Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness Poster

In 2009, JJ Abrams reinvented the Star Trek franchise to great success.  Rebooting the original characters in an alternate timeline “…allows us to use any of the ingredients from the past – or come up with brand-new ones – to make potential stories.”  Star Trek: Into Darkness certainly does that, while building on what made the 2009 reboot so popular.

Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Karl Urban, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, and Bruce Greenwood all reprise their roles from the 2009 film.  Benedict Cumberbatch is the villainous John Harrison, whose identity may or may not be the worst/best kept secret of the summer, Alice Eve is Dr. Carol “Wallace,” and Peter Weller appears as Admiral Alexander Marcus.

The story opens to an action packed scene involving Kirk (Pine) being Kirk and Spock (Quinto) being Spock, interfering with another planet’s affairs while debating the Prime Directive of non-interference and trying to get killed.  This leads into some dire consequences which don’t actually end up having to do that much with the rest of the movie.  When the mysterious John Harrison commits an atrocious act of treason against the Federation it’s Kirk and posse playing space cowboys, chasing him across the galaxy.

Everything you loved or hated about the last Star Trek is here, magnified ten-fold.  The new cast continues to do a great job of giving their own, often humorous, take on the classic characters.  Character development is allowed, but pretty much only at the beginning and end of the two hour blockbuster.  The sci-fi action is all there, slicker than ever.  Instead of a convoluted alternate universe time travel red matter just what was Nero really trying to accomplish plot, this story is much more straight forward.  Even with a big reveal that everyone will either see coming, or not care at all about, the story is more or less predictable at its’ worst, and easy to follow at its best.

The simpler story and the fact that the rebooted versions of the Enterprise crew are now established allows for the action to really be front and center, no holds barred.  Until 2009, Star Trek was really not all that much about the action – something that set it apart from certain other science fiction franchises and also alienating a large portion of mainstream audiences.  For better or for worse, Abrams continues to deliver Mission Impossible: In Future Space.  It’s not quite Star Trek, but boy is it fun.

Visually, the movie is spectacular.  Exotic locales, fancy ships, cool space battles.  Futuristic versions of San Francisco and London.  Pretty much what you want from a bigscreen sci-fi spectacle.  One caveat is the 3D.  I can’t be certain whether it was from the post-conversion process, sitting too close to the screen, a faulty projector, or a combination, but it never quite worked right with things looking out of sync most of the time.  The use of the effect was on the better side of things, and the film didn’t seem to fall victim the darkening issue many 3D films have, but the tech was a little bit off for me.

There are two ways to come at this film – as a fan of the Abrams’ Trek universe, and as a Trekkie.  As a fan of what Abrams has already done (which I am), this movie ups the ante, fixes the problems, and builds upon the characters.  It is basically more or less awesome all around.  As a Trekkie (which I also am), Abrams and company take incredible liberties with canon (what canon?) picking and choosing easter eggs and references that sound good even if they don’t actually make any sense.

The biggest problem with 2009’s Trek is that Nero never feels like that threatening of a villain.  He never has very clear motives and is never really that interesting.  Cumberbatch is the exact opposite.  His motives as John Harrison are clear – if shrouded in some mystery for a time, he’s an imposing presence and he could read the phone book and make interesting.  We get a preview of what kind of sci-fi action we can expect from Abrams’ upcoming Star Wars VII, and the actors are all coming into their own.  Pine as Kirk, especially, seems to have grown.  Without coming off as hokey, I see a lot of William Shatner in him – not an easy thing to do while still being taken seriously.

Once again there are plenty of inside jokes and throwaway references to the previous Star Trek franchises.  The problem is that if you get them, you know enough about Star Trek history to realize they make no sense.  For example, Bones (Urban) makes a reference to having performed a C-section on a Gorn.  “Those little buggers can bite!”  Well, if you know anything about Star Trek, there’s no way they even know what a Gorn is since they were introduced as previously unknown species halfway through the first season.  Not to mention a Gorn is reptilian, so probably wouldn’t be giving live birth in the first place.  Little things like that, mislabeling The Neutral Zone, and spelling the Klingon home world of Qo’Nos phonetically are enough to drive any Trekkie or Trekker a little up the wall.

There are a lot of liberties taken with established canon, technology, and design for the sake of looking cooler or making the plot or action piece work.  I understand that this version of Star Trek is going to do its own thing, but it was still annoying.

One of the biggest sins this film commits is its many blatant references to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  You saw the “hands pressed together against the glass wall” scene in the trailer.  It doesn’t stop there.  Certain moments that should have carried more emotional weight come off as slightly humorous because you can’t help but notice what they are referencing.  If you’re not a previous Trek fan, you probably won’t get the references, losing much of their intended impact anyway.

The best way to look at it is a really high budget piece of well done fan-fiction that has a lot of imagination.  With all I found wrong with this movie, stepping aside objectively, I can’t help but admit it is a whole lot of fun and a solid summer blockbuster that bravely goes where no one has gone before – except when it doesn’t.

My Rating:  Four out of Five Hats

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Mrs. Hamster says:

“I liked the last movie a lot and I liked this one even more.  Even though I’m not a Trekkie, I could catch a lot of the in-jokes and references even if I didn’t always understand them.”

Star Trek: Into Darkness beamed into 336 IMAX theaters on 5.15, expanding into 3,868 theaters for an early Thursday release on 5.16.  It is playing in 2D and 3D.