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Eleanor Ringel Cater

‘Star Trek into Darkness’ — quality time with beloved characters

By Eleanor Ringel

The most revered of all the “Star Trek” movies, “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan,” hangs over “Star Trek Into Darkness” like a shroud.

Much of this, of course, is intentional.  J.J. Abrams, whose successful reboot of the redoubtable sci-fi franchise was one of the more unexpected pleasures of 2009, stitches “Khan’’ pre-story into both the plot and the atmosphere of  “Into Darkness.”

It’s not a bad idea for a second “Star Trek” movie; after all, those of us who date back to the original TV series have always recognized that “Khan,” aka, “No. 2” as the picture that truly proved the old gang were big-screen-ready.

By invoking “Khan,” with its memorable turn by Ricardo Montalban as a madman of Shakespearian proportions, “Into Darkness” means well. But it’s both muddled and over-thought-out. Everything means everything (except when it means nothing).

The picture just goes on and on and on, to no particular purpose aside from making damn sure we all realize how ambitious it is.

Simply attempting to regurgitate the plot tires me out. But let’s just say, after some off-hand derring-do, the movie gets down to business by taking us into “Tinker Tailor” territory. Somebody within the Star Fleet organization isn’t behaving well.

And there’s this Nietzschean superman who could be the key. But before we can figure out whose trek…I mean, trail we’re on, Abrams needs to re-acquaint — and for a certain age group, re-introduce — the Enterprise’s fractious crew in all there multi-accented, idiocentric glory.

And that, frankly, is what “Into Darkness” does best. In the midst of all the semi-special effects (a spare alien or two looks like someone out of “Star Wars;” I mean, the original 1976 “Star Wars…”) and overwrought storyline, we get to enjoy some quality time with all those beloved characters Gene Roddenberry created in 35-40 B.C. (before computers).

Here is our heroic Capt, Kirk (Chris Pine), all the more admirable for his sapphire eyes and no-problem-bro relationship with his co-star, Zachary Pinto (Mr. Spock) who came out a few years ago. Nobody — I mean, nobody — could ever replicate William Shatner’s cheesy chutzpah in the role. But somehow, Pine honors the old Kirk while creating his own imprint.

In the “lesser” role, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and John Cho do just as well by their predecessors while, like Pine, adding their own celluloid DNA.

Perhaps the most underserved — by the writers, not the actor, is Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy. His humanism — the opposite to Spock’s lack of emotion — apparently seems too ‘60s touch=feely for Abrams and his small star fleet of writers. Of all the old familiars, Bones has the most trouble evolving for a technically more plugged-in generation. He comes off as somewhat foolish Not dislikable, but someone forced to spout the SNL sketch-worthy line, “Dammit Jim! I’m a doctor, not a…”

The core of the film — and the franchise —is Quinto, who not only has a pretty good physical resemblance to his predecessor, Leonard Nimoy (who makes a much-appreciated and emotionally-fraught cameo), but also has the advantage of having proclaimed himself gay when it’s a good time to proclaim oneself as such.

Not that being a minority of any stripe is ever easy — and I imagine there are idiot pockets of movie-goers who find his admission, um, troubling.. Still, he does seem to be in the right role in the right franchise at the right time.  And wouldn’t you know it? They’ve made him the most aggressively hetero of all the crew.

So, “Star Trek Into Darkness?” Not necessarily “boldly going” anywhere, but still, worthy of mention. And even a look.

Eleanor Ringel

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.


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