Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (Chris Bumbray's take)
PLOT: The crew of the U.S.S Enterprise is sent on a dangerous mission to eliminate rogue Starfleet officer John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose latest acts of terror have left thousands dead, and might plunge the federation into a war with the Klingons.
REVIEW: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS doesn't waste any time picking up right where J.J Abrams' STAR TREK reboot left off four years ago. When we last left the Enterprise, Kirk (Chris Pine) had just been given command, with Mr. Spock as his erstwhile first officer. When this picks up, we find Kirk, Spock and the irascible as always Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) on a mission to save a planet outside the federation from a destructive volcano. In an absolutely mammoth action set-piece that sets the pace for what's to follow, Abrams absolutely dazzles us with 3D eye-candy, as Spock finds himself trapped in a live volcano, while Kirk and McCoy are chased by the planet's inhabitants in a bit highly reminiscent of the opening chase in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Like the first film's bravura U.S.S Kelvin opening (a scene which introduced audiences to a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth), it sets the bar high for the rest of the movie.
Again, just like the last film, it's not the action and eye candy that really makes STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS work. Rather, it's the interplay between characters, with the Kirk/Spock storyline once again being particularly strong. While some of the players, like John Cho and Anton Yelchin find themselves with pretty small roles in this instalment, Abrams uses a good chunk of the 130 minute running time to further beef up the Kirk/Spock relationship, which always has been the heart of the franchise.
Just like in the last film, Chris Pine's Kirk doesn't feel like he's grown into the guy Shatner played, with him being hotheaded and egotistical, but even more than last time, you can feel his Kirk growing into the man he needs to be. Other than Spock, his most important relationship is with the fatherly Admiral Pike, once again played by Bruce Greenwood. The material between these two gets the film off to a great start, and plants the seeds for what's to come, not only in the rest of the movie, but also for the rest of the franchise. We see Pine evolve more and more into the character over the course of the movie, and once again, he's excellent.
By contrast, Zachary Quinto already feels like he's perfectly assumed the mantle of Spock from Leonard Nimoy, and the Spock we see in INTO DARKNESS is perfectly in line with the way Nimoy played him on the original series. In some ways, INTO DARKNESS is even more Quinto's movie than it is Pine's and while I liked Quinto in the first film, I was absolutely floored by him here, especially in the no-holds-barred, audience pleasing finale, which I won't spoil here. His relationship with Zoe Saldana's Uhura is also further explored, and it's interesting how the new franchise has really made the character prominent, thanks in no small part to Saldana's spunk (and obvious sex appeal).
Simon Pegg's Scotty also emerges as a particularly important player. While Pegg played it mostly for laughs last time, here he's really the soul of the Enterprise, and really puts his own stamp on the character. Karl Urban's McCoy gets a bit short-changed in terms of screen-time, which is a shame, but he gets a couple of funny, enjoyably hammy McCoy lines (“dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a...!”). Urban looks and acts uncannily like DeForest Kelly, and I hope we get more of him in the sequel.
Leading the newcomers is Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious Harrison. This is a part of the movie I'm really not going to go that into, as it's hard to discuss without spoiling things. Suffice to say, Cumberbatch, with his impeccably sinister diction and physicality makes for a memorable villain. The original (and best) ROBOCOP, Peter Weller, gets a nice comeback part as the head of Starfleet- Admiral Marcus, with the ultra sexy Alice Eve on-board as his rebellious daughter Carol, who hardcore Trekkers know becomes an integral part of Kirk's storyline further down the line. I love watching Eve, and if she becomes a big part of the franchise, I'll be very happy indeed.
I should acknowledge that STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS has been surprisingly controversial with a lot of the hardcore fans, and having watched the film, I can understand why some might have problems with it. The last half hour of the film does indeed owe a lot to another integral instalment in the franchise, but there's an intriguing reversal that I think really makes it work. For the general audience or just casual fans, this will probably be a non-issue, but I also think that if the ultra-Trekkies can keep an open mind, they'll enjoy it too (for the record, I grew up worshipping The Original Series and films).
If I have any problems with STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS it's that maybe there's too much action. Abrams is so relentless with the huge action beats that they become a little exhausting at a point, and you can't help but wish here and there that the film would slow down just a tad. Still, the action is always strong, and even in the midst of all the carnage they manage to keep the story going, and never skimp on character development. There's also a tacked-on, fan service cameo that- while cool- is a bit unnecessary and could have easily been worked into the film in a more fluid way.
On the whole though, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is a pretty damn thrilling entry into the Summer blockbuster movie season, and if you liked the last one, I'm pretty confident that you'll enjoy this one too. Once again, I'm anxious to see more of the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise.