J.J. Abrams again shows why he should stay away from the director’s chair & stick to doing what he does best: marketing. Into Darkness threatens to entertain but ultimately fails to deliver…
I’m not J.J. Abrams biggest fan. Far from it. He has a talent for tantalising the taste buds with movie concepts that inspire anticipation and make for great, often enigmatic, movie posters, billboards and, of course, teaser trailers. But it’s all a marketing gimmick. Underneath it all are films that are probably punching above their weight. This isn’t about polishing turds, we’re not in that category, but Abrams masterful art of manipulation in his ability to tell you about his movies is not mirrored in his ability to make them.
Thus, Abrams biggest strength is spending lots and lots of money on developing popular appeal before audiences have had a chance to sample the goods. His Star Trek movie, a prequel of sorts to Gene Roddenberry’s 1966 original television series, is a great example because it draws on a pop culture legacy that goes back decades (and across many mediums, whether that be television and film, or children’s toys and memorabilia). As a new movie, it instantly emerges as something that is simultaneously recognisable and yet unique. It draws its appeal from established audiences while sticking to mainstream convention to entice new ones. There’s nothing inherently wrong in that, and broadly speaking, Abrams re-imagination of Star Trek is a winner (just look at the box office receipts). But it is hardly groundbreaking. Indeed, it may actually be a glitzy, stylish example of treading water. Ultimately, what we get from Abrams as a director are films that are average at best.
Unsurprisingly then, Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to Abrams’ 2009 film, has lots of elements that work very well yet, while it satisfies our thirst for early Captain Kirk and First Office Spock adventure, it isn’t wholly memorable. I couldn’t help thinking, not least because Abrams is so adamant about referencing it, that Into Darkness fails to leave such a devastating, heart-wrenching, edge-of-your-seat mark, as Nicolas Meyer’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
The film from 1982 is where Into Darkness draws much of its inspiration as Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) set off in search of a young Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) after he attacks and kills key members of Starfleet following a bomb attack on London. There’s some interesting themes in the story, not least Kirk and Spock’s developing friendship, while Khan’s growing presence throws up a number of twists and turns that easily delight. But there’s too much dead wood dragging at the narrative like a lead weight. A romance between Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is too artificial, there to join the dots (a desperate attempt to appeal to one and all), while the unexpected arrival of new crew member Dr. Carol Markus (Alice Eve) is a far too convenient device to paper over the creaking walls of a convoluted plot. You’ll emit a disappointed sigh each and every time Markus surfaces to “save the day”.
It would be far too harsh of me to ignore some excellent action set pieces – the vertigo inducing height and imaginative backdrop to Spock’s mad-dash pursuit of Khan through a futuristic San Francisco, as well as Kirk and Khan’s human-rocket flight through space, is spectacular action cinema. But it is criminal that Abrams fails to get the best out of Cumberbatch (one of the best actors on the scene today), whose performance as Khan is, dare I say, wooden. There isn’t the menace behind Khan that Ricardo Montalbán achieved in the 1982 movie, so this new version fails to get under the skin. I’m not sure what direction Abrams was giving – maybe he gave Cumberbatch The Terminator to watch before filming because his performance is as robotic and one-dimensional.
Abrams simply isn’t as good a director as he is a marketer. Whether it is Into Darkness’ indistinct tone (the lacklustre effort to provide levity usually only works when it is delivered by Simon Pegg’s Scotty, while any sense of romance between the crew should have been thrown out at the draft stage), heavy-handed direction (Abrams knows nothing about subtlety), or complications arising from an out-of-control plot, the film fails to rise above mediocrity. Star Trek Into Darkness would score more points from me if Abrams didn’t ramp up expectation so high. He’s a man that promises so much yet delivers so little.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch
Released: 2013 / Genre: Science-Fiction / Country: USA / IMDB