Movie Review: ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto in Star Trek Into Darkness
Chris Pine is Kirk and Zachary Quinto is Spock in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Reviewed by Ian Forbes

It’s not a really well kept secret what J.J. Abrams and company were planning to do with the sequel to their successful reboot of the Star Trek movie franchise. If there’s one movie in the canon that stands out and has engendered both more parody and more devotion than any of the others in the series, it’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

I won’t go spoiling what elements have been kept, what were changed, and what went out the airlock door. Suffice to say, if you know that film, you’re going to connect to a lot of what’s on display here in Star Trek Into Darkness. There are also a number of other references to the universe that Gene Roddenberry created which fans of the original series will pick up on. However, once again, Abrams and the screenwriters have managed to make a movie that doesn’t rely on audiences knowing any of those previous works.

Like the reboot in 2009, all of the information one needs to know is on the screen. Trekkies will either be delighted to see certain elements touched upon or frustrated at how they were included, but for the large majority of the audience which will undoubtedly stuff theaters this weekend, being relatively new to the material won’t decrease the entertainment factor. And if there’s one thing J.J. Abrams knows how to do, it’s to create an entertaining blockbuster.

Perhaps it stems from his hero worship of Steven Spielberg, or simply being a product of a generation that saw the summer blockbuster develop into a genre of its own (in large part due to Spielberg and films of his like Jaws). But whatever the reason, Abrams understands the basic beats necessary to keep audiences engaged and does just enough development to make the characters relatable but shuns the notion of stopping the action so much that it creates a disconnect. To be blunt, his filmmaking is simple, direct, and aimed at a broad demographic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that but this isn’t the kind of intimate storytelling that cries out for attention when the awards season hits.

With the second installment in the new timeline established by the reboot, the crew of the USS Enterprise are tasked once again with beating what seem like insurmountable odds. To that end, Abrams has managed to do something very few franchises manage to do: make the sophomore effort better than the first. It’s just one of many, many, many parallels between this and The Wrath of Khan but the reason for it is immediately obvious. Whereas 2009’s reboot was an origin story, none of that exposition is needed here. The crew literally hits the ground running from the start and if it weren’t for so many wonderful chairs for people to sit in, it’s likely the movie would have just kept going and going like some battery-powered bunny.

The returning cast have all settled into their roles and are still just as fun to watch as they were 4 years ago. The newcomers are welcome additions as well. Alice Eve is anything but hard on the eyes, Peter Weller was both Buckaroo f’ing Banzai and Robocop for Pete’s sake, and Benedict Cumberbatch has been killing it as the new Sherlock Holmes on BBC. Cumberbatch especially shines here, not simply because he has the most screen-time of the three, but because he does such a wonderful job of creating characters that are so driven and focused that they become obsessed with their goals; exhibiting both a disciplined physicality and keen intellect in the process.

To no surprise, if there’s a downfall to giving Abrams a director’s chair, it’s his pathological fascination with lens flares. Simply for giggles and because I’m that kind of guy, I took in a handheld counter and clicked off whenever a new shot contained a lens flare. Somehow that figure here is 293 … TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY-THREE!

Star Trek Into Darkness Lens Flare Count
See, I really did count!

Still, aside from that quirk to his style, I enjoyed every minute of Star Trek Into Darkness. Some of the homages were a bit too on-the-mark but the production value, the cast, and even Michael Giacchino’s incessant score kept the pace moving and the two-plus hours zoomed by at warp speed (ow, my side!). This is exactly what I want out of a big budget film event and taken at that level, this is one of the few sure-fire hits of 2013. You can even watch this in 3D if you like. Sure, it’s a 3D conversion and you certainly don’t need it, but it’s one of the better conversions so it’s not a complete waste of your money. Unless you have an axe to grind with how the Star Trek universe has been re-sculpted by Abrams, look down upon these popcorn friendly blockbusters, or just can’t stand sci-fi movies, you’ll find this second trip on the new Enterprise a lot of fun. Sometimes, that’s all you need.


Star Trek Into Darkness opens in theaters on May 16, 2013 and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.

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