! Only it's not Ricardo Montalban's Khan, with that chest too buff to be real and flanked by Chippendale's dancers. It's Benedict Cumberbatch (of Sherlock fame) with a voice that oozes sinister the first time you hear it. The new Khan doesn't need alien baby armadillos to invade people's ears and do his bidding. He's a master manipulator, playing everyone's brain like a piano. Can he work on Spock? Or is he locked into that infamous two-dimensional thinking?

The crew's all here, faithful to their classic counterparts: Uhura (Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Bones (Urban, comfortably hilarious in the role), and Scotty (Simon Pegg in full Scot mode). I admire Abrams' and the writers' campy cool, especially Spock, although Quinto's version suggests the First Officer may be illogically taking a few uppers. Leonard Nimoy's Spock had a restrained rationality. New Spock has a mind running at warp speed, and it makes me wonder how he can remember to be half-human.

One of the most rewarding parts of this re-imagining is how it leaves overdone ethical dramas behind, if you don't count Spock's motor-mouth morality -- and just about everybody else does. Gene Roddenberry would have hated this amped-up version of his space saga, devoid of some blindingly obvious takeaway. Into Darkness plays more like Star Wars in some portions. But can you imagine Han Solo having to tolerate Spock? "Watch your mouth, kid, or it's gonna be a long walk back to Vulcan."

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