Nobody killed Star Trek — it grew stale and died on its own after people got bored.
Instead what we have here is more akin to a mad scientist digging up its corpse, Frankenstein-ing something together out of the best bits and pieces and supercharging it with a bolt of lightning. And while it certainly has far more basic brain functions, this new being known as Star Trek works entirely on its own.
After betraying the prime directive in order to save Spock’s life, Captain Kirk is dressed down in an effort to learn some humility. When two terrorist attacks by the mysterious “John Harrison” leave Star Fleet shaken, Kirk and his crew are given permission to track the elusive fugitive down and destroy him. However, the mission is not all what it seems and the Enterprise may have ventured too far into darkness to return unscathed.
Even if you’re one of the people that thinks the new Star Trek is some kind of desecration, you must admit that the property has never been more popular than it is now thanks to what J.J. Abrams has done with the material. Say what you will about his unmistakable lack of respect for the original show or the loss of the low-budget, cerebral quality it was originally built upon — audiences have responded to these new films being big, dumb action movies and as big, dumb action movies, the new Star Trek films are some of the most entertaining.
The danger in 2009’s Star Trek was tense; the threats presented in Star Trek Into Darkness leave you with little time to breathe. One by one, things go horribly wrong and our crew of protagonists is put in mortal peril, displayed in some jaw-dropping action set-pieces. A visit to the Klingon home planet and several instances of the Enterprise almost kicking the bucket (often piled on top of each other) gets the blood pumping and the nerves on high even more proficiently than the last.
Of course, we wouldn’t be all that invested without a cast that continues to knock it out of the park. The banter between the cast continues to be great. The expanding relationship between Chis Pine’s Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock has some genuine heart and care put into it, along with Kirk’s journey towards humility. Zoe Saldana has more to do in the first hour of this movie than she did in the entirety of the last one. Side players Simon Pegg and Karl Urban continue to absolutely own with relative ease in their roles as Scotty and Bones, respectively.
Newcomers Alice Eve and Peter Weller hold their own well but the big addition is no doubt Benedict Cumberbatch as our big baddie who, I’m a little disappointed to say, was simply really good. The man is a terrific, gifted actor but he’s too good for what they have him doing here.
Awe-inspiring action, scene stealing performances and a layered emotional arc are strengths carried over from the first movie that essentially make this series what it is and what’s so appealing about it.
And still, what we have here is, at its heart, a big, dumb action movie script that unfortunately pushes into a frustrating area of either laziness or idiocy the first movie barely even touched.
The reprehensible Damon Lindelof (seriously, why are they still giving him movies to make mediocre at this point?), under Abrams’ hand, delivers the final screenplay that’s built on basic familiarity of the brand with an overabundance of throw-away fan service moments.
The previous Star Trek movie did itself a huge favor by establishing this as a separate timeline, which gave the filmmakers free reign to explore new stories and ideas. So when this movie essentially settles for being a louder reworking of *SPOILERS* The Wrath of Khan*SPOILERS* in many parts, it feels like a huge slap in the face.
The half-baked (and unnecessary) twist midway through, along with excessive, obvious foreshadowing on no less than two huge events doesn’t do the movie any favors either.
The first two acts survive while the third eventually sinks following a heavy-handed and cheap plot throwback that’s then followed by a big, dumb action movie chase/fight you can only scratch your head over.
A strong argument could be made that this new Star Trek is following a parallel path to the two new Sherlock Holmes movies: both the originals, while more action-oriented re-imaginings, retain the spirit of their source material and thrive on the strong chemistry of their main players to make for a fun, exciting update. The sequels, both featuring the series’ most popular villain, still retain the chemistry but lose some of the magic that made the source material special, opting more to be a big, dumb action movie. Some plot points from A Game of Shadows and Into Darkness are practically identical.
Still, it can’t be said there’s nothing smart about the movie. Into Darkness does make an interesting (dare I say thoughtful) point about why Star Fleet seems so militarized lately and most of the emotional beats between the main characters ring surprisingly true and mature (with one notable exception), helped out in part by another fantastic Michael Giacchino score.
With only the defect of blurry 3D, Into Darkness features some simply amazing full IMAX scenes and is one to make the Trek to see in the superior format.
The old Star Trek isn’t going away forever, so there’s really no harm in this new creation having its moment in the sun. One can only hope any further adventures will have the drive to boldly go where no man has gone before in the plot department but if it continues to be as strong on visuals and character, we’ll still have one of the best popcorn movie series around.