Theatrical Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Captain Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise have successfully prevented the destruction of a developing world, but at a cost; violating the Prime Directive of the Federation and exposing their ship to the primitive culture of the planet. While the right and wrong of this action is being explored, a greater threat is developing. A major Federation London-based installation has just been destroyed in a massive act of terrorism committed by a rogue Federation operative named John Harrison. Now, it’s up to Kirk, Spock and the crew of the Enterprise to find and kill Harrison before further acts of terrorism can occur.

That is a real loose description to the premise of Star Trek Into Darkness, the follow-up film to 2009’s massively successful Star Trek from director J.J. Abrams. Abrams is back at the helm for this sequel and to say that I was impressed and satisfied with this film would be an understatement.

When Abrams first re-booted the franchise in 2009, I thought he did it 100% right; he took the classic characters that Star Trek is best known for (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, et al) and brought them back to the start of their careers, keeping familiar Star Trek tropes and giving them a new kick but still remaining true to it’s source. That plan is continued with Star Trek Into Darkness with further exploration of the relationship between Kirk and Spock as well as the rest of their crew, though it is somewhat lighter this time around than it was in 2009. There’s plenty of little easter eggs here for the long-time Trek fan (like myself) and some new takes with other facets of Trek lore, which I really can’t go into because that would involve some pretty big spoilers and honestly, I have no desire to spoil anything with this review.

The film absolutely looks fantastic from all facets; production design, cinematography, and the look of the cast. In 2009, I was pleased as can be to see the classic original series uniforms brought back and they’re still in play here, helping to give this a bright and colorful look, which sort of spits in the face of what the popular trend is now in the depiction of classic genre characters on the big screen and further… it still works. Composer Michael Giacchino is back with an excellent score that continues it’s original theme, punctuates the action in the right places and still pays homage to the original. I chose to see this movie in 3D and I thought it was pretty impressive 3D my own self. It’s immersive and in-your-face and at least for me added a little more to the world on-screen. Now with that said, I don’t think it’s necessary to see the movie in 3D to fully appreciate it, but I certainly enjoyed it.

The only complaint that I have about the film at all is just in the title. The addition of “Into Darkness” just seems there to be a marketing tool to tell newcomers to the series that this is going to plunge the series into a realistic grittiness that they want to embrace. But there’s nothing here that at least to me seemed to say that on say the same level of a Batman movie. This version of the classic characters are still very much in a formative stage with this film and by it’s end, it’s now capable to advance to new territory or at least new territory for this version of the characters. There is still very much hope and optimism here. It may not be enough to suit some fans, but for me, I thought it was satisfying and I can’t wait to see the next film.

A large part of the anticipation is due to this excellent cast. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho and Anton Yelchin are all back reprising their characters from the original, as is Bruce Greenwood. One of my favorite moments in the whole movie occurs midway through the film and just features an exchange of dialogue between Kirk, Spock and McCoy and right at that moment, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban cemented the deal for me. they weren’t just new actors taking on the parts, they were the characters that I know and love.

New to this film are Alice Eve and Peter Weller and I think both are pretty terrific in their parts, but I don’t want to say more without spoiling things. Benedict Cumberbatch plays John Harrison and for me, this is my first exposure to Cumberbatch as I still have yet to see the Sherlock series. I was extremely impressed with this young actor and just think he’s destined to bigger things down the road. When J.J. Abrams makes the seventh Star Wars movie, he’d be wise to do something with Cumberbatch in that as well.

There’s certainly a lot of debate out there right now of whether or not this is “true” Star Trek and looking over the reviews section in the IMDB website, I see a lot of disappointment from long-time fans of the series. Well, I’m a long-time fan of the series as well and this works for me. It takes a classic series and gives it a bright new sheen while adding in a few new aspects (most notably, the Spock/Uhura relationship). By the end of Star Trek Into Darkness we’re left in a place where this series now has an opportunity to move beyond it’s initial starting point from being more Earth-centric and characters still in the process of gelling together. I’m eager to see what happens next. Very much recommended.