Film review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

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.