Review: Where one film has gone before
Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 6:16 p.m.
There's an easy formula to determine if you will like “Star Trek Into Darkness”: Your likelihood of enjoying the movie is inversely proportional to how familiar you are with and, more importantly, how attached you are to what's come before in the Star Trek universe.
‘Star Trek Into Darkness'
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe
Saldana and Benedict Cumberbatch
Those audience members who are post-reboot converts or casual fans will likely get their money's worth, as the movie is solidly entertaining and exciting on a superficial level. As was the case with 2009's “Star Trek,” the direction is solid, the plot moves at a good clip and the acting is mostly good (Karl Urban and Simon Pegg do the best job as Dr. McCoy and Scotty, respectively).
However, longtime Trek devotees will likely come away disappointed (again) because “Into Darkness,” like its predecessor, seems to have been made by people who don't really understand what gives Star Trek its lasting appeal. Where the old Star Trek movies and shows embraced character depth, big scientific ideas and a proudly utopian viewpoint, these new films opt instead for generic (albeit well-executed) sci-fi action, hackneyed personalities and the now-standard “grim and gritty” blockbuster mentality.
The movie begins with a sequence involving the Enterprise crew trying to save a primitive species on a backwater planet from an impending volcanic eruption. In many ways, it's the best part of the movie; having seen in the reboot how the crew came together, we now get to see them doing the sort of things that benevolent space explorers are supposed to do.
There's a fun foot chase, some derring-do in the heart of the volcano, even some decent jokes that don't involve references to old Star Trek material. The sequence even includes a (brief) discussion of the value of the Prime Directive — Starfleet crews are not supposed to interfere with the development of primitive cultures — which is the movie's sole attempt at tackling the sort of big ideas that used to be at the series' core.
But immediately after this episode is over, the movie regresses. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is once again reprimanded for taking an unacceptable risk and loses his command. Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto) once again get into a tiff over Kirk's preference for action vs. Spock's insistence on logic. And once again, there's an attack on Starfleet that, by contrivance, places Kirk back in command of the only vessel that can stop the imminent threat. It's one thing to borrow bits and pieces from earlier franchise lore, but these plot points are lifted straight from the four-year-old reboot.
From there the movie spins off into a messy conspiracy involving a seemingly superhuman terrorist played by Benedict Cumberbatch (giving his character's name would spoil a key plot point) and how he fits into a seemingly inevitable war between the Federation and the Klingons (who are quickly introduced and just as quickly dismissed; a rather contemptuous way to treat one of the franchise's key figures). There's also some business about Kirk learning to be a better captain and some “topical” material about judicial due process and the rules of waging war, but it's all kiddie-pool shallow and in no way infuses the movie with any deeper significance.
Even the big reveal of who Cumberbatch's character really is comes off as more of a stunt than a significant twist, and once the reveal is complete, he's not left with much to do that's particularly interesting. These flaws are exacerbated by Pine's flat acting in the lead role and the writers' continued insistence on recycling old catchphrases and dialogue to the point where they're devoid of any value.
These criticisms may well come off as fanboy moaning and complaining. For casual fans, “Into Darkness” is a slick, well-made blockbuster (the 3-D is even pretty good), and aside from the script there's nothing really actively “bad” about it. But those who want something with a little more substance may want to avoid this trek into darkness.