Film review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

posted at 9:31 am on May 19, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Captain James T. Kirk finds himself called on the carpet after breaking the Prime Directive in an attempt to rescue a world — as well as his friend, Commander Spock.  Stripped of his command, he prepares to serve as First Officer under his mentor Christopher Pike, but an attack on a Star Fleet archive leads to an attack on Star Fleet command itself by a mysterious officer within one of the fleet’s covert operations.  Star Fleet’s top admiral sends Kirk out on a mission to kill this mystery man, but his conscience — and Spock — begin to nag him.  When he sets out to capture his quarry instead, Kirk discovers that he must rethink everything he knows, as both Kirk and Spock learn what it means to rely on a friend.  Can Kirk save Star Fleet — and can Spock deduce who this man really is?

Star Trek: Into Darkness follows four years after the release of the J.J. Abrams reboot of the much-beloved space opera series, this time with a definite nod to the past.  Given that IMDB lists Benedict Cumberbatch’s character as “Khan,” it’s not going to be much of a spoiler to draw the connections between the original movie series’ first sequel and the first sequel of the reboot.  However, don’t expect that knowledge to tell much about how the character works into the plot this time.  The plot shifts keep the audience guessing, at least a little, even when borrowing liberally from The Wrath of Khan for key sequences — albeit with some role reversals.

With the contrived interpersonal conflicts from the previous film dialed down a bit, the characters take on more of their traditional personalities.  The interplay between Kirk (Chris Pine), Bones (Karl Urban), and Spock (Zachary Quinto) has the characters adopting the relationships from the original series, perhaps especially with Urban.  Scotty (Simon Pegg) comes into his own, as does Uhura (Zoë Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho), and even Chekov (Anton Yelchin) gets a couple of opportunities to save the day.

The only exception to this character development is Pine’s Kirk, which still comes across for much of the film like a resentful rebel too focused on young-adult angst, rather than an arrogant-yet-talented military leader-explorer.  The arrogance is there, but the rest is still a little obscured in absent-daddy psychobabble issues. It’s a little difficult to comprehend how any military-structured organization would leave this undisciplined and immature Kirk in charge of anything, let alone a warship.  Pine came across as older, more disciplined, and even a bit more heroic (rather than just rash and lucky) in 2010′s Unstoppable than he does here.  On the other hand, the development of Spock by Quinto is much more interesting … or, dare I say, fascinating.

As a result, Into Darkness has a more ensemble feel to it, while the emotional fulcrum of the film is the complex and sometimes tense relationship between Kirk and Spock.  The first film mostly just tossed them together with a silly sequence that somehow convinced Spock to let Kirk command the Enterprise, but more care went into the character development in the sequel.  Where the first movie overwhelmed with explosions and quick cuts, this one tells more of a story, and lays down markers for future installments.  Interestingly, in the original movie series, the first film was more cerebral and the second more action-oriented.  It’s almost the reverse this time, or as much as it can be in Abrams’ world.  There’s plenty of action to enjoy in Into Darkness, but it’s not quite as kinetic or chaotic as the first film. Longtime Star Trek fans will perhaps appreciate this sequel more as a result, with a little less attention focused on stock superficial conflicts and more on the philosophy of Star Fleet, ethics, and morality.

Star Trek: Into Darkness will thrill Trek fans, and will convert the heretofore unconverted with a storyline that doesn’t get overwhelmed by the action and characters that have really begun to come alive.  It’s rated PG-13 for violence and “sci-fi action”; it’s too intense for young children but should be fine for teens.  On my scale below, this is definitely a 5:

  • 5 – Full price ticket
  • 4 – Matinee only
  • 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
  • 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

I saw this in 3-D, and the effects are worth the extra cost.


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As for Star Trek. The entire universe was created as a communist/socialist paradise. It’s hard to separate it’s politics entirely from the universe. The closest it came was Star Trek: DS9 where they used currency and had concerns like profit.

njrob on May 19, 2013 at 10:53 AM

That’s always one of the examples that I use when talking politics. Liberals think socialism will be like Patrick Stewart’s Star Trek whereas conservatives know it will be more like Stalin’s socialism.

kim roy on May 19, 2013 at 4:11 PM

A Cartoon Network exec once told me that Scooby Doo was still popular because it was new to six year olds.

The majority of people seeing this movie never saw the original series, or Wrath of Khan. They’re seeing these characters for the first, or maybe second time.

