If you would have told me about four years ago that Star Trek was going to become one of the biggest franchises again, I would have laughed it off. I mean the franchise itself, in film form, has existed since 1979 with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was just basically money shots of the Enterprise and some deep insight into the existence of life while battling a giant space cloud. But decades later and many more Star Trek films, either TOS or TNG (The Original Series or The Next Generation), the luster of the Enterprise needed a new, shinier coat for audiences that weren’t just fans of the series. J.J. Abrams undertook a massive attempt with his reboot of the long running franchise in 2009 with “Star Trek”. A lens flare filled visual spectacle that essentially made Star Trek cool to like, at the behest of nerds around the world. It made the series popular once again and was a critical success. So the rollicking, humor, action oriented Star Trek had a lot to live up to with a sequel that was 4 years in the making. Star Trek Into Darkness boldly promises to take us into darker territories with its foreboding title and higher stakes, a promise it fully delivers with warp speed.
An opening that is befitting of a Bond movie, the stake of a planets fate in the hands of the intrepid crew of the USS Enterprise sees Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) outrunning some local natives as a diversion while Spock (Zachary Quinto), Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) try and stop the progression of a volcano from destroying the planet. This opening sets up the quandary and dilemma that Kirk and the crew will face later in the film cause there has to be some foreshadowing going on. A titular line “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” is thrown out there with some reluctance, but it will mean a lot more once the movie is midway through. With the mission a “success” Kirk is found stripped of his command of the Enterprise, while a new menace is unfolding. A man by the name of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, the most British name ever) has set into motion acts of war against the Federation and it is up to Kirk to stop the madman.
I won’t go too much into the story line since the thrill of the movie is the unfolding and reveal of the intentions of everyone involved. But I will say, for the diehard fans, it’s an interesting take on the 1982 Star Trek release, one in which you won’t be disappointed with. Into Darkness is everything that you want in a summer movie release or for that matter, Star Trek film. While the first film in the reboot lacked the signature introspective nature of the series with moral/ethical issues, Into Darkness piles that on with the struggles of Kirk having to deal with his abrasive and rash captain style, the fate of his crew, and selfless nature. But it isn’t all save this crew member, fire that laser or brood into the comm. screen with other ship commanders, there is a lot of action sequences, chase scenes and ship battles that will keep the more action oriented fans invested in the movie.
What carries this movie is Benedict Cumberbatch. My lord, as far as Star Trek villains go, his is the most venomous and intimidating. While throwing off his Sherlock past, Cumberbatch brings a steely intensity to his role as Harrison, clouding his past and intentions to the audience and crew, but one of the most imposing figures that the Federation has ever faced. He will certainly be compared to Heath Ledger’s performance of The Joker, as Harrison and the reveal of who he really is, outshines everything in this movie. Popped collars be damned, Cumberbatch showed that he can bring an unrivaled intensity to a role that is iconic in the Star Trek Universe.
I don’t want this to be just a Cumberbatch love-fest, as Zachary Quinto’s Spock plays a far more pivotal role in this sequel. Taking the characterization of Spock to a whole other level, this brings Spock out of his emotionless comfort zone and sees him doing things that most Vulcan’s would frown upon. Quinto owns this role, with a more serious, action oriented approach, but he is never without his stalwart and straight forward Vulcan qualities that make his interactions with the crew and Kirk enjoyable and humorous.
Into Darkness isn’t without its faults. For all the action, glitz and shiny things going on with the movie, it suffers from its grandiose nature. There are too many characters being introduced and thrown away for us to really even care. It’s great to see Peter Weller in this movie and playing Captain Marcus, but he is just reduced to the underhanded, caricature of a pompous Starship captain who is a warmonger. Even Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike is brought back, but then thrown away after being used as the old sage for Kirk. There are even a few members of the Enterprise who are just reduced in scope and don’t feel like a part of the crew, just there to do their particular character mannerisms and offer up the fans what they expect.
That is also the other problem with this movie, the fan service. I like being pandered to sometimes, but only when it serves the overall narrative instead of just showing fans of the series that comforting wink and nod. There are a lot of little things in the movie that are just pure fan service, I mean tribbles? You know the trouble that tribbles cause. Also Sulu sitting in the captain chair, eh fans of the franchise, you know what I am talking about with that little nugget. It is things like this which end up both reassuring the fans of the series that the writers and director know enough about the franchise to comfort those who are unsure of where it is going, but also it sort of detracts from the experience, constantly grounding itself in the past instead of moving forward. I like fan service stuff, but only in moderation, much like tequila.
Overall, Star Trek Into Darkness is certainly one of the most satisfying and exciting movies this summer. The narrative and intentions of the characters can be a bit murky, but the performances more than make up for that shortfall with some astounding acting from Quinto and Cumberbatch. The visual effects are out of this world and will keep even the ADD affected person rapt with attention. Abrams certainly topped himself with the continuation of the franchise and ensured fans of the series, old and new, that Star Trek will continue its voyage to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Rating: 5 Photon Torpedoes out of 5
By Nick Guzman