J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot was an unexpected pleasure, taking a cult sci-fi series and revitalizing it in grand fashion, with spectacle, heart, and humor. Despite the enthusiastic welcome that the prequel/reboot (preboot?) received from fanboys, critics, general audiences, and even the Academy (the film won Best Makeup and received a total of four nominations), Abrams chose not to rush headfirst into a sequel. Four years later, with the follow-up finally hitting theaters, it’s clear that he made the right call by taking the time to think ideas for the next installment through completely, though evidently none of the deep thought thart the finished product shows went into a title (that’s right, no colon, no number, nothing). Quibbles aside, Star Trek Into Darkness is a thrilling, smart, imaginative, and satisfying sequel worthy of its respected namesake.
With introductions out of the way, Into Darkness focuses on telling a great story with a terrific cast of characters. This time around, the crew of the USS Enterprise find themselves on a mission of retribution. After Starfleet officer John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, of Sherlock fame) defects and commits a series of devastating terrorist attacks on Earth, Captain James C. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew travel to a war-zone planet in Klingon territory to capture him so he can face judgment for his crimes, unwittingly playing right into their enemy’s hands. As its title suggests, this Trek is grittier and more intense; the villain, topically, is a vicious terrorist with a murky agenda of his own. Corruption, sacrifice, politics, revenge, and betrayal all play roles in the story, while the darkness of the title also refers to the indecision and fears of the Enterprise’s crew, particularly those of Kirk and Spock. Harrison manipulates the crew into questioning their own morals, giving Into Darkness some added depth that elevates it high above typical sci-fi fare.
All of the characters, not just those two, are really at the core of what makes Into Darkness work. Abrams doesn’t sacrifice character development for action, strengthening the crew’s connections and personalities even as he pits them against unimaginable odds. Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) are struggling to make a relationship work as the story starts out. First Lieutenant Scotty (Simon Pegg) has serious moral quandaries with the Enterprise’s assignment, while Kirk grapples with his failures both as a leader and as a man. It isn’t all doom-and-gloom, however. The witty banter between Kirk and Spock is at an all-time high, and comedy relief characters Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) and Scotty are both terrific in their roles, managing to capture the heart and soul of the Enterprise.
The newcomers are also strong. Cumberbatch is a much more compelling villain than Eric Bana’s bland Romulan in the 2009 Trek, bringing a menacing gravitas and dangerous verve to the physically-imposing Harrison, a super-human with equal penchant for skull-crushing and monologuing (sometimes simultaneously). His scenes alongside Pine and Quinto hum with a nervous energy and are among the film’s best (and without giving any spoilers, die-hard Trekkies may go into hysterics when a great twist halfway through reveals him to be one of the Enterprise’s greatest foes). Pete Weller sinks his teeth into a sizable role as Admiral Marcus, head of Starfleet. Finally, the gorgeous, talented Alice Eve is a great addition to the cast as the admiral’s daughter Carol Marcus, a love interest for Kirk who will hopefully have a larger part in the series’ inevitable third installment.
Abrams’ flair for visuals is used to great effect in Into Darkness; the movie has no shortage of memorable edge-of-your-seat action sequences. Though his trademark shaky-cam and lens flare effects sometimes distract from the action, the geek auteur does a solid job of keeping the film moving and creating some terrific set-pieces. The Enterprise has never looked better, and Abrams’ future Earth, despite the presence of flying cars, is one of the most realistic to hit big screens in recent memory.
Boosted by a terrific villain, fast-paced storyline, and jaw-dropping action sequences, Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the series’ all-time best, entertaining without ever becoming bloated or overlong. It’s the ultimate intergalactic popcorn pleasure. A
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