This is the reasoning behind all of the superman, Spider-Man and Hulk restarts. They’re new this generation of ticket buyers.

danielreyes on May 19, 2013 at 4:31 PM

My problem with the whole “reboot” thing is: Why didn’t JJA just give us the backstory of the ACTUAL Star Trek universe? What’s the point of the “reimagining”? We first saw Kirk & Co. well into their mature years as StarFleet officers — the Enterprise might have been on its Five Year Mission To Seek Out New Life and New Civilizations, but by no means was it ever established that Season One was Year One of the voyage.

Just don’t get it. It’s reinventing the wheel just for sake of reinventing the wheel.

JamesS on May 19, 2013 at 5:04 PM

I’d put this as either a 3 or 4 on Ed’s scale. It would have worked better if Jeff Harrison had simply remained Jeff Harrison, rather than be revealed as Khan. A rogue Section 31 agent was compelling enough as it was. Gratutitously lifting from Wrath of Khan hurt the film.

From simply reusing the character of Khan, to reusing Carol Marcus, to Spock shouting “KHAAAAAANNNN!” like Kirk did in Wrath of Khan, to Kirk and Spock exchanging meaningful glances like the two did in Wrath of Khan during the radiation disaster, it was more like an excellent fan-movie than an actual entry to the series. The entire point behind the reboot was so that something new could be done with the series, not to simply redo what’s been done before.

On a technical level it was superb, with the special effects being top notch. The dialogue was witty and funny. But it wasn’t enough to save it from being tremendously derivative. Had I never seen Wrath of Khan, I would have really liked it, but I can’t get past just how much of a rip-off it is. I was waiting for Khan to beat the living daylights out of new Spock only with old Spock to come in and open the airlock killing Khan with a snark of “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” to which young Spock could reply “It is very cold… in spaaaaaaaccceee…” (as a quick point — what the heck was old Spock doing in even making an appearance?)

That said, the entire incident of Scotty quitting over torpedoes seemed weak. He should have had a stronger case other than “I don’t like them because they might cause a problem.” Chekov is fairly prominent as is Scotty, while Sulu and McCoy feel like background characters.

Stoic Patriot on May 19, 2013 at 7:18 PM

(By the way, I’m a huge fan of the original series, have watched each episode multiple times as reruns.)
Burke on May 19, 2013 at 12:40 PM

I also. Shatner owned the camera.

Captain Kate was enough PC already. I won’t suffer a lesser version of boldly going where no one has gone before.

So why should anyone invest the suspension of disbelief or brand loyalty one would normally give Star Trek, when it is not Star Trek?
Subotai Bahadur on May 19, 2013 at 1:32 PM

heh yep

I never thought of Capt. Kirk as arrogant. His enemies always called him that.. but I never saw it in the TV series. He was like the perfect leader. Cared deeply about his crew and ship to the point he would sacrifice his own life to save either. The character James Kirk in the series was virtuous, brave and trustworthy.
JellyToast on May 19, 2013 at 1:32 PM

Couldnt say it better. IMHO many who derided Shatner as an actor actually hated the manly bravado of the character who made his own decisions without a committee

The GleeTrek characters…
whatcat on May 19, 2013 at 1:47 PM

Now you’ve done it. The image of GleeTrek has been stored in long term memory

Finally, Kirk’s speech at the end about the temptation towards revenge and how that’s “not who we are,” seems to have been cribbed directly from the Obama Muslim apology tour
ktrush on May 19, 2013 at 2:13 PM

It would take an alternate universe to get Kirk spouting Obamagasms. What’s next, StarTrek: It takes a Village?

entagor on May 19, 2013 at 8:43 PM

NO way I’m seeing this piece of crap after two of it’s actors have said the film is a stinging takedown of US foreign policy, which they agree with. Simon Pegg, the awful Brit ‘comedian’ is especially offensive calling the terrorist in the film is a freedom fighter. Disgusting.

kit9 on May 19, 2013 at 9:47 PM

I watched it in 3D this afternoon. Solid 5. IMAX next.

Zorro on May 19, 2013 at 10:04 PM

Just returned from seeing this movie with my family – three generations. We all loved it! I was reluctant to see it (I haven’t seen the first one yet) because of my attachment to the original actors. However, that was no problem whatsoever. The interplay among the characters was realistic. There was even one Tribble! Great fun! May there be more of these movies. Live long and prosper.

I will probably see it again, this time in 3D.

I refused to even allow a nanosecond of a thought about Obama to ruin my fun. It is hard enough to get away from him in real life. He is NOT going to follow me into the movies.

francesca on May 19, 2013 at 11:19 PM

Bah, its a JJ Abrams film, what more do you expect? Its lost like Abrams most famous tv show Lost. Hollywood in a recession equals taking whats worked and cashing in for the second/third etc. time.

