I hope you appreciate the irony - or should I say, "highly illogical" nature - of putting so many blindingly bright lens flares in a "dark" movie. Yes, I know those red, white and blue streaks are director J.J. Abrams's visual trademark. I also realize that even though the latest Star Trek movie professes to go "into darkness," that the movie still upholds the summer blockbuster obligation to be light and fun. Both in form and content. Still, I have to pick on you a little. Because this movie is stunning to look at, riveting to sit through and an overall joy to watch, despite its occasional indulgence in cliches and disobedience of the franchise's own Prime Directives.
The second installment of the refreshed NCC-1701 Electric Light Orchestra opens to Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. "Bones" McCoy running away, Indian Jones-style, from natives on an exotic planet. Immediately, the film bursts with energy, humour, danger and moral philosophizing. Even when the pace slows to deal with the consequences of that opening sequence, the film packs a surprising amount of story propulsion and relationship development. The script does a fantastic job of giving every character their moment to shine. Far too often, you just had to "complement" this with an actual spotlight, beaming into the frame.
Even the film's central villain, revealed as Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), is not immune from this heavenly light. His overall impact, however, feels strangely overshadowed as the story progresses. It's also a bizarrely similar reflection to the plot of Iron Man 3, with modified government super soldiers gone rogue and on a similarly unconvincingly rendered mission. This is small complaint, however, since Cumberbatch commands a truly menacing presence with his deep baritone voice, intellect and imposing stature. At the other end of the spectrum, Pine proves to be more than capable of bringing much needed dimension to the Captain, while Spock (Zachary Quinto) continues to provide a perfect foil and even alternate lead.
My only real complaint is I never truly believed in the darkness that the film promises. The second entry in a series provides the ultimate opportunity for throwing established heroes into a deep dark pit of despair where their survival and moral code are called into question (The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, etc). Star Trek Into Darkness certainly aims in this direction, but stops short of really diving into the abyss. It's not just your optical additions that undermine that, or the way most of the crew's "outs" are always telegraphed to the audience a few scenes before they're revealed. You never doubt that there's light at the end of the tunnel.
That said, I still feel this is an immensely enjoyable film that has to be the best-looking big-screen space adventure I've ever seen. It even got me very excited about how J.J. Abrahams will treat his upcoming Star Wars films. Because hey, maybe you guys know something I don't about how lighting effects actually look in space. Because - help me out - is Commander Chris Hadfield's Space Oddity video art imitating life, or vice versa?