It’s somewhat inane to talk of ‘x’ as the new ‘y’. Be it sport (who’s the new Pele? the new Botham?) or music (who’s the new Smiths? the new Presley?) or anywhere else, at best it’s an attempt to place work in context. At worst – and it’s more often this, to be honest – it’s a lazy analogy which fails to consider a person’s achievements in their own rights. So I try to avoid doing so.
That having been said, if you felt so inclined as to try locate the new Stephen Spielberg (not that the ‘old’ one is done yet, mind you) then you could do much worse than to look in the direction of J J Abrams. Much of Spielberg’s career (at least the first part) was populist. He, along with the Star Wars films, is credited with inventing the modern blockbuster. Expensive, usually special-effects laden films around which the major studios plan their year’s releases and their financial well-being. If Spielberg is the blockbuster’s originator, then J J Abrams may well be one of those who ensures we have some good ones to look forward to. That’s clearest in Super 8; Abrams directed, Spielberg produced and the finished product was a hymn to the early days of the blockbuster. It’s not only films, though: he recognises the new artistic landscape and sees television as fruitful artistic as well as commercial ground. An overview of his work in both context shows us just how successful he’s been: Lost, Alias, Mission Impossible 3, Super 8. Not everything he touches turns to gold, but he’s a good man to trust with the future of mass-market films. So he’s the ideal choice to breathe life into the creatively moribund Star Wars franchise.
He’s done the same with the Star Trek films. It’s dangerous to wade into such passionately held material, even if some of the later films and a good amount of the television output in the Trek universe was really poor. People love Star Trek; and even if you don’t, it’s unavoidably part of the landscape of popular culture. That J J Abrams gave us a new Star Trek film in 2009 which did justice to the best of the original, invited newcomers in and was also a really good film was a good achievement. He’s done it again with Star Trek Into Darkness.
It continues the rebirth of the franchise with a story that follows on from the previous film without making seeing it essential. It’s a simple story: the Enterprise against a space-bound terrorist. Simple doesn’t mean simplistic, though: even that one word sentence summary lays bare the resonances with the world we inhabit. The plot speeds along in such a way that you don’t notice the holes in the plot; it’s a great ride through a series of action set pieces which don’t just amaze but actually serve to propel the story. It looks beautiful and bright – slightly too bright, actually, with lens-flare overused to the extent that it’s in just about every frame. It’s sharp and shiny enough to forgive that, the more so in IMAX format (though as we’re more or less accustomed to with this type of film, 3D adds nothing). This film also puts on the big stage an actor who the British have known for a while was special: Benedict Cumberbatch as the centrepiece villain is energetic, intense and compelling – but in such a way that he doesn’t steal scenes so much as complete them.
It’s not perfect – the plot holes you miss on your high-speed joyride you can’t help but notice if you pause just for a moment afterwards; but mostly it does what a good major blockbuster should: entertain and amaze, leaving smiles and breathless excitement in its wake. The future is in safe hands.
I saw this film in 3D IMAX format. I rated it 8/10 on imdb.com and 4/5 on rottentomatoes.com