Films are rated out of 5: • (abysmal) to ••••• (amazing).
Welcome to the American blockbuster season, a time of light entertainment and cataclysmic despair. Only a few weeks in, and already the planet has been reduced to a barren Oblivion, peopled solely by Tom Cruise and competing candidates for the role of Woman He’s Too Old For. Tony Stark has been glimpsed dragging his conked-out Iron Man suit through the snow after his playboy mansion was blown up by terrorists, and two more films about depopulated wasteland Earths are closing fast on our position. Next month, Brad Pitt faces the zombie apocalypse. When did escapism get so glum?
Never mind. Star Trek will save us. Utopian, peppy Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry’s hymn to pacifism and enlightened non-interference. It has lived long and prospered, and now it’s back. Set phasers to fun? Well, maybe. This particular bit of fun is subtitled Into Darkness, and has a starship flying into highrise buildings, and a suicide bombing in downtown London. Pacifism, enlightened non-interference and post-9/11 security issues, then.
This in itself is not so startling. JJ Abrams’s first Trek movie did, after all, organise its merry space-faring escapades around an act of planetary genocide. Here’s what’s startling: Star Trek Into Darkness is about the responsibility of leaders to exercise restraint in the wake of terrorist atrocities, and it’s also about kicking back and having a good time at the movies while people dressed in primary colours hit each other and blow stuff up. A well-constructed genre flick with thrills and spills and something useful to say about the Boston Marathon bombings? This may be the only one of this year’s action films that can honestly claim its gloomier moments are more than a fashion statement.
The film isn’t perfect. In their original reboot movie, Abrams and his writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, reintroduced every member of the Enterprise crew without losing momentum. This time, Orci and Kurtzman co-wrote the script with Damon Lindelof, or as I prefer to call him, “the man who botched the Prometheus screenplay”; this may or may not be the reason Into Darkness does less well by some of its minor characters.
It’s also reasonable to ask whether a series based on pioneer America’s mythic tropes of effortful long-distance travel and exploration can really afford the idea of transgalactic teleportation, which the writers use at a key point to speed their plot forward, not seeming to notice that they’ve just made the Enterprise obsolete.
But the film certainly benefits from the propulsive sense of urgency this helps create, and as for those minor characters – viewers will perhaps not weep for the loss of quality time with Sulu and Chekov. And the major characters are luminous; the tension between Kirk’s impulsive heroism and Spock’s cool logic has never been put to better use than it is here. (For my money, Zachary Quinto is a better Spock than the original, and Chris Pine’s brash young Kirk is charismatic and likeable.) The film’s real coup is its villain, an elegant piece of arctic malevolence played by one of the few people who can out-Spock Spock while simultaneously out-Kirking Kirk, Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch.
There have been online rumblings from Trekkies about the sacriligious idea that Abrams might garnish his second Trek plot with references to the much-loved second film in the original series, The Wrath of Khan. Trekkies can be relied on to rumble, whether the new film pays homage to the older one or ignores it. (I’m not telling.) Non-fanatical viewers should head straight Into Darkness. In a year of dark-themed pop entertainments, this one gives you light enough to see by.
IN THEATRES NOW
Slow but tense, severe but never self-serious, superbly well acted and radiantly well filmed. An East German woman tries to defect to the West. ￼
A no-nonsense country woman is brought in to be the French president’s new cook. Wonderful cooking scenes ensue. A shame that not much else does. Somnolent comedy. ￼
IRON MAN 3
Drop-dead superhero cool paired with some sparklingly well constructed action sequences and a few moments of real wit. I’d prefer it if the plot made slightly more sense. ￼
African child soldiers and magic realism. Powerful, challenging drama on a difficult subject. ￼
A lesser Coen brothers screenplay meets a lesser director (Michael Hoffman), but the cast is so good there’s still fun to be had. Colin Firth, Alan Rickman and Cameron Diaz in a very broad art-fraud farce. ￼Gambit