Strap in, set your fazers to full blast, and get ready to explore strange new worlds in one of the most highly anticipated films of Summer 2013, Star Trek Into Darkness. Since the release of the smash 2009 reboot, Trekkies and first timers alike have been yearning for another intergalactic mission into J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek universe and after four years at not-so-warp speed they have come to their destination. Obviously, there has been a lot of skepticism surrounding this film. Will it live up to the first? Can J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof stay true to the original? Can they bring something fresh to the franchise? Who the hell is Benedict Cumberbatch actually playing? There were a lot questions to be answered and a lot of fans to please. I even had high hopes going into the film and even though Into Darkness was an amazing, edge-of-your-seat, summer blockbuster, I couldn’t help but leave the theater with a shroud of disappointment hanging over me.
The film starts on a distant planet on the verge of volcanic destruction, with Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) running for their lives from the indigenous people. It soon becomes clear that the mission of the USS Enterprise is to stop the planet from being destroyed. They succeed, of course, with only seconds to spare and with Kirk having to save Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) life, which, being half-Vulcan and therefore unable to properly display emotion, he could care less about. This amazing opening sequence is just the kind of 3-D wonderment expected from director J.J. Abrams and puts the film on track to be a fast-paced, high-energy thrill ride (especially in IMAX 3D, where the sound and visuals explode off the screen). As the film moves along, we are introduced to John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a former officer who has gone rogue and is now attempting to destroy all of Starfleet, sending Kirk and his crew on an intergalactic mission that might just cost them their lives.
Pine and Quinto are back as Kirk and Spock and it feels as though they never left. Both slip into the roles perfectly, constantly fighting with one another in regards to rules and regulations, while still maintaining that close connection they share. The rest of the Enterprise crew has also returned in top-form, with Simon Pegg, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, and Anton Yelchin all reprising their roles from the first film. Pegg in particular shines as Scotty, bringing much needed humor to the chaos going on but also enforcing the strong bond the crew has with one another, which becomes one of the key plot points. New to the Enterprise is Dr. Carol Marcus, played by the lovely Alive Eve. She does a great job with Carol, but it’s clear that this is only her introduction to the series and that she will have a much bigger role in other films down the line. One of the best performances comes from Peter Weller, who plays Carol’s father, Admiral Marcus. Weller is fantastic and this role seems tailor-made for him, as it is the perfect blend of sly and cunning. Every scene he is in he steals, and at points he is even better than the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch. As the mysterious John Harrison, Cumberbatch brings heavy emotion and an incredible intensity. I won’t reveal who Cumberbatch actually plays, but I will say that Cumberbatch does an amazing job morphing himself into the role, giving something new and exciting to the character.
There are many risks Star Trek Into Darkness takes, particularly in its attempts to please Trekkies. Whether it’s bringing in Klingons for what seems like no purpose at all or having a cameo from a very popular character that serves as a sloppy way to connect the original series and the new, it felt like Abrams was throwing out pieces of candy into the audience for fans to nibble on. Many of these sweet throwaways were very fun and entertaining, but they lacked purpose and almost felt unnecessary to the story, which was actually quite good. Like with the first, Into Darkness keeps the audience guessing what will happen next, drawing you deeper and deeper into the secrets and shameful history of Starfleet. Its antagonists are extremely evil and therefore all the more enticing, but unfortunately they are given very little to work with. Cumberbatch especially is mostly seen in action sequences, but when he has a monologue or piece of dialogue, you are immediately pulled away from everything else. The film also suffers from a lack of sufficient exposition, especially in regards to what drives the villains and why they want to bring about destruction.
It took me a while realize this, but what made the first Star Trek in the reboot franchise so great was its perfect balance between witty banter, high energy action, and one of the best uses of the parallel universe since Back to the Future. The entire plot was so engaging and complex, yet easy to understand whether you had context of the original Star Trek or not. With the first film, Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof were able to keep to the original television and film series, while still creating a new story and new takes on classic characters, making for not only a great action movie, but a dramatic and thought-provoking piece of science fiction. Perhaps the best part of the reboot is the extensive, but fascinating, exposition of how the USS Enterprise and all its members came to be. It was this way of staying true to source material to please fans, while making something fresh and original to bring in new viewers that made the film great and unfortunately, the same cannot be said for this new chapter. Though Star Trek Into Darkness is an exciting and highly entertaining film, it does not have the same impact the first film had on the science fiction genre, similar to the impact the original TV series had in bringing the genre to new heights. What this film does instead is recycle old storylines and dust them off, claiming they are new. It’s a lazy attempt at recreating pieces from the original and real Trekkie fans will quickly realize this. Hopefully, Abrams can bring something better for the third film, as I am sure he will try to continue the success he’s found with the series. As for Into Darkness, let’s just call it an enjoyable but careless mission for the Enterprise crew and prepare for what is hopefully a smoother voyage into the unknown.
Review by Harrison Richlin