J.J. Abrams new 'Trek'-tacular
THE "Star Trek" vs. "Star Wars" Cold War took a strange turn when we learned that J.J. Abrams had taken control of both franchises, like a double agent.
His crackerjack resurrection of "Star Trek" continues with "Into Darkness," and on the strength of this, he's been hired to revive George Lucas' "Star Wars" franchise.
Trekkies and Wookies can disagree, but overall this represents a radical new approach for Hollywood: Giving jobs to people who actually know what they're doing. There was a time not so long ago when the job of producing/directing blockbuster properties seemed to go to the guy with the most hookers and cocaine.
Now Abrams, with his showbiz lineage, Barton Fink glasses and Comic-Con street cred, is more the archetype - examples include third-generation screenwriter Joss Whedon at the helm of "The Avengers," or buttoned-down Christopher Nolan and his Batman trilogy.
Somewhere, there's some old movie hippie bemoaning the ascendance of all this sober corporate professionalism, but let's be honest - Abrams, et al, have made the summer matinee a much safer place for entertainment.
"Into Darkness" is a case in point. It's hyper-competent and technically slick, yet made with affection, and emotional and textual understanding of the old TV show.
By emotional understanding, I mean that sexy girls take off their clothes for no reason - welcome aboard, Alice Eve. By textual, I mean that a tribble plays a key role in the finale. And, in the interest of being the last guy writing about "Into Darkness" willing to preserve its Big Secret, I'll simply add that Abrams invokes other beloved "Star Trek" icons and storylines.
And stretches his arms to embrace sci-fi nuts in general. Spock gets assigned to the USS Bradbury, a nod to the author. And Abrams has installed Buckaroo Banzai, Peter Weller, to run Star Fleet Command.
As the movie opens, the Federation is on the brink of war with the Klingons, and Star Fleet sends Kirk (Chris Pine) on a covert mission into enemy territory to find the mysterious terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch) who's been sabotaging Federation facilities.
The plot moves fast (Abrams likes a brisk pace) and keeps you guessing without leaving you lost. And it always stays in touch with the essence of "Star Trek" - the tension between risk and calculation, intuition and logic, emotion and reason, Kirk and Spock. Pine and Zachary Quinto revive their roles, and Spock gets a second challenge to his famous stoicism in the form of Uhura (Zoe Saldana), his girlfriend.
Cumberbatch makes a good villain - his recent stint as Sherlock Holmes adds to his mystique here as a mastermind, with Superman strength to match. Too much information? OK, then I shouldn't mention the six dozen coffin-shaped capsules in the weapons bay, purportedly a new type of photon torpedo.
The rest is built to Trek specs. Kirk flies by the seat of his pants, but doesn't keep them on (he literally gets some tail in the prologue). The Enterprise nearly blows up, but Scotty (Simon Pegg) fixes it.
Trekkies will love it, or my name is mud.
Harcourt Fenton Mudd.