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Star Trek Into Darkness

In 2009, director J.J. Abrams rebooted the much loved “Star Trek” series with one of the most thrilling, visually engaging and humorous science fiction movies in recent memory. He took a franchise that had remained largely stagnant since 2002’s underrated “Star Trek: Nemesis” and reinvigorated it with style. It may not have been the “Trek” we have all come to know and love, but its new identity nevertheless managed to win fans over, even if it failed to touch upon some of the wonderful themes from the previous movies. If the first batch of films with the original crew explored the meaning of life, the inescapability of death and religion vs. evolution, 2009’s “Star Trek” is more like “Star Trek: First Contact,” a technically well made, devilishly exciting action movie that doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot to say. The follow-up, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is largely the same. Luckily, a movie doesn’t have to be profound to be entertaining and “Star Trek Into Darkness” is likely to be one of the most entertaining movies of the summer.

The story begins on a primitive planet where the species living on it has “barely invented the wheel.” A volcano is about to destroy the planet, so Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew set out to save it. Federation regulations state that the crew of the Enterprise must not make their presence known to these people, a regulation they inevitably break. This reckless behavior lands Kirk in hot water with the Federation and his ship is taken away. However, an attack on Starfleet headquaraters by a mysterious man (Benedict Cumberbatch) leads to a desperate reversal of that decision. This man’s last known location is on the Klingon planet Kronos and even though that area is off limits to the Federation for fear of starting an all-out war with the Klingon empire, Kirk and his crew head out to bring him to justice.

One of the reasons 2009’s “Star Trek” was so good was because of it’s absolutely brilliant storytelling that not only managed to squeeze out some wonderful emotion in its opening moments, but also craft a story that didn’t neglect everything that had come before. It wasn’t a reboot in your typical Hollywood sense. Because the story involved time travel, a ripple occurred in the timeline, creating a new one and changing the personalities and adventures of the crew, even if only slightly. This allowed Abrams to preserve the original stories while crafting his own and include everyone’s favorite Spock, Leonard Nimoy, in the now famous 2009 cameo.

Unfortunately, this desire to preserve memories while crafting new ones is the new movie’s biggest downfall. Without giving too much away, “Into Darkness,” or at least its ending, sticks so closely to one of the franchise’s previous installments that it almost becomes moot, almost like a 2.0 version of that film in question. The path to the conclusion becomes so clear that only those unfamiliar with “Star Trek” lore will find what transpires surprising. Despite giving it its own little twist, it comes off as lazy—any screenwriter can take an existing story and repackage it with minor changes. Furthermore, when this same conclusion rolled around previously, it meant something. When it happens here, it feels derivative and any emotion that may be felt is offset no more than ten minutes later, its impact completely diminished. My vague criticisms may be frustrating to read, but to go any further would constitute spoilers and fans of the franchise are astute enough that they’d know exactly how this movie plays out, if they haven’t already.

Clearly, this is not as good as 2009’s “Star Trek” (though that’s perhaps an unfair comparison to make since it could be argued that film is the best of the bunch), but the style and fun remains. Abrams’ obsession with lens flares is still very much evident, to the point where the entire screen is sometimes covered with them, and his ability to use canted camera angles to make something as simple as running down the Enterprise’s corridors interesting is uncanny. The humor is still there as well, even if the proceedings are a tad darker than the previous installment. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength, however, is Cumberbatch in that mysterious role that I dare not reveal. Unlike Nero, the Romulan hell-bent on revenge from the crew’s last adventure, this character is calm, collected and manipulative. Once aboard the Enterprise, his incarceration becomes a little bit like “Silence of the Lambs” in space, where he becomes the equivalent of the intelligent and smooth talking Hannibal Lecter. Cumberbatch, in one of the film’s most moving scenes, turns to the camera and speaks of horrible atrocities while tears roll down his face, cementing himself as one of today’s great performers.

