Star Trek Into Darkness
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Karl Urban, John Cho, Alice Eve, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Peter Weller, Anton Yelchin
How long is Star Trek Into Darkness? 132 minutes.
What is Star Trek Into Darkness rated? PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ and Redundancy
As I was going through the original The Original Series Star Trek movies for my article “Boldly Going…,” one thing I appreciated about them (save for Generations) was that they were all somewhat different. Sure, they dealt with similar issues- aging, revenge, friendship, space, aging- but each movie had its own personality, focus, and themes. JJ Abrams shows himself not one to continue this tradition in the disappointing Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to the 2009 surprise hit and fan favorite Star Trek. Before I get into more depth, I should warn that I will be getting into mild spoiler territory in the final paragraph.
Following the events of Star Trek, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) has been given control of the USS Enterprise but loses his command after he violates the prime directive. At the same time, mysterious, nigh unstoppable, ne’er-do-well John Harrison (a formidable Benedict Cumberbatch) has launched an assault against Starfleet and its top officers. Seeking vengeance, Kirk gets permission (and his chair back) from Head of Starfleet Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to go after Harrison, who is hiding on the Klingon home world of Kronos.
During the first part of the movie, Star Trek Into Darkness broaches some interesting concepts. It introduces Section 31, a covert ops division within Star Trek that existed in Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. After the world-changing events of Nero and the likely possibility of all-out war with the Klingons, showing the darker side of the publicly humanitarian Starfleet gives needed depth to this peacekeeping organization. The truth behind John Harrison initially makes him a more complicated character…if a tad disappointing. Unfortunately, the movie ends up regressing to maniacal villain v. maniacal villain v. the Enterprise. There are a lot of betrayals. Even being mad at a guy who betrays you after you betray him first.
By the end, Star Trek Into Darkness ends up feeling too much like a retread of the first feature without offering anything unique or different stylistically or intellectually. The characters are still likable, Abrams (and crew) knows that we like the characters, and Abrams (and crew) clearly likes the characters. Even Scotty’s little green friend returns. That pleasantness can and does cover up many flaws, even if certain moments dance dangerously close to cutesy and irritating.
Because Star Trek Into Darkness lacks the origin movie aspect of introducing the characters and setting up the universe, it needs something more substantial than pleasant characters and callbacks to its predecessors. Disappointingly, it cannot find them. The movie struggles and fails to establish a decent plot and becomes overly reliant on repetitive action and space battles. Plus, a bizarre dedication at the end gives this relatively light-hearted movie a strange sense that it was trying to make a political statement. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just felt horribly out-of-place.
To be fair, Star Trek Into Darkness is very impressive visually. I saw it in IMAX, and it’s one of the best IMAX presentations I’ve seen. If this, Prometheus, and Avatar are any indication, IMAX is meant for space. The format never looks better than when presenting brightly colored planets or the open expanses of the cosmos. A scene of the still underutilized Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) and Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve playing Kirk’s future baby mama) alone on a planetoid trying to disarm a torpedo is terrific in large part due to how large and desolate the landscape looked, which the giant screen made more powerful.
The movie also has some creative and satisfying action sequences. A crashing Enterprise losing gravity excellently plays around with the physics of the situation. Other bits probably foreshadow what we can expect from JJ Abrams’ Star Wars, albeit in good ways. The phaser battle on the Klingon home world of Kronos and the mid-warp laser fight between the Enterprise and the USS Vengeance definitely bode well for our return trip to a galaxy far, far away. Bizarrely enough, the best and most exciting of these sequences occurs at the very beginning as a surveying mission on a pre-warp planet goes wrong. It’s also the most classic Trek bit of both movies.
Regrettably, the movie becomes too overloaded with these moments. While a giant closing action set piece is to be expected in blockbusters, Star Trek Into Darkness spends much of its third act leaping from action sequence to action sequence. Once it hits the climax, I counted at least five distinct ones that come virtually right after the other. They lose their effectiveness and become less clever as the film progresses, and it only contributes to the sense that the filmmakers did not bother to come up with an adequate-enough story. It even takes away from the film’s only attempt at emotional resonance. And this is where the spoilers come in.
Late in the film, the movie tries to pull on the heartstrings by paying homage to what would probably be considered the most emotionally powerful moment in the entire Star Trek franchise. In this instance, the redo fails on several levels and possibly elicits the exact opposite reaction that it’s supposed to. The original moment in question is earned after spending years watching these characters grow together- not a movie and a half. Just because it happened before, doesn’t mean you inherit the entire backstory when you do it again. Maybe because I recently marathoned the Star Trek movies my ear is more attuned to it, but whole bits of dialogue and intonation are ripped off completely from the scene in question. When you’re inviting the audience to sing along, it significantly undercuts the drama and seems played for comedy instead. At least they waited several years to show the impact of Checkov’s phaser during the first go-around.