Review: Star Trek Into Darkness
PLOT: The crew of the Starship Enterprise square off against steep odds when theyíre tasked with tracking down a brutal terrorist who has an ominous agenda against Starfleet.
REVIEW: Hand it to J.J. Abrams: his STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is a movie just waiting to be picked (or ripped) apart by Trekkies, fanboys and even moderate science-fiction fans. After the shockingly good STAR TREK, which introduced a freshness into the look and feel of a beloved franchise while remaining respectful of the source material, Abrams knew he had a myriad of challenges following it up. We gave him a big slap on the back for the first one, but weíd be looking very closely at the second, eagerly anticipating where it would boldly go while absolutely prepared to be let-down by it. So whatíd Abrams do? He decided to throw his hands up and go places that no one could have expected heíd go - and thatís directly into sacred STAR TREK lore.
Yes, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS delves into the mythology of the series and frequently recreates crucial passages from it. Some may accuse Abrams and his writers of laziness or sacrilege, but again, I hand it to him for going all-in. A director who covers each project with a shroud of secrecy and has an acute knowledge of the prickly geek nation has decided to gamble, fully aware that heís going to be blasted by a large contingent of his audience. Heís a brave one, that J.J...
But letís not dwell on the past; is STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS any good? On its own terms, yes it is. Itís fun, quick and full of the same self-assured confidence that the first film - and its lead character, James T. Kirk - possessed. Itís also dark (the title gives that away) and surprisingly violent, marked with allusions to modern-day acts of terrorism and presenting a nasty villain who doesnít possess a single sympathetic attribute. Itís not as endearing as the first film, but STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS contains an equal amount of energy and bravado.
If thereís a major failing, itís in a plot that can be considered clunky and, considering the ingenuity found in the first STAR TREKís story, ho-hum. A massive blast at a secret Starfleet location has killed many, and a terrorist calling himself John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has taken credit for it. Harrison is evidently a Starfleet officer himself, and though his demands or reasons arenít clear, the higher-ups want him tracked down and exterminated immediately. The task falls to Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his Enterprise crew, some of whom take issue with their new assignment. Chief among these naysayers is, of course, Spock (Zachary Quinto), who notes the moral quandary in a Starfleet crew - this crew in particular - performing what is essentially a military hit.
Spock and Kirk are not on the best of terms; when we catch up with them on an adventure on a primitive planet, Kirk goes out of his way to rescue Spock - who faces certain doom in the mouth of a volcano - at the expense of Starfleet regulations. (You know Kirk doesnít care Ďbout those.) Spock turns Kirk in for disobeying the rules, reigniting Kirkís frustration with the half man, half Vulcan for not appreciating the rescue.
Abrams uses the Enterpriseís mission to kill (or capture) Harrison has the jumping off point for a series of thrilling action sequences and nefarious conspiracy plots. When theyíre not being battered with torpedoes or battling Klingons, the Enterprise crew has to sort out who exactly is friend and who is foe. There is a lot of exposition to wade through, and some of the plot ďtwistsĒ seem perfunctory, but the director charges each sequence with excitement and splendid visual effects. Even when there isnít a whole lot going on in a scene, thereís a lot going on in it, if you catch my drift. Abrams is an entertainer through and through, and if you want more bang for your buck, you canít go wrong when heís at the helm. (IMAX is the way to go, folks, the film looks fantastic in the format and is deserving of it.)
Abrams does tread in some slippery territory in the filmís third act, however. Iím far from being a Trekkie, but even I found myself shocked by the way STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS essentially remakes a few crucial passages in the franchiseís history. I donít doubt Abramsí heart is in the right place (and as mentioned before, heís being quite bold with some of his decisions), but STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS opens itself up to comparison to earlier entries in a way that makes it fairly vulnerable to criticism. It should be interesting to see if, going forward, STAR TREK is content to hang on to the past for inspiration or is willing to venture off in new directions.
The characters and their ample quirks and traits are what make this - and any - STAR TREK truly worth watching, and INTO DARKNESS provides us with plenty to enjoy. Kirk and Spock's on-again, off-again bromance is again the linchpin in this STAR TREK story, and their time-tested debates about logic-versus-impulsiveness are peppered throughout. (Of course, familiar STAR TREK themes of loyalty, duty, accountability and the needs of the few weighed against the needs of many are also prevalent.)Pine and Quinto havenít missed a step returning to their respective roles, and itís heartening to think theyíll be going on like this for years to come.
As is to be expected, each castmember canít get equal screentime, so a few of the supporting characters are pushed to the side in favor of the new characters and Abramsí plot machinations. The first film did such an admirable job juggling everybody that itís disappointing to see John Choís Sulu and Anton Yelchinís Chekov be relegated to almost insubstantial crewmembers. Even Karl Urbanís Bones (still crotchety as ever) and Zoe Saldanaís Uhura are little more than afterthoughts. (Although Uhura and Spock's touchy relationship is expanded upon.) Fans of Simon Pegg will be heartened to know that Scotty plays a more significant role here than in the first film (from which he was absent for a long stretch, of course), and Peggís lively performance brings much needed good-naturedness to the frequently grim proceedings.
Benedict Cumberbatchís much-ballyhooed villain is indeed a sinister creation, and while I wonít reveal his identity here, anyone with Google and the will to research shouldnít have a problem learning who heís playing. This character is certain to rile up a certain segment of Trekkies, and I canít defend the choices Abrams makes in regard to him, but thereís still no denying that Cumberbatch is an arresting and, when heís in battle-mode, intimidating screen presence. Also making an impression is Peter Weller, as an admiral with mysterious motives; Wellerís craggy face and authoritative voice fill the theater with surprising power, and we wonder why we donít see more of this actor in movies nowadays. (Of course, we can expect that to change thanks to this memorable performance.) Alice Eve, as Carol Marcus, Kirkís best girl-to-be, is undeniably attractive, and has potential to make an impact down the line, but doesnít serve too great of a purpose here other than to fill in some plot needs.
And yes, there are Klingons here, but their appearance isnít more than an extended cameo; a betting man would assume theyíll have much more to do in the next sequel. Thereís also a nice cameo all STAR TREK fans will enjoy, and Iím not talking about the Tribble that shows up.