I’ll see it on video like I did the “reboot”. Its space action flick with fan service to Trek fans to get people to the theaters. If you want to see a good Trek show dealing with terrorism/war etc. go watch the DS9 episode “In the Pale Moonlight”.

oryguncon on May 19, 2013 at 11:22 PM

As a long time Trekkie fan, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the 2009 Star Trek JJA produced. Certainly there were a lot of criticisms that could be made, but overall I enjoyed it.
We are political people. That’s why we write on HotAir. Almost every movie I go to is poisoned to some degree by liberal politics. This new Star Trek was no different. So let’s review the politics:
1) Khan was described as “one of our own”…basically a “rogue agent gone bad”…a la.. Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and a whole host of other movies where a CIA agent or US secret assassin either goes rogue or crazy over the “evils” he has had to do for America.
2) The firing of torpedoes without giving Khan a chance for a “fair” trial was an ode to the “illegal targeted assassinations” program created by Bush and continued by Obama. The torpedoes were the 24th century version of a drone strike.
3) The overly militaristic Admiral “Robocop” discussing preemptive war against the Klingons and the “secret” development of advanced weaponry to turn the peaceful Federation into an empire-developing power smelled a lot like the “America is a militaristic colonial power who uses it’s might for domination” line we hear from the far Left all the time. I kept waiting to hear that Halliburton built the Dreadnaught! lol
4) The caution about revenge delivered by Kirk at the end was a waste. Looks like they can’t differentiate between revenge and justice in the 25th century either.

Still, I agree with Ed that the movie was entertaining and I hope subsequent movies show a maturation of the relationships these actors have as I believe there is good chemistry here for at least 2-3 more movies.

DrRich on May 20, 2013 at 12:10 AM

I think there’s a lot of angst over supposedly re-hashing the Khan story-line, but actually it makes sense to me. As the first movie laid it out, this is an alternate universe version of the original. Many of the same characters and villains are likely to appear. Thus, Kahn… and – after all, Kirk did have a son with Carol Marcus in the original/previous “universe”.

Star Trek never fails to bend and twist the rules of space/time/warp/gravity/physics/past/future/present, etc., at every opportunity, so really – though it did bother me at first, I was able to enjoy the film knowing that – being the arch-nemesis – Kahn is likely to be around. It occurred to me that Khan was inevitable at some point. But, HOW it all played-out would be different. So I was ok with it.

However, if they keep re-hashing things, fans will rebel. And, chances that the new “5-year mission” would ever take them exactly on the same path are next to nil. Chaos, butterfly flapping wings and what-not – further overlap not likely. Movie seriously ROCKED (I give it a 5), so now let’s move on in this new Trek universe.

Last, I am very impressed with Abrams’ latest installment. He will be directing SW-VII and I must say I’m quite happy about that. And I thought Ed made some very good points about better dialogue and character interaction and a less-chaotic storyline. Good take.

My criticism of the movie was the radiated core chamber to save the ship – again – with Spock/Kirk flipped, and Spock (in a rage), yelling KKHHHAAAAANNNN. Really? Yes, Khan and others, and some circumstances could re-appear, but that whole sequence would be virtually impossible to happen the same way again. So I think they fouled-up there. Settings, characters, some hard facts may be the same, but once set in motion, the story would not end the same. IMO

thedude on May 20, 2013 at 1:36 AM

However, if they keep re-hashing things, fans will rebel. And, chances that the new “5-year mission” would ever take them exactly on the same path are next to nil. Chaos, butterfly flapping wings and what-not – further overlap not likely. Movie seriously ROCKED (I give it a 5), so now let’s move on in this new Trek universe.

Also, adding to the unlikely chances the new 5-year mission would ever be the same, the Captain just randomly picks which way to go.

thedude on May 20, 2013 at 1:41 AM

I watched it today; found it to be highly enjoyable. Kirk was put through the crucible, and I think the rough parts that made him a brash bratty know it all have finally been beaten out, leaving more of the polished Kirk we all know to take over for the next movie.

A bunch of people are still deriding this as a ‘reboot’. It is not. It’s a continuation of the original series and all of it’s offshoots (TNG, DS9, Voyager, Star Trek Online, etc). There was even a link with the original series by having Spock/Quinto speak with Spock/Nimmoy. It’s an alternate universe flung off from the original which still exists; not a brand new ‘re-imagining’. Which is why Kirk is a mouthy brat with daddy issues. In the original, his father lived and he had a brother. In this one, his father died and he was alone.

