Just over 4 years ago, JJ Abrams rebooted the Star Trek series with Star Trek, a movie made for the modern moviegoer with a young, hip cast. Star Trek Into Darkness is the sequel and is again directed by JJ Abrams, who again takes the audience on another thrilling adventure with the crew of the Enterprise.
The film is centered around Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his pursuit of John Harrison, a rogue Starfleet agent played by Benedict Cumberbatch (best known as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series Sherlock). After committing a terrorist act on Earth, Harrison flees, and the Enterprise is responsible for dealing with the threat. Pitching in are first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), medical officer Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), and more.
Cumberbatch delivers another amazing performance as the dark and intense villain of the movie. His mostly cool attitude contrasts strongly with Pine as Kirk, who continues to be a wild, yet growing, character. Quinto does well in playing both his human and Vulcan sides, and the writing backs up the deep conflict that he portrays.
Despite these performances, however, the ensemble cast feels somewhat underused as the heavy character focus on these primary players leaves others without a significant role in the fast-paced movie. Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho) have token roles but are unexplored. Although McCoy is often available for medical tasks, he is relegated to a series of witty, one-liners and folksy figurative language. His absence in the deeper aspects of the plot is quite disappointing. In the original show, Spock and McCoy often served as the angel and demon on Kirk’s shoulder: Spock was logic and McCoy was emotion, and Kirk needed to balance these perspectives as a leader. Star Trek Into Darkness, however, leaves the emotions to Kirk alone, and these are mostly angst and confusion.
The film has great pacing, with moments that should appeal to fans of all movies. While Kirk spent most of the last movie being beaten, his hand-to-hand combat appears to have improved in several combat scenes. As you should expect with a science fiction movie, there are many special effects, and these also look amazing. No spoilers of course, but there are also several moving moments between the crew. Fitting with our sarcastic sense of humor today, the movie also mixes in plenty of jokes, some intended for classic Trekkies but mostly targeted for the broader audience. Even expect some throwaway humor involving Spock and Uhura’s romantic relationship alongside their professional relationship.
The excellent pacing is critical to the movie as it patches over some major weaknesses in its construction. I can’t see any Abrams work without thinking about Lost, and despite having never watched it, the plot twists upon plot twists (some more predictable, some less) do little to add direction to the film while the action drives onward. Without a plot, it’s hard to drive meaning, and the movie lacks any large philosophical implications. Trekkies love to mention how deep Star Trek was, from breaking racial barriers on television to addressing the Vietnam War, and although the movie starts from the topical point of terrorism, it quickly moves away towards the chase. Instead, the writers chose to go for character studies instead, and as interesting as internal conflict is, it’s less than I personally hope for.
Overall, Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun movie to watch. Despite my criticism of its core elements (e.g. its plot and depth), the moviegoing experience shouldn’t be overshadowed by these issues until further examination later. Trekkies will find plenty of references to enjoy, but you won’t miss them if you’re not. In an interview on The Daily Show, Abrams said that he intended to make a movie for both moviegoers and Star Trek fans, and in that light, I think it succeeds.