Star Trek Into Darkness
Release Date: May 16, 2013
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof (written by); Gene Roddenberry (television series Star Trek)
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch
MPAA Rating: PG-13
With his reboot of the Star Trek franchise, director J.J. Abrams is trying to walk a very thin line. His stated goal is to make films that will satisfy diehard fans while also appealing to casual moviegoers who want to be entertained without having to be familiar with every Star Trek show and movie that came before the one they are watching.
Despite his best efforts, Abrams is never going to make everyone happy. And where you land on the Star Trek fandom spectrum is likely to influence how much you enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness. Personally, as someone who watched the original Star Trek films but never delved much deeper into the world than that, I have for the most part enjoyed Abrams’ take on the franchise. I have some minor issues with Into Darkness, but overall I thought it was a solidly entertaining and appropriately epic film.
Into Darkness picks up not far from where Abrams’ original Star Trek ended. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is in command of the U.S.S. Enterprise. But he’s still young and cocky and prone to rash, cowboy-esque decisions. The opening scene finds him defying orders and putting his entire crew in jeopardy in order to save Dr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), who is trying to neutralize an active volcano. His thanks for saving Spock is that the Vulcan turns in an overly-honest report detailing all of the improper things Kirk did on his rescue mission, putting the Captain in hot water. Kirk’s mentor, Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), warns him that he can’t keep playing by his own rules and acting brash, expecting to be saved again and again by blind luck.
Unfortunately, the Federation has a lot more to worry about than James Kirk’s cockiness. They are on the brink of war with a barbaric species known as the Klingons. And a deadly and brilliant new threat, a mysterious man named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), has decided to attack Federation targets while hiding out on a remote part of the Klingon’s home planet, Kronos. Harrison figures that the Federation can’t come after him without inciting an all-out war.
It can’t be overstated just how enjoyable Cumberbatch is in this role. He is exactly as smarmy and smugly British and bad ass as you want the villain in a summer blockbuster to be. I could have watched two hours of Cumberbatch making people his Cumber-bitch. (And I’m currently working on a pitch to Hollywood where John Harrison and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki sit around a spaceship sipping tea while trying to out sass one another.) Cumberbatch is so good, in fact, that I almost didn’t mind the movie carting out something that has oddly become a cliché ever since Christopher Nolan did it brilliantly with The Joker in The Dark Knight – the villain purposely letting himself get caught by the hero as part of his master plan, which allows them to have an intense face-to-face discussion while the villain is locked up. (A gimmick that, coincidentally, was also done with Loki in The Avengers.)
The rest of the cast is solid as well. I’ve really enjoyed Pine’s take on Captain Kirk and Quinto’s take on Spock. And Zoe Saldana plays off of both of them brilliantly as Uhura. Simon Pegg’s Scotty, Karl Urban’s Bones and Alice Eve’s Carol are both solid supporting roles in the film.
Perhaps the biggest knock on Into Darkness is that the plot is a tad thin and convenient. At two hours and 12 minutes, you would expect a richer and more complex story, but the whole thing devolves pretty quickly into a straightforward hunt for Harrison and the unraveling of the mystery of who this man is and why he’s orchestrating these attacks. The plot is a bit too convenient at times and is perhaps best not examined too closely for risk of unraveling the whole story in plot holes and inconsistencies.
Personally, I also thought there were a handful of fan service moments that came across as overly forced and grating. I know that people enjoy references to iconic bits of the franchise’s history, but a lot of those moments in this film just felt shoehorned in. (For example, Bones decides to run an important medical test on a tribble just so fans can go, “Oh cool, a tribble.”)
My other big problem with the film has to do with its ending. I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling things, but I’ll simply say that the writers made a very bold decision that gave the film a satisfying and weighty emotional moment (which had been set up brilliantly earlier in the film) during the climax, then immediately ruined that moment by undoing what they had just done five minutes later. They could have trusted the audience enough to carry this plot point over to the next film, which would have made the ending of Into Darkness much more intriguing and emotionally powerful. But instead, it ultimately comes across as more of a hallow “having their cake and eating it to” moment.
Overall though, Into Darkness is a highly enjoyable summer blockbuster. It isn’t a perfect film and its unlikely to make everyone happy, but if you are looking for an epic summer film with solid performances and great action sequences, it’s definitely worth your time.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.