After a terrorist attack on a Starfleet installation leaves hundreds dead, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the starship Enterprise are called into to duty to hunt down the man responsible which leads them on an intergalactic manhunt. When Kirk finally comes face to face with the terrorist fugitive John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), their confrontation leads to a number of secrets being revealed that puts the Enterprise and her crew in grave danger. Soon Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew find themselves caught between doing what they were ordered to do and what they must do.
Director J.J. Abrams did the impossible with his 2009 franchise reboot “Star Trek”. Not only was he able to generate interest back into a franchise many had already written off, but he also managed to create a new and bold direction for the series without sacrificing the long lineage of the series held so dear by older trek fans. But that new direction came at a cost that was too high to pay for some, what was once a franchise based on intellectual arguments and real world issues had become a much more action oriented affair. While Abrams’ detractors won’t find much has changed in that department,”Star Trek Into Darkness” remains an intensely entertaining film going experience that both old and new Trek fans alike will want to boldly seek out immediately.
There isn’t much that needs to be said to convince you of whether or not you will like “Star Trek Into Darkness” besides the obvious. Did you like Abrams’ 2009 reboot? If so, chances are you will not only like this much anticipated sequel but you will likely love it. For better or worse, this feels like a natural evolution to Abrams’ vision of the Star Trek universe, both narratively and stylistically speaking. There are still lens flares everywhere, Sulu (John Cho) is still played by a Korean actor, Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are still hooking up and there is still an emphasis on hyper kinetic action over exploration and discovery. But hey, at least there are Klingons this time right?
You either accept it or you don’t and those who choose the higher path will find themselves endlessly captivated from beginning to end. The natural chemistry between all the actors is still near perfection, with each of them finding new ways to forge their own paths with these familiar characters, and the pace is near breakneck but still able to slow down when it needs to. Special mention needs to go out to both Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy and Simon Pegg as Scotty as well, both of whom continue to steal every scene they are in. They are not the focus of this “new” story though, nor is the crew of the Enterprise in general. This is a much more personal story involving Kirk, Spock and their nemesis, the terrorist John Harrison.
Friendship, family, loyalty and loss are at the very heart of the many themes visited by Abrams and his team with this new trek. We see how Kirk was perhaps given command of the Enterprise before he was ready for the many challenges and tests that the Captain’s chair presents. He has never known how to lose and has cheated death on more than one occasion, which has given him an overdeveloped god complex that becomes his undoing when he is tasked with taking down Harrison, a one man army (literally) whose superior intellect and physical strength are unlike anything the young Captain has faced before. Thus the film becomes a lesson of sorts for Kirk and the price he must pay for his arrogance in the face of death will shake him to his core.
Taking the route of a much more tightly focused story as opposed to the galaxy being in danger yet again helps separate it from the first film and give it an identity of its own. However, with that being said, Abrams may have taken his Star Trek universe in a new direction for new Trek fans out there, but there are plenty of homages and nods to the other timeline, the timeline us older Trek fans grew up with, that sometimes illicit a grin but also run the risk of deflating the drama and excitement that Abrams has worked so hard to establish.
This review is going up nearly a week after the film has opened and because of that the assumption will be that most of everyone who either wanted to see it or don’t care about spoilers are all that’s left of those out there who don’t know the big secret yet. So, in order to freely elaborate on the one and only nitpick this reviewer has for the film, we are going to go into heavy spoilers for the remaining duration of this review. If you don’t feel like you fit into either of those categories mentioned above, then suffice it to say that you should stop reading now anyways and go see it already. Everyone else, read on.
The big reveal of the film is quite possibly one of the worst kept secrets of the year and one of the best reveals in recent memory (“Iron Man 3” eat your heart out). Nearly an hour into this 2 hour plus film we discover that the character named John Harrison is in fact Khan, an evil genius from the 21st century who was biologically engineered to be superior to everyone and anyone, but was captured and sentenced to death and sent adrift in space for all eternity while in a deep cryo sleep with some 70 odd other followers of his. This plan works out until everyone seems to have forgotten about him and 300 years later he is found and awoken, ready to reign chaos on an unsuspecting future Earth.
Why does any of this matter? Who cares who or what Khan is? Well, to put it quite simply, Khan is one of cinemas greatest villains who also just so happened to be featured in THE best Star Trek film to date (including the reboots), “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan”. Now, it is surprising that after all the effort Abrams put into steering away from making direct remakes of William Shatner’s adventures as Kirk, he has decided make a film that is both thematically and structurally the same as the “Wrath of Khan”.
What was it that made that film so beloved by Sci-Fi fans everywhere? It was responsible for forging that generation of Star Trek in a whole new bold direction, and it did it extremely well. You had a well established nemesis from Kirk’s past who comes back to haunt him and strip away everyone and everything he cares about. It is a story of vengeance, pure and simple. But unlike Chris Pine’s Kirk, Shatner was much more humble and had seen many years of service aboard the Enterprise. That is where Abrams makes the split with “Into Darkness”, putting a younger and more naive Kirk up against an opponent like Khan is an interesting choice that certainly worked out better than anyone could have imagined.
But the pitfalls don’t come so much in the form of taking a familiar story and making its own spin on it, they come from trying to replicate the many emotional and poignant moments of that film with this younger crew who don’t carry nearly the amount of emotional baggage with them as the original crew. The building blocks are certainly there, they just haven’t reached the level needed to tell this story and expect the same emotional impact as the film it is borrowing from.
The best example of this is a scene from “Wrath of Khan” where a certain character sacrifices themselves for the greater good (“The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few”). That was a heart wrenching moment that every Trek fan will always remember. When an all too familiar scene occurs in the new film, while well acted and mixed up a bit, it isn’t nearly as shocking (at least for us older folk that is) or as relevant. The history with these actors just isn’t there. Then you add in how telegraphed in advance how it will all get resolved and with as little effort as possible, and you lose everything that made the original scene so powerful and moving.
If Abrams had the guts to end this film the same way “Wrath of Khan” ended, which was on a bitterly sour note with only a smidgen of hope, then “Into Darkness” could have at least been comparable to the thematic successes of its predecessor. But as it stands now, it serves as a reminder of what made “Wrath of Khan” such a monumental achievement in Sci-Fi history and how much Abrams missed the point of that sequence. It is a shame really because everything else works brilliantly.
All the different twists and turns he added to the classic tale of Kirk versus Khan are rather ingenious, especially the different way Khan is introduced to Kirk this time around and their many confrontations (Khan and Kirk never met face to face in the original film surprisingly enough). Even the addition of Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) is handled well. Given the history of that character, it was a treat seeing how her and Kirk initially met. Then there is the brilliant casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan who steals the film from everyone every chance he gets (if his rank in Hollywood doesn’t go up after this then there really is no hope for tinsel town).
Putting aside the troublesome comparisons to the source material for a second and some rather glaring plotholes (why didn’t anyone come help the Enterprise while it was being destroyed in Earth’s orbit again?), there is almost nothing wrong with J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek Into Darkness”. It is exciting, fresh (still), entertaining, thought provoking at times and hits just about all the right emotionally beats without ever becoming melodramatic (which is more difficult than you might think).
It is near impossible to imagine anyone walking away from the film feeling disappointed or upset, even with the aforementioned concerns with the legacy of the original film and how it was handled. Abrams has delivered on the promise of his successful series reboot by providing an exhilarating piece of entertainment that will have fans of all ages clamoring for the next installment immediately.