“You just made my day,” director J.J. Abrams says, exhaling with relief. He’s just been told that a particular action sequence in his new movie Star Trek Into Darkness quickened the pulse of a seen-it-all movie critic, and for a moment, Abrams can stop explaining all the laborious homework and meticulous details that go into making a film with a rabid (and vocal) fan base and simply talk about the picture as a giant summer movie, shot with IMAX cameras and post-converted to 3D.
“The key for us was always to make a movie that was, above all else, a thrill ride and funny and entertaining,” Abrams says. “We had already done the heavy lifting [in 2009’s Star Trek] and established our take on the characters and our own timeline that acknowledges and honors everything that had come before, but at the same time splits off and heads out on its own direction. We could pick and choose what we wanted from the original series and leave other things alone. And it was intentionally designed as a stand-alone movie. There’s no need to have seen the first movie or the original series. They are not essential reading. But if you are a fan of the series, you’ll be rewarded too.”
Although Into Darkness tinkers with Trek canon in ingenious (some will say blasphemous) ways, the movie’s primary objective is to put on a great show, with a series of increasingly grander action setpieces that are furiously exciting.
“What J.J. does so well is to maintain a sense of fun throughout the entire story,” says Simon Pegg, who plays the engineer Scotty. “It’s important that a big entertainment like this remembers what it is and doesn’t get pretensions of high art. Not that the movie isn’t artful: It is. But there has been a tendency recently in movies to get overly serious with what is essentially kids’ stuff. Some filmmakers are trying to make comic books and superheroes and fantasy a little more somber, but I think sometimes that’s a slight misstep, because it loses the core of what makes [the genre] special. J.J. never loses touch with his inner child: He is so in touch with the experience of being thrilled and happy and excited in every way.”
Star Trek Into Darkness, which opens in IMAX theaters on Wednesday and everywhere else on Thursday, follows the crew of the USS Enterprise as they reluctantly embark on a military mission to apprehend a terrorist, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who plants a bomb that kills hundreds of people in London, then hides out on a Klingon planet where Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are bound by law not to trespass.
With all those pesky origin storylines and character introductions taken care of in the first film (which grossed $385 million worldwide), you might assume writing the sequel would be easier — an opportunity for the creators to play and indulge crazy ideas. But Roberto Orci, who co-wrote the screenplay with Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, says the experience was quite the opposite.
“With the first movie, we benefited from low expectations,” Orci says. “How are you going to recast Kirk and Spock? No one thought it could be done. Now with the second movie, all that stuff is gone and we can do anything we want. That was actually horrifying and terrifying, because the audience demands to be surprised again, but this time their expectations are much higher.”