Review: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Packs Standard J.J. Abrams Punch
by Jeremy Kirk
May 16, 2013
J.J. Abrams' Star Trek universe is one of excitement, adventure, loads of action, the kinds of Summer blockbuster entertainment probably better suited for another sci-fi franchise with "Star" in the title. Don't worry. Abrams will get to that eventually. For now, though, he's determined to inject explosions and shoot-outs into this seemingly scientific mission to explore new worlds. Like its predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness is one, fine blast of a good time, adding an abundance of laughs to all the excitement, even if the logic on display would make a certain green-blooded somebody break out in an uncomfortable sweat.
All the added entertainment value is exactly why Star Trek Into Darkness finds the crew of the Enterprise, scientific vessel, leading a manhunt. A Starfleet agent (Benedict Cumberbatch) has turned on the organization, bombing a library in London and setting guns on the headquarters in San Francisco. Many Starfleet members are killed, and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his Enterprise crew must trek to the Klingon homeworld where the criminal has fled and dispatch him with extreme prejudice. You know, scientific-like.
The crew in this new, brighter Star Trek universe is young, but all the familiar traits are there. Kirk is brash as ever, snapping back into old habits harder than a character on a network sitcom. Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), Kirk's Number One, comes with all the ratios and percentages of success you might expect. Everyone else is pretty one-note, playing that one Star Trek note they're all known for pretty hard. Bones (Karl Urban) even get's a "Dammit, man..." moment.
But while the crew is front and center and even though this second film continues shaping them into the classic Star Trek cast of characters we know and love, Star Trek Into Darkness feels more alien from the original series as anything we've seen before. That's probably a good thing given the new direction this series has chosen to take, but that doesn't stop Abrams from visiting old territory.
As with all J.J. Abrams projects, the mystery box is hard at work, his team of screenwriters; Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon "Call Me Prometheus" Lindelof laying on the conspiracy angle pretty thick. Star Trek Into Darkness is, from frame one, an action/adventure movie, showing right off the bat how this crew of scientists can quickly get themselves in hot water. But earth-shattering reveal after earth-shattering reveal builds the film's multi-layered story to satisfying but spoilery results. It's what makes critics vague about Abrams' films or face a wrath of readers and potential movie-goers.
Star Trek Into Darkness' screenplay makes certain choices, goes in certain directions, that feel unnecessary, moments we've faced before in this series and story arcs that have already played out. Quite well, to be precise. The story here, at face value, comes off like Abrams wanting to show the rest of the series, the one that came before all the lens flares, up. But played out, particularly in Abrams' hands, those moments take on new meaning and those story arcs are allowed to play out in interesting, different ways.
There's fan service at work to be sure. Lines of dialogue are dropped almost as if they have to be. Spock's life seems to depend on him uttering something about "the needs of the many," but it all ends up playing as tribute. It's really only Into Darkness' third act that the familiarity of everything begins wearing on one's patience, especially if that person is a Star Trek fan.
Whether the story works for you or not, there's little denying Abrams' ability to catch exceptional action. Space battles and ground shoot-outs alike whip back and forth before our eyes. Green and red laser blasts dot the screen, making one really wonder what an epic, sci-fi, war movie from Abrams would be like. It's no wonder he's the man slated to bring Star Wars back onto the big screen, a series that's probably more his speed. Star Trek has been good for him, and he's been good for revitalizing the franchise, but it is time for him to move off, and up, to a galaxy far, far away...
As for Star Trek Into Darkness, in the end it works in spite of itself. It's a blockbuster Summer movie from the get-go, the pace of the action and the comedy alike hitting a very comfortable stride. Emotional and energetic, the film ends up being every bit the crowd-pleaser that 2009's Star Trek reboot was, a lot of that credit going to Abrams and his team of writers.
The rest of the credit goes to this new crew, though, every one of them a stand-out from moment to moment. Even the secondary characters playing those single notes play their part of bringing this warm blanket of a cast back for another adventure. It's fun watching all the action play out. It's even more fun watching the action play out around this cast. Pine and Quinto particularly click, much better than in the 2009 film, though that may be deliberate. Urban continues channeling DeForest Kelley flawlessly.
Cumberbatch slides into his role effortlessly. He builds tension in every scene he's in, not just because of who he is in the grander scheme of the Star Trek universe, but because of the power he's able to express in every look. You even find yourself falling towards his character's side when he plays the emotional card, another nice trick Star Trek Into Darkness plays. It plays many.
The paramount of which brining such a solid cast together to fill some pretty big shoes. They are a main reason that future Star Trek films, regardless of whose vision the film ultimately is, will work or fail. With Abrams possibly trading up for a universe more his ilk, it's nice to know the Star Trek franchise is resting comfortably with a fine, Enterprise crew of actors. They certainly make Star Trek Into Darkness all the more satisfying.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10