(Update: This was a review I did for Into Darkness back when it came out. Yes, I’m just as mortified as you that it’s already been three years. With Star Trek Beyond being released tomorrow, it seemed like a good opportunity to share my thoughts on the first two Trek films in this series. I just didn’t feel like writing a brand new post for it. Plus, it’s always interesting as a writer to revisit old material and see how your style and voice has grown. The original review will now commence)
Depending on where you fall in the whole Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate, you may view the upcoming slate of films to be a period of intense competition or a window of rare opportunity. I’m inclined to side with the latter. After all, it’s not every day that the same promising young filmmaker is chosen to helm the two most iconic science fiction franchises in modern history, much less tackle them back-to-back. Myself, I’ve loved Star Wars since the opening credits crawled across my screen for the first time, while I never quite saw the appeal in Star Trek (go ahead Trekkies, have at me). However, J.J. Abrams won me over with his 2009 reboot and I’ve been eagerly anticipating the sequel ever since. As it turns out, my enthusiasm was well-founded. Darkness is my favorite movie of the year so far and now I’m more eager than ever to see what Abrams can accomplish with Star Wars, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it (only 2 more years!). Minor spoilers below.
Darkness picks up more or less where its predecessor left off, joining up with the Enterprise crew in the midst of a scouting mission on an indigenous planet. As always, things go awry and Kirk (Chris Pine) barely saves Spock (Zachary Quinto) from being scorched inside an erupting volcano. It was a high-octane beginning and even though I never thought anybody would die this soon, the dire situation made you feel like Spock might not make it out of this alive, which was neat. Due to his reckless nature and repeated controversial mission outcomes, Kirk is relieved of command of the Enterprise and is replaced by his mentor Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who elects to keep Kirk on as first officer because he “believes in him.” This reunion is short lived, however, as rogue agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) ambushes and kills Pike and several other high ranking members of Starfleet during a meeting concerning… you guessed it, rogue agent John Harrison! Kirk mourns the passing of his good friend, is reinstated as Captain of the Enterprise and is assigned to bring Harrison to justice. Now we have our movie.
To reveal any more plot points would obviously ruin the story for those who haven’t seen this yet, but I will say that Abrams takes some liberties with certain popular Star Trek characters. It’s ironic that this didn’t bother me in the slightest, because if you read my “Iron Man 3” review you know how I felt about how they handled the Mandarin (if you didn’t, read it now!). It’s not as big of an alteration in Darkness, but if you hold Star Trek lore close to your heart then you may be as off-put by this tactic as I was in Iron Man. Even if that’s the case, hopefully you can still appreciate Cumberbatch’s performance, because he absolutely kills it in this one. Literally. He’s menacing, deadly and has a knack for outwitting his adversaries at every turn, which isn’t easy when you’re trying to match wits with a freaking Vulcan. Cumberbatch could play the villain in every movie until the end of time and that would be just fine with me.
That’s not to say that Pine and Quinto were overshadowed and didn’t deliver the goods in their roles, because they most certainly did. Both of them actually surprised me with their range as actors, submitting emotional portrayals of our heroes that surpassed what I thought they were capable of. The camaraderie between Kirk and Spock serves as the heart of the film and it’s nice to see their friendship expand as the story develops. Whereas last time around they started out as reluctant allies who eventually obtained a mutual respect for one another, here they are constantly trying to protect each other from illogical risks and self-sacrifice like every great pair of brothers-in-arms. I’m not embarrassed to admit that there were a couple of scenes that had me tearing up, but thanks to the Mass Effect series I guess I’m just a sucker for dramatic space opera now.
As for the rest of the cast, I thought they all did well with what they were given, especially Simon Pegg as the wise-cracking Scotty. If there is a standout beyond the principle cast though, it is the exhilarating set pieces and exceptionally paced action scenes that constantly take your breath away. I read a couple of reviews where the so-called “film experts” were trashing Darkness for having bland-looking CGI and an excessive amount of lens flare usage, along with other unreasonable gripes. The lens flare thing is likely a personal preference for some (I hardly even noticed it), but are these morons serious? Were they watching the same movie that I was? From my perspective everything looked fantastic, and if you have a chance you should really see this in IMAX, where the audio and visuals are beyond stunning.
There was also some controversy regarding Alice Eve’s character Carol Marcus and the scene where she… ahem… strips down to her undergarments right in front of Kirk. She’s gorgeous and this is a summer popcorn flick, so I really didn’t have a problem with it, particularly when a movie like Fast 6 takes every opportunity it can to zoom in on a group of scantily clad females shaking their asses. That’s not to say that Darkness is without flaws, because there were a few issues I had with it. I thought the ending was a bit rushed, the outcome of the finale was almost unbelievably convenient for those involved and there were a few segments featuring some pretty silly dialogue, all of which sort of ruined the tension of the moment for me. Hopefully those aspects will improve upon subsequent viewings, but they did stand out to me as I was leaving the theater.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” has been out for nearly two weeks now, but if you haven’t gotten around to checking it out yet then I highly recommend you do so. In short, cinematic thrill rides like this one are why we go to the movies in the first place, and I think it’s safe to say that the future of Star Wars is in good hands.
Jesse’s Rating: A-