J.J. Abrams takes Star Trek firmly into the light

When Star Trek: Nemesis opened in theatres about 10 years ago, it quickly ended its run with a paltry earning of USD 67 million worldwide, with USD 43 million coming from the US. On television, the highly regarded spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager had ended their runs in 1999 and 2001 respectively. Although the TV latest spin-off Enterprise was in its 2nd season, there was a feeling that the life of this beloved franchise was coming to an end. Indeed, by 2005, the Enterprise series was cancelled and there had been no new feature films since Nemesis, with Jean-Luc Picard, aka Patrick Stewart having moved on to the X-Men franchise.

Around this time, i.e. 2005-06, a 40-something film/ TV producer named J.J. Abrams was coming to the end of his successful spy series Alias and was getting a lot of TV viewers excited about his new genre-bending TV show Lost.

Mr. Abrams’ first feature directing effort was Mission: Impossible III in 2006 which met with mixed reviews, but its screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who had also written for Alias) were approached by Paramount to write a new Star Trek feature film and it was no surprise that their producing partner J.J. Abrams was roped in to be the producer of the movie. Once Abrams saw the script he was inspired enough to sign on as director as well.

The rest is history, as Star Trek opened in the summer of 2009 to fantastic reviews and the best box office performance in the history of the franchise (even accounting for inflation since the release of the first Star Trek film in 1979). The anticipation for the sequel has been very high and 4 years is considered a bit of a stretch by today’s standards. The excitement was further ramped up in the past few months with the announcement that Abrams would direct the forthcoming Star Wars: Episode VII for Disney, the new owners of Lucasfilm. This has probably cemented his place in Hollywood history as perhaps the only person who will have directed both a Star Trek and a Star Wars film.

Star Trek Into Darkness opens ‘James Bond style’ with a thrilling action sequence which eventually segues into the title credits. The opening serves to reintroduce us to the key characters and their personalities – Kirk’s devil-may-care attitude and boundless self-confidence, ‘Bones’ McCoy forever trying to cling to his sanity in the midst of the mayhem that seems to erupt wherever Kirk goes, Spock with his irritating insistence on following rules and logic, the incredibly charismatic and emotionally rock solid Uhura, supported by Sulu, Scotty and Chekov. I have to say that Abrams and team have come up with a novel way to introduce the Enterprise ship in the film, which is really saying something considering how many movies and TV shows that starship has been featured in, over the past 4 decades.

The opening is followed by an interlude during which Benedict Cumberbatch is introduced as the mysterious Starfleet officer John Harrison. I thought that this short section featuring a young couple and their daughter added some real emotional depth to the film; a lazier set of writers could easily have bypassed this setup and gone straight to Harrison’s terrorist attack on Starfleet.

The terrorist attack sets in motion the rest of the story which proceeds at breakneck speed; in fact, in real time I think the rest of the story plays out over a period of just a day or so. The Enterprise sets off in pursuit of John Harrison and we have a brief encounter with the Klingons (no doubt they will be the main adversaries in the next sequel). Eventually we discover that there is much more to John Harrison than meets the eye and that the Enterprise is also under threat from another, equally dangerous enemy.

As with the Avengers last summer, the writers have done an outstanding job of infusing just the right amount of humor and entertaining dialogue among the characters, in order to give audiences the necessary breathing room in between all the action. Speaking of action, it really is a non-stop roller coaster ride; there are a number of breathtaking set-pieces, the best of which for me was Kirk trying to get across from the Enterprise to another spaceship nearby.

Long time Trek fans will appreciate some parts of the storyline which references key events in one of the earlier Star Trek films (I can’t say more without revealing too much). The Star Trek reboot of 2009 succeeding in taking this franchise outside its traditional fanbase and I believe that this sequel will expand the footprint even further.

All the actors are in fine form and by now, very comfortable in the skins of their characters. British actress Alice Eve is a new entrant into group and it was nice to see Peter Weller (of RoboCop fame) back in a significant big screen role. For those who are not familiar with Benedict Cumberbatch’s body of work in film (check out his supporting roles in Amazing Grace, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse) or on TV (Sherlock), Star Trek into Darkness will no doubt elevate him to the status of a globally recognized character actor/ lead actor, much in the same vein as Patrick Stewart and Michael Fassbender.

I wonder how the inevitable sequel will perform without Abrams at the helm, but for the moment I’m going to sit back and watch how the film performs as it rolls out across the world over the next few weeks. Although it’s still early days, Star Trek Into Darkness is already my front runner as the best film of the summer!

 

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