Four years ago, J. J. Abrams breathed new life into the Star Trek franchise with a fresh, fun reboot that won over critics and audiences alike. Held up by an incredibly strong cast headed by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, that stunning first film laid the groundwork for a brand new Star Trek story. That story continues with its explosive and arguably superior sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness, which not only delivers more action and thrills, but keeps the gut punches coming quickly and relentlessly. If Iron Man 3 and this film are any indication of how this summer’s movies are going to be quality-wise, then I’m pumped for the next two months.
Aside from proving himself to be a capable captain, James T. Kirk is also known for one thing: being a complete jack-ass with a blatant disregard for rules of any kind. His most recent shenanigans on an uncivilized planet costs him his command of the Enterprise, as well as his confidence. His superior officer, Christopher Pike, offers him a second chance, which Kirk happily accepts. However, when a terrorist named John Harrison attacks Kirk and his fellow officers, the shit hits the fan and the fan explodes. Driven by rage, Kirk leads a mission to apprehend the criminal and take him back to Earth. Well, if we’ve learned anything from movies, we all know that’s not going to be a cakewalk. Throw in a pissed off Uhura, a horde of Klingons, and more explosions than one can count, and you’ll wonder why the hell he ever wanted his job back.
Star Trek: Into Darkness marks a spectacular return to form for Chris Pine(Kirk) and Zachary Quinto(Spock), with Simon Pegg(Scotty) earning an honorable mention for being Simon Pegg. The film brings the Kirk-Spock relationship to the forefront, and both Pine and Quinto do a phenomenal job making that friendship believable and powerful. Simon Pegg seems to enjoy his extended role, and he utilizes his extra screen time well. Benedict Cumberbatch brilliantly portrays the ridiculously powerful John Harrison, immediately making him one of the most intriguing and most dangerous villains in sci-fi. His cold, merciless gaze is unsettling and brilliant at the same time, and Cumberbatch’s delivery is flawless. Zoe Saldana(Uhura) takes a step back once more, having one or two stand out scenes but for the most part staying on the sidelines looking teary-eyed and helpless. Alice Eve(Carol Marcus) proves to be pretty useless, and I still fail to see the point of her inclusion in the movie at all. The rest of the cast holds their own, with Peter Weller(Admiral Marcus) standing out as an interesting character with terrible intentions.
The film focuses heavily on the growing friendship between Kirk and Spock, which has always been one of the strongest aspects of Star Trek. It’s this exploration of one of the most fascinating relationships in sci-fi that makes the movie so enjoyable and emotionally resonant. The brotherly interactions between these two very different beings are alone worth the price of admission, but the non-stop action and well-timed suspense are both great as well.
As far as the plot goes, it’s nothing incredibly new or groundbreaking, but it’s not simple or predictable either. Abrams uses familiar ideas and storytelling techniques, but takes his own liberties with them so that the film still feels fresh and exciting. Into Darkness is not as new or unexpected as its predecessor, but it isn’t supposed to be. It’s a sequel. It’s supposed to expand upon and explore, not introduce and reinvent.
The film mentions and briefly addresses the romance between Spock and Uhura, but doesn’t take it anywhere. It’s disappointing, because so much time is spent exploring the Kirk-Spock dynamic and yet almost no time is dedicated to Spock and Uhura. The first half of the movie teases some touching Spock-Uhura moments, but doesn’t do anything with them. The two argue, talk, solve the problem, and then barely even look at each other for the rest of the film. If a movie puts something on the table, it needs to give it more attention and not leave the audience wondering why it was even brought up in the first place.
All in all, though, J. J. Abrams has outdone himself. Star Trek: Into Darkness delivers on all fronts, and currently stands as the only movie of 2013 that actually meets my unreasonably high expectations. I am extremely pleased with this latest offering, and can’t wait to see where the Enterprise goes next.
