STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. My personal investment in all this Star Trek business is pretty minimal. Years ago, I burned through the first four or five movies over the course of a languorous, lost afternoon. I enjoyed the experience, but I chose those movies because they were the only ones in the house where I was staying. I've seen enough of the original series to know what a Tribble is, and to kind of understand the Kobayashi Maru. But I'm by no means an acolyte.
I get that J.J. Abrams is Hollywood's new king of nerds, and I dig his style, though I prefer Super 8 (2011) to his Star Trek. The former, a pitch-perfect ode to early Spielberg, amounts to about 7/8 of a great movie. Because it's a tribute, Abrams was able to borrow visual cues aplenty from his forbearer. In the process he out-Spielberged Spielberg and made a movie that looks even better, with all its lens flares blazing, than Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Jurassic Park. Plus, he's one of the few monster directors working who can hang onto the childlike enjoyment of story that's so vital, and yet increasingly rare, to movie-making.
So Abrams has the credentials, and the proven chops, to take on something as contentious as re-imagining Star Trek. In his hands, the franchise's well-known characters have authentic emotions, plausible reactions and believable motivations. And the new batch of actors brings them convincingly to life. Abrams clearly loves these characters, and the care and devotion he's taken with them show in every frame.
With his reverence of Gene Roddenberry's vision, he hasn't tried to outsmart the originals. Rather, the first movie in his rebooted series used an alternate universe model that allows the original characters to comfortably co-exist with their new Hollywood versions. The device comes into play again this time around, allowing Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto to interact, Spock to Spock. This, for Trekkies, must be like putting two awesome mirrors face to face.
But the aesthetic elements I so enjoyed in Super 8 are nowhere to be found. Granted, it wouldn't do to crib Spielberg's look, again. But now that he's been called upon to invent his own visual style, Abrams doesn't quite pull it off. He's got the best sets, costumes, and effects a huge budget can buy, but his camerawork is generally uninspired. This would seem a minor complaint in light of all the movie's positive attributes, but I think it gets at why Abrams' vision never fully engages me.
After a brisk, admittedly dazzling opening sequence, Kirk's (Chris Pine) headstrong leadership lands him in trouble with Starfleet (no spoiler). After a disciplinary hearing, he and Spock are separated and assigned to work under other, more established captains. But almost immediately, a shadowy super-soldier (Benedict Cumberbatch) starts waging war on Starfleet, then retreats to a deserted corner of the Klingon home world. Kirk's command is reinstated and the Enterprise is sent to find and destroy the assassin. Once they track down their prey, it becomes clear that not everything — or everyone — is as it would seem.
At about this point I realized that this is essentially the plot of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) with a few updates and revisions. I'm not sure how purists will feel, but I found it a fun, future-retro maneuver on the part of the writers.
As I mentioned, the top-notch production level creates an enveloping atmosphere that draws us in and holds us. The actors take on their roles with exhilarating commitment and enjoyment; the writing is spot-on, with inventive structure, funny jokes and gripping suspense; but somehow the movie keeps us at a remove. The experience, at least from my seat, is a lot like the look: clean, streamlined, snappy, modern — and maybe a bit dull for all of that. It feels too futuristic, too imagined, not grounded enough in the real stuff of the story.
Even when cleverly incorporating elements of the first round of movies — the Nimoy cameo, a Tribble, the plot of Khan — Into Darkness sacrifices their now-dated warmth and quirks in favor of overarching modernism. I can't fault Abrams for the choice; he's actively reinventing a half-century-old sci-fi program for new generations. I (so rapidly becoming a relic myself) just wish he had retained some of the semi-shabby aesthetic of the old Treks. PG13. 132m.
— John J. Bennett
THE HANGOVER PART III. I don't know about you, but as I get older each new hangover is more regrettable than the last. Then again, when you're out with the likes of Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper, it just might be worth it. R. 100m.
FAST & FURIOUS 6. Behold the shiny surfaces of waxed automobiles, custom rims and the heads of actors Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Tyrese Gibson! Observe the vacant eyes of "actor" Paul Walker! Witness two more hours of fast cars and crash-boom shoot-em-ups! PG13. 130m.
EPIC. In this 3D computer-animated adventure from the creators of Ice Age and Rio, a girl gets shrunk and discovers a magical, hidden world in small-scale nature — sounds like Alice in Wonderland meets Fern Gully. PG. 102m.
Want to see David Bowie rocking Tina Turner hair and singing with creepy Muppets? Of course you do! Wander into the Labyrinth (1986) Friday at 8 p.m. at the Arcata Theatre Lounge. PG. 101m. On Sunday at 6 p.m., the ATL wraps up its boy wizard retrospective with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. PG13. 130m. Next Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night brings us Mesa of Lost Women, a 1953 flick about "a race of deadly spider-women luring men to their death." I kid you not; this thing won an award for "Most Primitive Male Chauvinist Fantasy." Doors at 6 p.m.
42. This Hollywood biopic about baseball color-barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson is so glossy it all but glosses over the issue of racism. PG13. 128m.
THE CROODS. A Stone Age family must look for a new cave in this likeable animated comedy featuring the voices of Nic Cage and Emma Stone. PG. 96m.
THE GREAT GATSBY. Baz Luhrmann's frantically schizo adaptation of the literary classic plays like an uninspired soap opera. PG13. 142m.
IRON MAN 3. Billionaire playboy/superhero Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) must battle panic attacks and terrorist/stereotype The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). PG13. 130m.
OBLIVION. Tom Cruise! Sci-fi! Mediocre! Kinda pretty, though. PG13. 126m.
PAIN & GAIN. Hollywood schlock-maestro Michael Bay directs this explosive take on hostage-taking Miami muscle-heads (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson). R. 129m.
— Ryan Burns