STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Review

When I walked into 2009's Star Trek I'd never seen anything prior that had anything to do with the beloved television series and the several movies it spawned. I grew up a child of the 90's and was first introduced to Star Wars and simply stuck with it as by that point Trek had grown into the Patrick Stewart/Next Generation series that was by all accounts, beyond me. Still, walking into J.J. Abrams re-booted take on the Trek franchise with no idea what to expect, no pre-conceived notions of the characters, or any idea what the story might revolve around I was pleasantly surprised to learn how accessible it was and how much I enjoyed it. I didn't know if the original series had ever taken the time to tell the origins of the crew that made up the Enterprise but I assumed if they had it was not to the depth this film did. That due to this it would be extremely exciting for fans of the original series to be able to see some of their favorite characters in the younger stages of their lives and for those that were new to the world it would serve as a fitting introduction to everyone. Between that film and the now second installment in Abrams series, Star Trek Into Darkness, I still have yet to dig into anything more that exists in the Star Trek canon. In many ways it simply feels like too daunting a task to try and catch up on nearly fifty years of material while on the other hand I wanted to be able to experience these films made in my day and age as fresh experiences with no notion of what should happen and why, but instead a willingness to see where these new adventures take us and maybe catch up on the backstory sometime down the road where it will be just as fascinating for me to see where these characters eventually go as it was for long time fans to see where they came from. So, this is not a review from a guy who caught all of the references or understood all of the inside jokes that likely took place, but instead I offer the point of view of someone who very much enjoyed the 2009 film and was eagerly awaiting (and hoping) the sequel would follow the series' main proclamation of going boldly where no man has gone before.

From left: Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Bones (Karl Urban), and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine)
inspect missiles given to the Enterprise by Carol's father, Admiral Marcus.
While that hope may not have been completely fulfilled by Abrams follow-up he still seems to have accomplished, or at the very least, have the ideals to try and push the boundaries of this series in new directions while running the risk of offending some of the more devoted fans. It is necessary to change and evolve though and I think it is a gutsy move to not necessarily follow the steps that the majority expects you to take, but rather to take what has been laid out before and mess with the mythology in a way that might ultimately add more weight to other entries in the series while still delivering a very entertaining and well thought out sequel that matches if not exceeds the experience of the first film. I completely expected for the film to be simply set-up as Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) along with the rest of their crew going on the next space adventure as the first film had set them all up so well in their positions and ready to explore. Instead, the film begins with a nice setpiece that while not as emotionally heavy as the first film sets up an interesting conflict between our two leads that results in Kirk being demoted to Commander and Spock being transferred to another ship. That is of course until a mysterious man under the name John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) begins acting out seemingly random acts of terrorism for reasons that we are led to believe put him along the lines of Javier Bardem's Silva from Skyfall, but once Kirk and his crew are given permission to chase down Harrison after he escapes to Kronos, the home of the Klingon's who apparently have an imminent war with the humans brewing. It is at the point that the Enterprise comes upon Kronos that the plot becomes more convoluted, but not necessarily mangled. I was able to follow the events with ease as the script expertly sets up how one thing leads to the next while placing each member of the crew where they need to be and utilizing their set of skills to further the story, the only issue with it is that it doesn't necessarily all hold up once you've exited the theater and start discussing the film.

While I'm not one to get hung up on inconsistencies with how things necessarily happen to have certain plot points become possible (the aforementioned Skyfall and even The Dark Knight are full of plot holes that could be questioned) as it simply gets in the way of enjoying the overall effect the film has on you. Especially when the characters are appealing as they are here and the dialogue and banter between them all is so witty and genuinely funny. Abrams and his team of writers (Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci, and Damon Lindelof) again do a fine job of managing the ensemble cast as each of them get at least one moment to shine if not being slightly shortchanged overall. The greatest offense to this is Zoe Saldana's Uhura as she plays into the leads a bit more than the others seeing as she is in a relationship with Spock and while the movie sets up a lovers spat between the two of them this is all but absent during the last half of the film, as is Uhura. Still, even as I think back on it they were able to have Saldana, along with Karl Urban as Bones (serving somewhat as comic relief), Anton Yelchin as Checkov, John Cho as Sulu and especially Simon Pegg as Scotty in predicaments where they are allowed to contribute to the conflict at large while never making it feel as if they are being pandered to because everyone deserves a little attention. The film has a breakneck speed of a pace that has the two hours flying by and while jumping from one large set piece to the next doesn't always necessarily translate to a story with equal spectacle Abrams has such a gift for setting up the action sequences in a way that add weight to them while having at the center the characters we come to know so well that we care all the more about the after affect it deals them. In that regard, Pine and Quinto are the heart of the film and deliver performances that stand as much more confident and assured than their first time around.

Spock (Zachary Quinto), and Kirk interrogate John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) after they take him prisoner. 
What I found to be most engaging about the film though was that not only does it have compelling characters and an adventurous story that is all beautifully shot with plenty of lens flares (get over it!) and has another stellar soundtrack from long-time Abrams collaborator Michael Giacchino, but it also offers an interesting commentary on real world issues and genuine human complexities as I'm told the original Star Trek series always did. From the beginning their is the issue of Kirk disobeying the "prime directive" and not thinking logically as he exposes a primitive culture to his starship in order to save Spock, while Spock argues with the actions that saved his life because he is only able to think in terms of logic. This throughline of wrestling with moral and ethical decisions and what actions to take is reiterated several times in the film by having Cumberbatch's villain become a somewhat mirror image of our main protagonist. There is even a gray area in the middle of the film where we as an audience are made to question the alliance of Cumberbatch's character and whether or not he is in the wrong or if his story, as he tells it, is completely true which portrays Starfleet's  Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) as an envious, power hungry man who will take advantage of whomever to get to where he wants to be. There are evils in both sides and the story asks us to make the decisions as much as it does our main characters and while the conversations between Spock and Kirk are always ripe and precisely delivered by the actors playing them we don't always agree with them and more than usual this allows for us to become engaged with the decisions that are ultimately made and explains why these films that could have just as easily created enormous backlash have been engaged by the public so successfully. The characters have always been well liked and when placed in situations that are relevant to the current audience cloaked in futuristic garb and spaceships it is all the more fun to watch and all the more interesting to experience. Star Trek Into Darkness may have a few faults here and there and may not hold up as well as it should, but it is a fun, dazzling, suspenseful, and enjoyable film that also wants to be about something. I don't know about you, but I'll take that as a win.