'Star Trek Into Darkness' review: Fun, exciting (if derivative) 'Trek'
The 2009 'Star Trek' film is arguably the greatest reboot in movie history and 'Into Darkness' further explores this new alternate 'Trek' timeline, discovering exciting and accessible new takes on familiar, beloved franchise lore.
In short: Capt. Kirk leads the manhunt for a vengeful terrorist who has attacked Starfleet Headquarters- a man who is intent on making Starfleet pay for its sins. (watch the trailer)
'Star Trek Into Darkness' is the next logical step after the 2009 film. It not only builds upon the concept of a new 'Trek' timeline, but it never loses the energy or incredible character dynamic from the Abrams' reboot.
The centerpiece of 'Into Darkness' is Benedict Cumberbatch's menacing performance as rogue Starfleet Commander John Harrison. Although it's initially difficult to imagine how just one man can pose a significant threat to the entire Federation and Starfleet, it's Cumberbatch's ever threatening gaze and cerebral character that embodies a man who is simultaneously tragic as he is incredibly dangerous. Harrison proves himself superior to Kirk and Spock at every turn - and Cumberbatch commands every scene he is in.
Much like the 2009 film, 'Into Darkness' keeps the Kirk-Spock relationship front and center. The peculiar, but deep friendship between the brash captain and logic-bound officer isn't simply a space version of 'The Odd Couple'- their often-contradictory dynamic not only entertains but also pushes the narrative forward. This sequel begins by quickly pointing out the flaws of Kirk's recklessness and Spock's strict adherence to Starfleet protocol. From this beginning these two characters are able to evolve and affect each other’s character arcs.
Even as the Enterprise faces a powerful terrorist, Klingons and a war monger, it is the Kirk-Spock dynamic that advances the narrative forward. These two opposites rarely agree on a course of action, however, action is always taken.
On a technical level, 'Into Darkness' is a film that should be viewed in 3D and IMAX 3D if at all possible. Several sequences and set pieces - notably the space jump from the Enterprise - take full advantage of the IMAX scale and exploit the immersive 3D experience.
Although the overall story is entertaining, certain elements and characters feel like they were somewhat shoehorned into the plot, leaving a sense that 'Into Darkness' is merely following familiar beats from previous 'Star Trek' stories. 'Into Darkness' is incredibly derivative of previous 'Star Trek' stories, down to some very familiar pieces of dialogue and story beats. Some narrative arcs (except with some slight tweaks) are repurposed wholesale from previous episodes and films, leaving 'Into Darkness' feeling like it was assembled from past 'Trek' stories.
One of the strengths of the 2009 reboot was how well balanced the plot was in allowing each crewmember of the Enterprise to contribute to the adventure. However, its sequel marginalizes all but Kirk and Spock for the most part. Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Dr. McCoy and especially Chekov have incredibly reduced roles this time around. Although all Enterprise crewmembers have small scenes integral to the plot, most of the crew has been relegated to the background while Kirk, Spock and Harrison take center stage.
The secondary villain feels very thin in contrast to Kirk, Spock and Harrison. This is unfortunate, since a more fleshed out tertiary main character could have added a more fulfilling depth to the story - however, this secondary villain is very one note.
While the main characters are amazing, 'Into Darkness' has a first act that takes its time in unraveling a mystery - and the ultimate resolution is incredibly abrupt. The entirety of the third act is one breath-taking sequence after another galvanized by powerful character decisions - then the final action sequence jarringly brings the film to its anticlimactic conclusion. This resolution feels like a safety move for future sequels, however, in doing so, it pulls back from allowing 'Into Darkness' a truly exciting ending.
Final verdict: Abrams continues to master the formula of introducing classic 'Trek' lore to the general masses in an exciting new way while touching upon classic 'Trek' moments. Absolute must-see on the big screen.