I have allowed time for Star Trek Into Darkness to settle both in hype and in my mind before embarking on a review of the film. It has been quite some time since I’ve reviewed a newer, well known movie. Like many others I was surprised at the quality and adrenaline behind the 2009 reboot, and eagerly awaited the news announcing the sequel. With Into Darkness announced and rumors flying every which-way, expectations were ramped up to 11. News broke that Benedict Cumberbatch would be playing the villain, which gave fans of the BBC modern take on Sherlock Holmes something to cheer about; myself included. The rampant hype monster created a bubble of expectations that didn’t stand any chance of not being popped for quite a few people, while simply being slightly underwhelming for others. All that to say, however, Into Darkness proves to be one of the highlights of action cinema in the last few years, offering elements of space opera and over the top action sequences using the likeable and interesting characters we’ve come to love over the decades of Trek history.
The long and the short of the plot is this: Kirk is irresponsible and Loses the enterprise. A terrorist attacks and flees, Kirk is given the Enterprise back to hunt him down. Everyone has secrets and discusses why they think they’re morally in the right and the other party is in the wrong. Basically, we’re treated to a couple hours of Kirk trying to figure out right and wrong with emotions flaring. As simplistic as that synopsis is, it’s an apt description of the action that unfolds on screen. The characters make idiotically poor decisions, physics is often times thrown out the window and the “what is morality” undertones become overbearing speeches at times. There are more than enough criticisms of the film floating around but I think there are a few key points that need to be acknowledged, starting with the fact that we’re dealing with Star Trek here, a franchise that has a less than stellar record for quality material.
Yes, less than stellar, but not by much. The current cast of characters is the same we had with The Original Series, a cast that had more than a one poorly executed film under their belt. When Star Trek fails, it fails because it’s boring; conversely when it succeeds it succeeds not only because it’s exciting, but because it allows ideas and concepts to permeate the plot, giving viewers an intelligent and thought provoking science fiction flick. While Into Darkness certainly had some believability issues (The Enterprise resting at the bottom of the ocean and then simply emerging with no problem, for instance) it never falls into the boring territory and it explores the issue of morality and emotion far more openly than most action films would dare to: albeit with a somewhat shallow conclusion.
The cast and the men and women they portray have become endearing to us. We know Kirk and Spock despite the fact that they’re being portrayed by different actors than TOS. It’s a blast to see such high production value behind a Trek film, and it’s nice to have a cast capable of carrying the weight of probably the most action packed Star Trek movie yet. Karl Urban once again proves his chops as a thoroughly proficient character actor, I’m increasingly interested in movies that he lends his talent to. Lens flares aside, the whole thing is polished and shiny, giving us a much needed Space Opera.
*Minor spoilers about the villain’s name which for some reason was a big fat secret*
What detracted from this film was the hype, particularly surrounding Cumberbatch’s character. Everyone involved with the movie insisted that he was not playing Khan. it was rumored that he was, and then those rumors were vehemently denied. Those denials turned out to be outright lies. I mean, I get that you want it to be a surprise, but to lie with a straight face about the movie you’re making to the press and consequently the entire audience is a poor move to make. They could have given Khan a shiny new name and it would have been just as good a movie. The problem was the desire for that recognizability, taking one of the most well known Trek villains and thinking that the name alone would be enough to add an extra amount of awe and respect from the fanboys. Instead people were upset about his ethnicity and the deception behind the villain, all while the we were being told that it was to be a performance for the ages. Not to detract from Cumberbatch, but had his voice not been as naturally deep, Khan would have been far less intimidating.
*End of the kind of Spoilers but not really giving any of the plot away section*
Trek is held to an unprecedented standard, a standard that is confusing, due to the track record of the films. Given just a little bit of leeway, Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun and slightly more thought provoking sci-fi adventure. It doesn’t exceed the level that 2009’s rendition managed to achieve, but it does manage to be a perfectly adequate sequel. All in all, the second chapter in this reboot has managed to live up to most of the hype, despite how much of it there was.