So although you could say this is a disappointment when compared to the previous film (or a number of other “Star Trek” adventures), doing so would be focusing too much on the negative. Its stumbles certainly don’t eclipse its technical proficiency, its exhilarating action or its stylish flair. “Star Trek Into Darkness” is a solid action movie that builds character personalities and relationships even while neglecting the themes that made the franchise so great.

Star Trek Into Darkness receives 4/5


Super 8

For many people, Super 8 is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, the same man behind 2009’s most exciting film, Star Trek, and produced by none other than cinema legend Steven Spielberg, Super 8 was bound for greatness. But, like most other movies this year, it hits some sour notes along the way. It’s incredibly entertaining, full of heart and whimsy, but when all is said and done, it’s not much different from any other sci-fi creature feature you’ve ever seen.

The film takes place in the 70’s and follows a group of kids as they set out to make their own little movie for an upcoming film festival. Charles (Riley Griffiths) is directing while one of his best friends, Joe (Joel Courtney) does make-up. It’s a zombie movie and they already have their lead and zombie(s) in the form of Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Cary (Ryan Lee). What they need now is a romantic interest, so they employ Joe’s crush, Alice (Elle Fanning) and set out to make their movie. While filming one night on a seemingly abandoned train station platform, an Air Force train passes by, derails and its cargo escapes. The problem is that the cargo is alive and is now wreaking havoc in their small Ohio town.

Super 8 is a filmmaker’s love letter to filmmaking. Because the central story involves a group of kids shooting their own movie, Abrams gives himself an opportunity to mock certain aspects of the filmmaking process. He pokes fun at rewrites, pushy directors, cost cutting and even distracting background extras. Throughout the film, the kids keep shooting, despite the creature running around, and even use the recent destruction as backgrounds for their shots. In a way, Abrams is giving a cinematic hug to film. He loves it and does his best to push that love onto us. When you finally get to see the kids’ final product during the credits, which include the scenes they shot within the scenes of the bigger movie you just finished watching, you’ll realize he succeeded.

Given the marketing of Super 8, which makes it out to be a serious tale, many will find the film to be more charming and funny than they expected. Unfortunately, also due to the marketing, which, like many movies Abrams is involved in, kept the plot details in a shroud of secrets, many will also find themselves disappointed by the time those credits roll around. To put it simply (and to avoid inadvertent spoilers), the set-up is better than the payoff. It begins with a bang (quite literally), setting up a mystery that begs to be solved, but once it is, it’s nearly impossible not to feel underwhelmed. You’ve seen this type of movie before, especially if you’re familiar with Spielberg’s body of work. It’s a shame because the film is so well done, but when a mystery is played up as much as it is in Super 8, the solution should be unique, not ripped from other films. Call it homage if you want; that doesn’t make it any less redundant.

Still, even with that massive problem, the film is endlessly enjoyable thanks to terrific performances from its mostly child cast (some of which have never acted before), Abrams fine eye for detail and his keen understanding of human emotion. You’ll laugh a lot during Super 8, but you might be surprised to find yourself tearing up too. Abrams begins the movie with the death of Joe’s mother and then milks it for the next hour and 45 minutes, but it’s never excessive or manipulative. He handles it delicately and you’ll never feel like you’re crying simply because you’re supposed to.

Abrams nails the comedy and the drama, but in his attempt to hit the emotional trifecta with fear, he fails. Super 8 is not scary, but it tries real hard with a large number of “Boo!” scares, which any filmgoer knows are merely startling (and that’s not the same as scary). It also goes a little overboard with its time period jokes. It’s cute for a while, but making fun of portable audio cassette players is a bit obvious and not particularly inspired.

Super 8 isn’t as frenetic as Star Trek and it’s not as novel as Cloverfield (which Abrams produced), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It exists separately from Abrams’ other cinematic endeavors, though not from other cinematic endeavors in general. Super 8 is a good movie, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s not the mind-blowing spectacle it wants to be and, perhaps pretentiously, thinks it is.

Super 8 receives 3.5/5