Disclaimer: Things that J.J. Abrams wishes to remain sealed in the ‘mystery box‘ are spoiled in the review below. But nothing that isn’t already on the film’s IMDb page.
In the second entry of J.J. Abrams’ interpretation of Star Trek, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the Enterprise are sent to the Klingon planet of Kronos to take out rogue Starfleet agent, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). When he surrenders after easily wiping out a host of Klingons, it is revealed that the Enterprise’s mission isn’t as straightforward as her crew believes.
I like Star Trek, a lot actually, but I have a hard time describing myself as a Trekkie. My exposure is limited to The Original Series, Next Generation, the films, and William Shatner’s glorious documentary, The Captains. What I have seen, with the exception of some of the films, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. That said, I have a deep appreciation for J.J. Abrams’ take on the hugely popular franchise. I found the 2009 film’s cast to be perfect choices for young versions of the original crew. The action set pieces were big and bombastic. Kirk’s journey from street-racing punk to Starfleet hero wasn’t just fitting, but also damn cool.
Star Trek Into Darkness continues the momentum and this time draws heavily from the franchise’s most successful film, The Wrath of Khan, for inspiration. While Cumberbatch is no Ricardo Montalban, he makes the role of the villain his own with his particular brand of iciness. There are some great moments where the earlier film is mirrored and given tribute. The most notable is Zachary Quinto’s Spock howling Khan’s name in grief and rage. Self-referential moments like this were fun. Also fun were Karl Urban and Simon Pegg as Bones and Scotty, respectively, seeing Peter Weller show up as Admiral Marcus, and the way Chris Pine and Quinto handle the banter between Kirk and Spock.
What really makes Star Trek Into Darkness succeed was the writers’ decision to plot the film as a thriller. The story opens with a micro-adventure on an alien planet, then moves from one sweeping action set piece to another while moving the characters’ arcs forward in the time between. Abrams shows his chops as a director, creating shots that best showcase the larger-than-life nature of the players and settings. Even at a hefty two hours and thirteen minutes, the film moves quickly and never seems to drag. Constant complications are thrown into the paths of the heroes as they try to unravel a conspiracy within Starfleet and defeat Khan. It’s a well-worn formula, but when such entertaining results emerge, it’s hard to fault the filmmakers for sticking to what works.
The only real disappointment here is the title, which promises a darkness that is never quite realized over the course of the film. With that aside, the cast is great, the action and effects are truly eye-catching, and the pace is impeccable. Abrams and company have crafted an old-fashioned summer blockbuster that is guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser.
Star Trek Into Darkness is now playing in Philly-area theaters.