It’s been four years since JJ Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise in the fantastic Star Trek, a film that not only managed to please the masses of fans, but also audiences across the world. I point out that it’s been four years since that film to make a point: it’s been a while. When I saw Star Trek, I was still in elementary school. But nonetheless, I remember the film very well. I’ve gone back and revisited it, sure, but the film makes a lasting impression simply because it is one of the best sci-fi blockbusters of the 21st century thus far. It is everything an action film should be: clever, inventive, funny, and exciting. So the bar was set high for Star Trek Into Darkness, but from the film’s first teases it seemed like JJ Abrams was up to the task. And while the film is certainly an exciting trek into darkness and action-packed mayhem, does it match the first? Star Trek Into Darkness reunites us with the crew of the USS Enterprise as they chase a dangerous terrorist after he attacks Starfleet.
The highlight of Abrams’ 2009 film was the spot-on casting of the classic roles portrayed here. Chris Pine slips right back into James T. Kirk perfectly, playing him with the same cocky playboy finesse. He’s not as smooth and witty this time around, and more emotionally fragile, a testament to the fact that this film is considerably darker than its predecessor. Still, the performance is engaging and charismatic, showing that Pine has redefined a character who first appeared so long ago, ushering him in to a new generation with a suave style. Zachary Quinto is spot-on, hilarious, and engrossing as Spock, while the rest of the crew is in fine form. Each of the supporting characters get a few moments to shine, but their characters in all do very little besides have their shining moments. Taking center stage is the new and mysterious villain portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock fame. Cumberbatch is chillingly terrifying as puzzling terrorist who fights against Kirk and his crew throughout this film, and his character is one of the more satisfying villains to come around in a long while. Cumberbatch works great as a hero on Sherlock, but proves he can be even a better villain in this film, with his cold, threatening stares that rack up the tension in every scene he’s in.
The story for Into Darkness is considerably thinner than its predecessor. 2009’s Star Trek was an admittedly complicated tale of time travel and what not, but it took its time in laying it all out and explaining it. This new installment seems to have no interest in doing that. After an engaging setup, the plot that we’re given is sparingly laid out for us (almost confusingly so) by Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison, who’s backstory (which is the only real exposition this film has to offer) is a bit convoluted, yet suitably interesting. Beyond that, there’s very little plot to this film. This isn’t a film of brains or high-stakes space politics, it’s a non-stop, relentless action film for its running time of over two hours. And when I say relentless, I mean relentless. The film barely gives you a second to breathe, running from action sequence to action sequence in a thrillingly chaotic fashion, barely giving the film anytime to find a story or heart amongst the mix.
The film eventually does hit some emotional chords, but the character development and story of the first film is gone. In its place is non-stop, visually stunning action brilliantly shot by JJ Abrams on a grand scale, taking us flying through debris in space to a massive starship plummeting from the sky. The film is undoubtedly a blockbuster, but someone looking for a Star Trek film that is equally as smart and witty as the 2009 one might be a bit underwhelmed. It’s still very witty at times, for sure, but the focus here is undoubtedly on the action.
The action, however, is breathtakingly awesome. It’s bombastic, visually insane fun that never ceases to be exciting and amazing. Playing next to the action are tons of well-placed, clever, crowd-pleasing nods to the original series and in particular one of the original Star Trek films. I won’t spoil anything, but fans will undoubtedly be pleased with how this film plays out.
In my opinion, Into Darkness doesn’t match the level of its predecessor. The villain is better, sure. But there’s very little plot to this film, and in turn there’s little of the charming character development that made the first film so great. Nonetheless, this film is an exciting ride from start to finish, with gorgeous special effects and the same fine performances we saw in the first film. A word of advice: don’t drink too much before the film, because getting up to the bathroom is not an option. You’ll be glued to the edge of your seat.
FINAL GRADE: ★★★★★★★★ (8/10 stars)
FINAL SAY: Visually spectacular with fine performances and relentless action, Star Trek Into Darkness is surely a breathlessly exciting adventure, but lacks some of the plot and character development that made the first film fantastic.