When I saw the first of the new Star Trek movies back in 2009, I remember being somewhat stunned. A friend and I wanted to meet up for a movie and choose it on a whim having never seen a single episode of Star Trek and figuring it would be a lot like a cross between Transformers and Galaxy Quest. When the credits rolled, Galaxy Quest made a lot more sense, and I found myself completely fascinated and enthralled by this new world J.J. Abrams unfolded. Beyond cool space ships and explosions, the amount of character growth and development on display was staggering. Tonight, I returned to see the second installment, still knowing nothing about the original series, but confident that even if this sequel was only half as good as the first, it would be a great movie. And oh was it!
So many series suffer from a lack for continuity between installments. Sure, there’s generally an overarching plotline or villain connecting them all, but there’s always a remarkable amount of bouncing back on the part of characters. However, since the first movie completed its storyline, a different continuity had to be found for Into Darkness, and either the writer or J.J. decided to use the characters’ emotional growth as their connecting thread.
Spock is still dealing with the loss of his planet…and not just a one line aside for the nitpickers. We saw a tremendous amount of emotional conflict in Spock during the first movie, conflict that followed him from childhood. While he clearly started to come to terms with the fact he did feel, we never got see how he would handle that revelation. In this movie, we see him trying desperately to distance himself from emotion not because he is Vulcan, but because it simply hurts too much. It is a very human moment. The climax of the film shows him completely giving into his emotions, and while we got enough glimpses in the first movie to know that Spock uses anger to channel his grief, it was nothing compared to adding true rage to that grief. The fact that Spock comes so close to holding his own against a genetically altered superbeing because he has given his emotions free reign is intriguing and something I hope any future films will explore further.
Kirk likewise picks up where we left him. Brash, inventive, and out looking for trouble, he clearly learned a powerful lesson in the first movie – that when you space the rule book you get made captain of the shiniest ship. However, he has yet to learn how to be a leader. Just like his father before him, he must reach a place where he realizes that cockiness isn’t courage and that family must be protected all cost. He stops bossing and commands. He stops flaunting authority for fun and starts using his ingenuity to uphold the values behind the rules. What surprised me most after the first film was the depth that Chris Pine brought to the roll of Kirk this time around. He had smart aleck flyboy down pat in the first film, but the amount of talent necessary to convey the maturity Kirk reaches in this film was impressive. I think the scene that captivated me the most in the entire film was the one with in the bar with Admiral Pike. You learn so much about where Kirk is at in life and what really matters to him, all from his face. It dramatically set the tone for the movie and laid the foundation for Kirk’s later loss and how it affected him all with very little words.
But the thing that stood out the most from the entire film? How beautiful it was. J.J. sets aside the shocks and thrills and the “there’s always a bigger explosion” occasionally and just gives us a moment of beauty and awe. The Enterprise rising out of both the water and the clouds. The sheer size of the new federation vessel. The glorious cityscapes of the future world. By embracing the epic nature of his material, he brings a verisimilitude to the world I find lacking in most scifi movies. As you watch the ruthless of efficiency of Cumberbatch’s character, you don’t smirk over how impossible it is because you’ve already bought into the impossible during the first few minutes of the movie.
And there were so many other wonderful little touches! I loved how many different aliens we see without it every feeling forced. There are no lingers shots screaming, “look at how diverse we’ve made it!” They are simply characters fulfilling their roles. My one whisper moment of the movie was early on as I realized, “It’s Mickey!” And since I don’t know Star Trek lore, I bought every twist hook, line, and sinker. I actually sympathized with the Big Bad, folks. Bought his whole sob story and was ready to talk about how his reveal as the victim instead of villain was the highlight of the movie. I’m not sure how that played out for watchers of the original series, but from where I was sitting that was some pretty impressive storytelling.
But as much as I loved this movie and think everyone should drop what they’re doing and go see it, I did end up with three very large questions thanks to my ignorance of all things Star Trek. Is the Prime Directive really a thing, or did they just make it up to show Kirk disobeying orders? I honestly thought that they were essentially on the same mission as the Stargate series: find advanced alien tech with which to defend ourselves. And that’s my second question, is the Starfleet seriously not the military? I sort of assumed they were after the first movie. And of course, the most important question, is Kahn not gone for good? Because that sure looked like Mickey locking Kahn and his pals into stasis.