Star Trek: Into Darkness (Review)

Contains spoilers.
(I may be rushing this slightly; blame Shakespeare).


It’s time for the second installment of the rebooted Star Trek film series!  I’ve never been a major fan of Star Trek, residing on the Doctor Who side of the inter-nerd fan rivalry, though I’ve seen a couple of the original films (the first two, I think).  Brilliantly brought back to life in 2009 by J. J. Abrams, I highly enjoyed the first film.  Into Darkness mostly continues this trend, though it has its flaws.

I really liked the opening sequence.  This is a confident film to so casually open with the crew engaged in a deadly mission on a primitive planet to stop a volcano erupting.  It adds little to the overall plot, but I enjoyed the spectacle of this alien planet, Spock inside the volcano, and the Enterprise emerging from the sea.

The 2009 film has been both praised and criticised for the complexity of its plot, featuring time travel and alternative timelines.  I personally liked this style of storytelling, but I’m glad Into Darkness has gone for a more linear narrative this time, or the series would have been in danger of suffering from the same repetitive ‘timey-wimeyness’ as recent Doctor Who.  Instead the story is given a much smaller and intimate scale.  Where the first featured a genocidal maniac with an insatiable desire for revenge, here we’re dealing with John Harrison – revealed to be Khan – trying to save his race of advanced humans.  The threat is never larger than acts of terrorism or the crew of the Enterprise, which feels appropriate given the climate we live in today.  There is the looming possibility of war with the Klingons, but this plot thread is never given a great deal of attention and never feels particularly credible; the Klingons existed purely to serve as nonhuman cannon fodder for Kahn, which is questionable morals from the writers if nothing else.   Being new to Star Trek, I’d have liked to see more of the Klingons, who were rather wasted.

This is definitely one of those films with a structure which changes and adapts through the film as events progress, rather than having one arc stretch throughout it.  This isn’t a criticism by any means, and the plot only once or twice seemed to slow and lose its direction – at around the middle.  I’ve seen the film criticised as predictable, but there were bits which did genuinely shock me – such as Kirk’s death, which cleverly mirrored events in 1982’s The Wrath of Khan (a death behind a glass window, Spock and Kirk’s hand gesture and, of course, “KKKAHHAAAAANNNNN!!!!”) leaving me wondering whether his death would be final.  In the end it is reversed as part of the “Spock and Kirk saving each others’ lives” subplot which, while I enjoyed, felt a bit needlessly dragged out.  Into Darknessalso acts nicely as a transition from the introductions of the first film to the missions of exploration seen in the original television series.  Will the next film, if it’s made, be set during the course of these missions?

The characters continue to be brilliantly portrayed by the younger cast who, from what I’ve seen, are doing a remarkable job of bringing life to the originals.  Zachary Quinto, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban do particularly good jobs as Spock, Checkov, Scottie and “Bones” McCoy.  I’m not entirely convinced by Chris Pine’s performance as Kirk, however.  He’s a good actor, but his youthful portrayal doesn’t seem to have the gravitas I feel Kirk should have at this point.  It worked for the first film, but here where he is captain I feel he should look a bit more experienced.  Among the best performances was undoubtedly Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan, who brought such an incredible presence to the role.  His interactions with the other characters were among my favourite parts of the film.  Alice Eve was also good as Dr. Marcus – I can see why the film has been criticised for having an antiquated view of women, though I mostly disagree.  Sure, this particular character was a bit useless, but she was a scientist, not a soldier.  Uhura proves one of the most capable characters on the crew, in complete contrast!  We even saw Leonard Nimoy back as spock which, while serving as a nice return, really didn’t have a purpose.  We don’t need to be told that Khan is dangerous; Cumberbatch’s performance does that well enough on its own.

J. J. Abrams has reaffirmed his position as the King of science-fiction in his direction for this film.  Every location is brilliantly created, the futuristic cities feeling especially real and convincing.  The actions scenes are completely under his control – often in blockbusters action scenes can become messy and confusing, but in this film they were always easy to follow.   The scenes on the Enterprise where the gravity-system failed were thrillingly directed and left me on the edge of my seat until the characters had reached safety.

Overall, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a very commendable film and a worthy addition to the franchise.  I wouldn’t rate it quite as highly as the first addition to the rebooted series, but it comes close.  It is at its heart a blockbuster which, try as it might, never quite escapes from the stereotypes of the genre, but does rise to become the best entertainment a blockbuster is capable of.  Essentially, a very solid film.

Final rating: 8.5/10