STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013, J.J. Abrams): 6/10
Technically unassailable (well, except for one bad edit that goes from Scotty with his right hand on a joystick to the same hand flipping a switch above his head), which is something that should not be taken for granted — even when Hollywood just unloads dumptrucks full of money at a summer blockbuster, it doesn’t necessarily translate to cinematic competence (such as with STAR TREK’s producers/writers Orci & Kurtzman & Lindelof’s 2011 debacle COWBOYS & ALIENS). So give Abrams credit for being captain of a beautifully purring ship here, from the photography to the special effects to the sound design. But you know what else is technically unassailable? My iPhone.
In other words, holding the attentions of its viewers — the hordes of Americans who were cattle-herded into theaters this weekend (to the tune of $70 million in ticket sales; an objectively staggering figure despite the proclamations that such a number was a “disappointment” — especially in light of IRON MAN THREE’s $170M+) in order to sit on their asses, shovel popcorn into their faces at a ferocious pace, tear their eyeballs away from Facebook for 140 minutes, and find themselves agreeably distracted by a lot of colors, flashing lights, and high-pitched noises and booms — is an admirable feat but not one that’s going to get me to stand up and applaud. The substance here is spelled out cleanly (the closer Abrams’s camera gets to faces, the more we’re supposed to pay attention), i.e. storylines such as Kirk’s volatile heroism vs. Spock’s seemingly cold rationality, government’s troublesome hawkish responses to terrorist action, sacrifice & teamwork, etc. But that doesn’t make it profound: it still came off as shallow to me, and I couldn’t really overlook it in the context of pretty thin supporting characters (Uhuru plays nothing more than a fiesty girlfriend in this one, Sulu a workhorse of a pilot, and Khan a one-dimensional face of evil). Pine is a rock star, and deserves a better starring role — he has great moments in this film opposite the equally strong Quinto, but Kirk is imagined as a micro-managing superhero, not only serving as captain and ace-sniper, but also sacrificial mechanic and political diplomat. He only delegates when he can’t be two places at once.
But given the shortcomings of the script it’s still noteworthy that the action scenes make such good sense in the midst of the sci-fi ridiculousness, the best of which is Kirk and Khan’s fingernail-biting dive-through-space from the Enterprise to the other ship. Abrams learned pacing, consistency, and spectacle from his mentor Spielberg. But I’m just worried that he only learned how to mimic the appearance of interest in humanity, not embody it.