Star Trek Into Darkness Review
by Daniel Rester
J.J. Abrams’ 2009 update of Star Trek revitalized the film series, based on the series of the same name created by Gene Roddenberry. The director somehow found a way to satisfy (most) Trekkies and newcomers — providing key Trek ideas whilst also giving the series a new sense of discovery and making it accessible to non-diehards. Now, following the 2009 Trek, comes Abrams’ next entry: Star Trek Into Darkness.
Darkness brings back Chris Pine (as James Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (as Spock), along with the rest of the stellar cast. Joining them this time is the popular British actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch is the latest Brit to join the British-actors-playing-all-bad-guys-nowadays club (just take a look at a lot of recent blockbusters). He stars as John Harrison, a mysterious fellow who gives the crew of the Enterprise a run for their money – and proves to be a more interesting villain than Nero (Eric Bana) in the previous film. Harrison is a terrorist with a past and a plan, destroying buildings on Earth that connect to Starfleet. After Harrison flees to Kronos (the home world of the Klingons), it is up to Kirk and his crew to track him down. I’ll stop right there so as to not spoil anything.
Darkness lacks much of the sense of newness and fresh awe that marked the 2009 reboot. That said, the sequel is still an amazing film – and perhaps even better. After opening with a colorful and slam-bang action sequence, the film quickly establishes an interesting story that connects to Starfleet Command and provides a few twists and turns (some predictable, others surprising). It also provides traction by having a terrific villain and keeping the core relationships in a developmental stage. Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof’s (all previous collaborators with Abrams) script is smart in such a way. It also has a lot of humorous and emotional moments.
Such moments are perfectly delivered by a game cast. Pine is still solid as the risk-taking Kirk, making him both hot-tempered and human. Quinto is again remarkable as Spock, still showing the inner conflict that the half-Vulcan has. Even with a straight face most of the time, Quinto allows audiences to see things through eye glances and movements; it’s a great performance. The character does become a bit too superhuman at some moments, but they are passable.
The rest of the Enterprise group is also pleasing. Simon Pegg (as Scotty) and Anton Yelchin (as Chekov) are pretty accent-heavy at times, but do well-enough. And Alice Eve (as newcomer-character Carol) and Zoe Saldana (as Uhura) provide some good female power to the screen. The best of the supporting players for the Enterprise, though, are John Cho (as Sulu) and Karl Urban (as Bones). This is especially true of Urban, who delivers deadpan humor expertly. (Bruce Greenwood and Peter Weller are also welcome as two Starfleet admirals.).
Cumberbatch is very entertaining and nearly scene-steals as Harrison. The actor delivers the right amount of coldness to the villainous character, never going over-the-top (well, almost) but instead often underplaying to great effect. He has piercing looks and a deep and pronounced voice, adding to the flavor of the performance. This is once again a case where a memorable villain can add a lot to a film — as Harrison is no cookie-cutter villain, but more on the iconic side.
Abrams again handles everything with true skill. The man is really a dynamo when it comes to both telling a story and presenting things visually. Never leaving qualities of the script or actors behind, Abrams provides a breakneck pace and plenty of going-ons. The director too often emphasizes the life-or-death punctuation marks in scenes, but such a move is allowable because he also never lets the film ever be boring. Abrams — aided immeasurably by cinematographer Daniel Mindel, production designer Scott Chamblis, and editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey — delivers a diegesis and form that are both consistently sleek and exciting, providing a number of standout action scenes along the way (including a human “skydive” between two spaceships and a breathless hand-to-hand fight). The visual effects, makeup, and costume contributors all deserve credit for helping add so much to the film as well, as does Michael Giacchino for once again adding a soaring music score to the mix. (The 3D really isn’t bad, either.).
I’m no Trekkie by any means, having only seen bits and pieces of the show and movies. So, I can’t really say how the 2009 Trek or Darkness fully compares to the past material; talk to a Trekker for that. I’ve heard that Abrams has made some mistakes and has alienated some fans with his new films. But he also pleased many others – so he obviously hasn’t committed a full betrayal. Because of this, I see both films as being successful as a whole, inviting everyone to the fun. And don’t miss out on that fun, either, because Trek was a great reboot and it is now joined by a great sequel.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).