Star Trek Into Darkness Review

As I think I’ve said previously, I thoroughly enjoyed J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot, which was not only a good action movie all by itself, but took great steps to explain why it didn’t disregard the past half-century of Trek lore. In part, if it wasn’t for that film, I wouldn’t have been interested in getting into Trek as a whole.

With that in mind, I can confidently say that, knowing more about Trek–particularly the original series–I can confidently say that this is still a nice exploration on what a younger TOS crew would be like, as well as a rather good and enjoyable action film. Terrific acting, gorgeous visuals, and a overall strong story help make this movie work and bring back some of the social commentary that a lot of people thought was missing from the last film.

So, here’s the story: after violating the Prime Directive–the First Rule of Starfleet which states that  personnel are not to interfere with the natural development of a civilization for any reason–in order to save Spock (Zachary Quinto), who attempted to stop an active volcano from exploding to save a primitive civilization (which also violates the Directive, as someone points out later), Kirk (Chris Pine) is called back to Earth and stripped of his command, with the Enterprise being given back to Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) with Kirk as his first officer and Spock reassigned to the U.S.S. Bradbury. Meanwhile in London, the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) offers to save the dying child of a grieving couple (Noel Clarke and Nazneen Contractor) if the husband, who works in a Starfleet archive facility, does something for him. What he tells him to do and what that sets off brings to mind a crazy conspiracy involving Klingons, top-secret weaponry and a conspiracy stretching deep within Starfleet.

A whole lot goes down in this movie, which probably explains why its a little over 2 hours long. Unlike the first film, this one is steeped in Trek lore, as screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof give us Klingons, some iconic visuals, and even Tribbles along with some subtext that heavily points at the Iraq War and drone strikes (Alyssa Rosenberg explores this in much better detail than I could, but beware: spoilers) in a way that makes this feel a little bit smarter than the average blockbuster and even smarter than the last film, which is what a Trek movie should do.

The screenplay, by and large, gets it all right, although there are some character choices made that had me and my more knowledgeable Trekkie friend I saw this with going “Huh?” But hey, at the end of the day, you should be grateful that Orci & Kurtzman remembered that they can write well when not working under Michael Bay and that Lindelof didn’t had some lame reveal like he kept doing to Lost over and over again.

Abrams’ direction is as bombastic as ever and incredibly visually exciting–the action scenes are not only coherent, which is something 90% of action movies don’t know how to do, but well-staged–but there are some bits that are a little confusing. And yes, Abrams’ love of the lens flare is particularly irksome here, especially given how shiny and bright all the stuff we see here IS already.

The cast is uniformly great. Pine embodies the best aspects of Shatner while bringing his own to this headstrong Kirk, Quinto has upped everything about Spock this time around and is better than ever, Karl Urban is hilarious and awesome as McCoy, Zoe Saldana actually gives Uhura depth (and they even gave her the microphone earpiece this time!), Simon Pegg’s Scotty is funnier and cleverer…I could go on. But the real star here is Cumberbatch as Harrison. He owns every single second of screentime he has. He’s a remarkably compelling presence and gives such huge dramatic weight both to Harrison and his true nature, as well as how he plays off the rest of the cast. This film, along with the Julian Assange movie he’s going to be in this fall, his role as Smaug in the next Hobbit film, and the return of Sherlock to television screens this year should make 2013 his breakout year.

So overall, this is a great addition to Trek, a great film in its own right and a wonderful way to kick off summer movie season (read that last bit as: I still haven’t seen Iron Man 3). Check it out. It’s worth it.

P.S. One thing that’s always bugged me about this Trek alternate universe: we’ve gotten so LITTLE of it. I mean, honestly, we’ve got the 2 films, the tie-in novelizations, the recent video game (which apparently is garbage) an ongoing comic and…that’s it. Isn’t that weird? I mean, as my friend and I talked about, there were toys, games, dolls, books and all sorts of stuff for all the TV shows. Why aren’t we getting that now? I mean, what the heck, Paramount? I know this is due to Bad Robot saying they wanted this way but…c’mon.

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