The Films of J.J. Abrams
Mission: Impossible III
Star Trek (May 6/09)
There's little doubt that Star Trek immediately establishes itself as a contemporary reboot done right, as the film - in sharp contrast to such disastrous re-imaginings the James Bond and Halloween series - effectively retains the elements that originally endeared the property to fans while also opening the franchise up to an entirely new generation of viewers. Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman ingeniously circumvent issues of canon by offering up a plot that ultimately unfolds inside an alternate timeline, with the storyline kicking into gear after a rogue Romulan (Eric Bana's Nero) travels from the distant future (ie post Next Generation era) in an effort at essentially wiping out Starfleet in its early stages. The movie that subsequently ensues - which follows Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), and the rest of the Enterprise's crew as they attempt to stop Nero - certainly feels more in line with Gene Roddenberry's original vision than the disastrous 2002 TNG send-off Star Trek: Nemesis and the short-lived 2001 television program Enterprise, which is all-the-more impressive when one considers Orci and Kurtzman's pronounced emphasis on expository elements that've clearly been designed to ease newcomers into the franchise's futuristic landscape. Director J.J. Abrams effectively compensates for the introductory atmosphere by offering up a series of genuinely enthralling action sequences that are counterbalanced by several unexpectedly moving character-based moments, with the uniformly stellar performances proving instrumental in the various actors' efforts at transforming their iconic characters into fully fleshed-out figures (something that's particularly true of Pine's ingratiating, thoroughly charismatic turn as Captain Kirk). The end result is a Trek adventure that easily ranks with the best the series has to offer - ie 1982's Wrath of Khan and 1996's First Contact - and one can't hope that the film marks the beginning of a long-awaited rejuvenation of Roddenberry's steadily decaying creation.
Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, Super 8 follows several '80s-era adolescents (including Joel Courtney's Joe, Elle Fanning's Alice, and Riley Griffiths' Charles) as they witness a fairly epic train crash and subsequently find themselves drawn into a mysterious (yet action-packed) adventure involving sinister government agents and an otherworldly creature. It's clear right from the get-go that Abrams is looking to evoke the feel and tone of such similarly-themed fare as The Goonies, Poltergeist, and, especially, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, as Super 8 hits on many of the touchstones that one has come to associate with the youth-oriented blockbusters of the 1980s - with the scrappy kids at the narrative's core certainly standing as the most obvious example of this. The pervasively nostalgic atmosphere proves effective at initially drawing the viewer into the proceedings, with the affable vibe perpetuated on a relatively consistent basis by the irresistible chemistry between the down-to-earth protagonists. (This is despite the fact that the kids all-too-often feel more like specific character types than wholeheartedly authentic figures.) It's only as Super 8 progresses into its increasingly (and dishearteningly) erratic midsection that one's interest begins to wane, as Abrams offers up a series of overlong and flat-out needless sequences that seem to exist only to pad out the running time. It's worth noting, however, that Abrams effectively compensates for the uneven feel by offering up several absolutely gripping set pieces, with the film's highlight surely an electrifying sequence in which the creature attacks a bus holding the protagonists and a few cops. And although the climax isn't even remotely as effective as it could/should have been - Abrams bogs the sequence down in dank set design and shaky camerawork - Super 8 nevertheless, for the most part, comes off as a fun throwback that represents a breath of fresh air within the otherwise stale summer movie season.
Star Trek Into Darkness
A depressingly inferior sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness follows the Enterprise crew as they're forced to battle a rogue Starfleet officer (Benedict Cumberbatch's John Harrison) bent on mass destruction. It's clear virtually from the get-go that filmmaker J.J. Abrams, working from Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof's screenplay, has little or no interest in developing these iconic characters further, as the movie is instead, for the most part, devoted to larger-than-life action set pieces that progress from impressive to exhausting faster than one would like. The charm and novelty of 2009's Star Trek is largely absent here, and, as indicated by the title, Abrams seems to be going out of his way to put an almost incongruously gritty spin on the franchise. The director's inability to wholeheartedly do so boils down primarily to Cumberbatch's ineffectiveness as the film's villain, with the actor delivering a one-note performance that isn't, by and large, able to generate the type of fear or menace that Abrams is clearly striving for. (And given his character's origins in the original series, Cumberbatch's far-from-flamboyant turn is at best curious and at worst wrongheaded and distracting.) And although many of the film's action-oriented moments are rendered flat by an overuse of computer-generated effects, Star Trek Into Darkness admittedly does possess a handful of striking moments that just barely push the film into passable territory - with, for example, a third-act foot chase between Harrison and Zachary Quinto's Spock ranking high on the movie's list of genuinely enthralling sequences. The end result is a terminally perfunctory followup that just barely gets the job done, which is certainly the last thing one would've expected given the effectiveness of the original film.