Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof
When I revisited Star Trek (2009), I realized that I still liked a lot of what it was doing, while also reckonizing that my newfound familiarity with the Star Trek brand certainly influenced my perspective on things I thought the film got wrong. Well, it’s as if J.J. Abrams et al. heard me and with Star Trek Into Darkness, set out to correct every universal injustice they committed in the first of the reboot series. That is not to say it is a perfect movie, but I would definitely classify it as a vast improvement which does much more to capture the true spirit of what I believe Star Trek and Starfleet to be, which is great because they also built upon on all the right things they did before, principally the wonderful new cast/characters.
One of the major gripes I had with the first reboot, yet one which I spoke very little of, was its villain. Portrayed by Eric Bana, Nero (whose name I had to look up just now despite having seen the film very recently), is flat and forgettable. Bana’s performance is the same. Enter Benedict Cumberbatch. I love Cumberbatch as an actor as much, if not more, than the next guy, so his presence here is very welcome, and I think he hits his role out of the park, giving us a truly wonderful villain worthy of this universe, one who is smart and motivated, cunning and charming. Cumberbatch’s Khan is menacing and threatening in all the right ways and at all the right times. It’s likely the best performance in this film as well (if not in the entire Star Trek catalog of films). Getting a villain this entertaining goes a long way in holding my attention and crafting a brilliant film.
But there is more trekking here too, which is precisely my critique of Star Trek, not enough trekking. While the film may eventually spin into the high stakes battling eventually, the film opens with an imaginative sequence on an undeveloped planet, where the crew of the Enterprise are there to observe, but not interfere. Of course they interfere and violate the terms of the Prime Directive of Starfleet, but it’s a fun, entertaining sequence just the same, with some really cool art design and cinematography. The visual experience in general here is really top notch, as it was with Star Trek, which is a very welcome sight in a series which spans quite the timeline in the history of special effects. Many of the films are great for their time, but the time is now, and Into Darkness is beautiful.
Once more we get to double down on characters and their moments to soar and show themselves off. I think it was mentioned in my previous review, but bears repeating, these character moments are essential to building a relationship with characters who aren’t afforded the confines of a television series to supplement their stories on the big screen. So Abrams is a little strapped for time in getting us to know and love these characters. Having come from the previous 10 films in the series, I feel like I have a little head start over others who may have entered the Star Trek universe fresh with this reboot series, but I also think they do everything they can to establish the main crew in as great a way as possible here.
Once more, the Kirk/Spock relationship is center stage, but Chekov gets a big moment, Uhura and Spock are fighting (which, like Kirk says, “what’s that like!?”), Bones and Scotty are the same. With one adventure under their belt, I think I might like the dynamic of this crew the best of the three chapters in the series. Pine’s cockiness is great, and while Nimoy is likely my preferred Spock, Quinto is no slouch himself. Plus Pegg as Scotty is marvelous and Saldana, Urban and Yekchin all have much more to do with their characters than past installments, and they make the most of them. On think I didn’t care for was Alice Eve’s character Carol Marcus. Not that I didn’t mind the character, she’s a fine addition to the crew, but there is one specific moment which is entirely unnecessary and gratuitous. She is forced to change in a hurry, asking Kirk to turn around, which he does, but of course he, and the camera, get one peak of a half-naked Eve. It adds nothing to the story, to the relationship dynamic between the two. It’s as if Abrams simply decided, “Hey, we have Alice Eve in this film, we gotta get a shot of her in her underwear.” And while I find her just as attractive as the next guy likely does, the film didn’t need this moment. It’s a bad moment.
One of the things I disliked most about Star Trek was that it felt like war and battle the whole time. Here it’s a little bit different, but there is still plenty of opposition and battling. However, they once again flip the script in a way, having the Enterprise battle against Admiral Marcus, whose grand scheme has been developed for the sole purpose of military advancement and protection. As Kirk says at one point, that is not at all what Starfleet is all about. In many ways, this film really feels like a rebuttal to their own misdeeds with Star Trek. The filmmakers recognized their wrong doing with the series and double down on redemption here.
The ending is also a very nice ode to the past here. Of course bringing back the character of Khan, and having Spock Prime there to key us into him being a formidable opponent from the past (er future?) is a direct reference to The Wrath of Khan, even though the story here is slightly different than Khan’s story then. But precisely, I like how they sort of show us a growth in Kirk’s development as a Captain capable of making sound decisions and trusting his unreal instincts. Instead of Spock climbing into the radiation chamber to save the ship, this time it’s Kirk, with Spock left to worry about his great friend. Overall, I found Star Trek Into Darkness to be an upgrade to Star Trek is most all ways. It’s the great story I felt this cast deserved. It’s not perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed this. Now we enter the final chapter of our journey with Star Trek Beyond on the horizon, and I get to once again experience a Star Trek film for the first time. I am excited for this one.