It’s difficult to write about what makes Star Trek Into Darkness such a fun movie without spoiling it. But rest assured: this is a ton of fun, and—if you’re willing to accept the Abrams reboot-a-verse—a validation that this new incarnation of the Star Trek franchise is a worthy successor to what’s come before.
The action picks up not too long after we last left Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise crew at the end of the 2009 reboot. They’re out in space, stirring up trouble, getting into danger, trying to save civilizations while upholding the Prime Directive… mostly. As you may know from the previews you’ve seen, eventually Kirk goes up against a bad guy named John Harrison, here played by the masterful Benedict Cumberbatch. Suffice it to say, Cumberbatch does his role justice, and makes his character both menacing and memorable. As Harrison’s story unfolds, you can’t help but sympathize with his cause…and also want to see him get what’s coming to him. Simply put, he’s a great villain.
In reprising their roles from the 2009 film, the cast who play the Enterprise crew continue to impress with their performances. Now that they’re not concerned with convincing viewers that they’re the new Scotty, Chekov, McCoy, and the rest, it’s fun to just watch them inhabit their characters and play in the universe into which they’ve been unleashed. This is all the more impressive considering how quickly the action moves in Into Darkness, since there are only a few moments before they have to lurch to the side, shaken by an explosion.
On the flipside, if you weren’t a fan of the Star Trek: 90210-stylings from Abrams’ last outing, it’s unlikely that you’ll be won over this time around. If you’re a believer in the new universe, it’s easy enough to accept that we’re watching the crew of the Enterprise—and, oh look! They’re getting into another explosion-filled laser battle.
Speaking of explosions and laser battles, the visual aesthetics of this film are top notch. It’s impossible not to be impressed by the slickness of the sets, props, and effects. And most of the action sequences are engaging and tense, with a real sense of excitement and danger, particularly in the last third of the movie. If there’s one thing Abrams knows how to do, it’s to make his audience sweat.
But the movie’s not perfect. It’s tough to say whether or not the way it hews to Star Trek lore is a strength or a weakness. Longtime fans may see some of the twists coming, while other twists are a surprise for the simple fact that they were included at all. Some Trekkers may say, “did I like that because it reminded me of the Star Trek I used to watch? Or because I actually liked it?”
Star Trek Into Darkness is very much of its time, when action movies include super heroes as a matter of course, and the science-fiction genre has gone from niche to mainstream. This is what a Star Trek movie has to look like in 2013. The slower, thoughtful pace of the classic show and the four series that came after it won’t work on the big screen—at least not in any way that would prove successful for Paramount’s bottom line or for audiences’ attention spans. That’s okay, though, because whether this film is called Star Trek or not, it’s a fast and fun sci-fi action movie that isn’t dumb. And considering some of the movies that come out these days, “not dumb” is already miles ahead of the competition.
Overall, Into Darkness is both filled with tons of fan-service and is also solid enough of a movie to stand on its own merits. Once again, though, the ways it stacks up against its predecessors may wind up justifying it, or being its downfall. It all goes back to that first question at the top of this review: are you okay living in a world with a rebooted Star Trek movie franchise? If so, then you’ll probably dig Into Darkness a ton. If the last film didn’t get you, it’s doubtful this one will either. But that’s probably because you hate change and things that are fun. The good news is that all those old shows and movies are still out there, waiting for you to watch them and love them. Into Darkness doesn’t diminish them a bit. In many ways, it proves how great they were in the first place, especially considering how much minutiae and detail has been mined from the old stuff to find its way here.
But then, why bother, right? If it was so good the first time, why take another tour this time around? Because Abrams and his screenwriting team, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof, have found a way to bring the franchise’s best bits to a wide audience, and make it a ton of fun in the process.
Best of all, Into Darkness succeeds in bringing one of the most important aspects of Star Trek back into the spotlight: ideas and ideals. The 2009 reboot was a great way to tell an origin story, and definitely set up the makings of a strong cinematic franchise. But other than “friendship is great,” it didn’t say much about anything.
Here, however, we’re treated to a movie that seeks to prove what humanity is capable of—both great good and terrible villainy. It asks questions about the nature of exploration, the importance of justice versus vengeance, and what it means to be human (whether your ears are pointy or not).
Sure, the ideas are easy to lose in a hail of phaser blasts and lens flares. This is not the most sophisticated movie around by a longshot. You’ve got to watch one of the five TV series for the really great examples of Star Trek at its best.
But for a solid, fun, tightly written space adventure? Kirk and Spock, friends again on the big screen? Sleek, retro-futuristic space ships duking it out in the blackness of space? Don’t hesitate to boldly head Into Darkness.