I’m going to begin this review with a disclaimer and this does have a huge bearing on my perception: I am not a Star Trek fan. I don’t really care about any of the older movies. Some of them are fun, some of them are awful, some of them I haven’t seen. I grew up a Star Wars guy. I make no apologies – Star Wars is just a much better series for me, I relate to it a lot more than I do Star Trek. That being said, I was a huge fan of J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the series in 2009. To me, 2009’s Star Trek struck a great balance. It reinvigorated a series with new blood and broader appeal while still treading with respect to the original Star Trek canon. Right, with that in mind, let’s launch into Stark Trek Into Darkness. Don’t worry, this review is spoiler-free.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a great summer action movie. There are fights, glorious effects scenes and excellent use of the 3D (I saw this film in IMAX 3D and it was gorgeous). It is fast-paced from the get go and is designed to give few pauses for breath. It is a relentless, simple movie that anyone (regardless of his/her Star Trek knowledge) can walk in and enjoy. This is its great strength… and also its ultimate weakness. This is a Star Trek movie, but it is designed in such a way that may anger fans (or really anyone familiar) with the old show and movies.
There is a blurred line between reboot and remake. I’m actually not sure what the difference is. Dictionary.com declares a remake “to make again or anew” whereas to reboot means “to restart”. Boy, don’t those sound similar. Now, in the case of Abrams Star Trek, I believe what made that film a reboot was the fact that it did not disregard the old canon. Leonard Nimoy is in the film serving as a bridge between the two while the movie “restarts” the franchise from an earlier point in time. The first two-thirds of Star Trek Into Darkness feel like a continuation of this reboot, old and new at the same time. The final third, however, (which is the portion of the movie I have the most problems with) decidedly feels much more in the vein of a remake. I won’t say which Star Trek film is being remade but it will become painfully obvious to anyone with even a basic familiarity of the old films.
This was not a smart move for two reasons: 1) it risks angering the fan base by spitting at them a key scene from before that frankly does not carry the same emotional weight and 2) it was a really boring direction to take the film. For the first two-thirds of the movie, I was completely on board with everything that was going on and eager to see what happened next. At the end I knew exactly what was going to happen and how so that all the drama vanished and I was left simply enjoying action eye-candy (not that it was bad, it’s called candy for a reason). The result greatly diminished my excitement leaving the theater. After all, one of the reasons I enjoyed Abrams’ Star Trek so much is that I felt it was new. Star Trek Into Darkness leaves me wishing for more “newness”. I don’t want to see the earlier films remade: I want to see new adventures with the proven characters.
Okay, that’s enough of the negativity. Is Star Trek Into Darkness flawed: yes. Don’t expect it to be on the level of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in terms of a sequel. That aside, there are some really great things in this movie. Let’s talk about the most obvious improvement over the original: the villain.
While everyone in the film delivers a good performance, Benedict Cumberbatch soars past them onto a higher level. He is commanding, mysterious, cunning and brutal in his performance. In the sequence pictured above, he runs acting circles around Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock). This sequence is the strongest in the film and gives real depth to John Harrison’s character, taking him a notch above Eric Bana’s Nero of the first film. Tragically the depth shown here is never present in the third act but hey, I said I would highlight the positives here.
The other addition to the cast who will be more overlooked than she deserves is Alice Eve. She joins the film as Science Officer Carol Wallace and gives a much-needed additional female presence to the film. No offense intended to Zoe Saldana, I am not calling her performance lacking. It is simply nice to have another woman do something of importance aboard the enterprise. Eve portrays a funny, clever science officer and injects the “newness” that I want to see a lot more of in future Star Trek films.
The last and greatest triumph of Star Trek Into Darkness are the character journeys of Captain Kirk and Commander Spock. I was a little worried when the film started as both Kirk and Spock appeared to have regressed slightly from their maturity at the end of the first movie. That problem is quickly rectified, however, as the main focus of the film is to show the final leg in these two characters becoming the icons from the first movies. Kirk in particular really grows from reckless and hotheaded into a more responsible and selfless Captain. The handling of these two characters was the largest strength in the first movie and it remains the best thing about the second.
So yeah, if your Star Trek knowledge is as limited as mine and you want to see a fun, well made, summer movie – check out Star Trek Into Darkness, you’ll love it. But to fans of the original series and films, I must emphasize that I’m really unsure how you’ll take to this entry. If you thought 2009’s Star Trek was a little heavy on the action and light on the characters: prepare to roll your eyes at Abrams’ new film. This is not a science fiction film, this is an action film. The good news is that Star Trek Into Darkness is aware of its action tone, with several of the crew members remarking, at various points, that the main job of the U.S.S. Enterprise is exploration, not combat. I hold out hope that the third entry in the Star Trek reboot will at least produce the cohesion of old and new that the series has been striving for. But in the mean time Star Trek Into Darkness is a pretty fun ride.