Enough geeking out for one day. Bleh.

wolfva on May 20, 2013 at 4:48 AM

NO way I’m seeing this piece of crap after two of it’s actors have said the film is a stinging takedown of US foreign policy, which they agree with. Simon Pegg, the awful Brit ‘comedian’ is especially offensive calling the terrorist in the film is a freedom fighter. Disgusting.

kit9 on May 19, 2013 at 9:47 PM

Being an original fan of the ST:TOS I was already disinclined to see this. The last movie sucked and I had a feeling this would too. Now I know it.

As for Star Trek. The entire universe was created as a communist/socialist paradise. It’s hard to separate it’s politics entirely from the universe. The closest it came was Star Trek: DS9 where they used currency and had concerns like profit.

njrob on May 19, 2013 at 10:53 AM

Actually, Roddenberry had money in TOS. Re watch “Tribbles” the use “credits.” If memory serves, it was network execs that made him go the full “Bullworth.” There were no further references to currency.

dogsoldier on May 20, 2013 at 5:53 AM

That’s always one of the examples that I use when talking politics. Liberals think socialism will be like Patrick Stewart’s Star Trek whereas conservatives know it will be more like Stalin’s socialism.

kim roy on May 19, 2013 at 4:11 PM

I have pointed this out many times before. But that is why star Trek always works better when they stay on the ship with away missions. Rather than walking around on Earth or planets where their should be an economy.

jeffn21 on May 20, 2013 at 9:22 AM

I liked this one better than the ’09 film, but the characters are essentially one-dimensional parodies of those from the original series. Only Urban’s McCoy really works, imo…Pine’s Kirk is just the brash womanizer, Spock the robotic smart ass, etc. There’s no sense of any connection between them. And the whole Spock and Uhura thing? Don’t buy it at all. Its relation to Star Trek rests in name only.

changer1701 on May 19, 2013 at 10:17 AM

I agree. With friends, I argued that Pine’s Kirk is not “the brilliant tactician and diplomat of the original series, but rather what the popular belief of him today is: A womanizing cowboy who leads by luck and gut feelings.”

There was far-too-much dressing down of Kirk which led to even his saying he shouldn’t be captain. Even Scotty and Uhura got in on the action.

eforhan on May 20, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Female Star Trek fan for nigh on to 25 years, here folks…. As much as I love reading everyone nerd-out on Star Trek – really guys: The re-boot is great, and geared towards a “new generation” of fans. Homage to the original yet also unique, JJ’s pulled it off really well. Let go, fellow Trekkies, and enjoy! LIve long and prosper…

exliberal on May 19, 2013 at 1:16 PM

Oops. Make that 45 years. Trying to make myself younger….

exliberal on May 20, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Female Star Trek fan for nigh on to 25 years, here folks…. As much as I love reading everyone nerd-out on Star Trek – really guys: The re-boot is great, and geared towards a “new generation” of fans. Homage to the original yet also unique, JJ’s pulled it off really well. Let go, fellow Trekkies, and enjoy! LIve long and prosper…

exliberal on May 19, 2013 at 1:16 PM

I watched the original series when it was a first-run series. I’ve seen every movie. (Try watching the director’s cut of STTMP. If Paramount had released that version, I suspect people wouldn’t hate it nearly as much.)I watched the spinoffs off and on — enough to keep general track of the timelines.

I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the reboot, and discovered tht I loved it! Once you accept the premise that the Chris Pine/Zachary Quinto films are an alternate universe, life is good!

I thought the first fifteen of Into Darkness alone was worth the price of admission. I thought the role reversal at the end was very well done. I liked the movie all the way around. It was fun, and I thought it adhered to the spirit of the original series.

My only complaint: I really hope Abrams and Company don’t make a habit of strip mining past glories and do some original thinking. Given the endless possibilities offered by today’s CGI, they should be able to produce some really original material.

catsandbooks on May 20, 2013 at 12:30 PM

I did like some of the subtle mods to the origional series, and especialy crossing over missions from the original into the movie.
IE, the shuttle they used came from the “Mudd Mission”.
And Kirks demotion had a lot to do with the … discrepencies… between his and Spocks report about the volcano.

Wyrd on May 20, 2013 at 3:24 PM

Actually, Roddenberry had money in TOS. Re watch “Tribbles” the use “credits.” If memory serves, it was network execs that made him go the full “Bullworth.” There were no further references to currency.

dogsoldier on May 20, 2013 at 5:53 AM

I’ll take a look into it. That was a fun episode and should be worth re-watching.

Are you sure they weren’t using the Tribbles as “credits” though. After all, that’s a real never ending supply.

njrob on May 20, 2013 at 4:39 PM

Why did Khan pack his crew into torpedoes instead of waking them up?

Haunches on May 26, 2013 at 10:29 AM

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