Film Review – Star Trek Into Darkness
It seemed unlikely, but J.J. Abrams did it when he captured my interest with Star Trek in 2009. For most of my life, I really hadn’t given the franchise much attention. But his combination of a fantastic cast, solid plot, and great action proved to be the perfect combination to win over naysayers and even the most difficult critics. Now, with the release of the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams tackles perhaps his biggest challenge as a director—repeating that success.
Even with all his accolades, there have been a couple large holes in Abrams’s career. #1) Despite being one of the most creative forces working in Hollywood, his career as a director has been almost entirely in franchise movies (the exception being Super 8). Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future this looks to remain unresolved. #2) Despite all of his massive success, he hadn’t previously directed a sequel to one of his own movies and had to deal with the massive expectations that come along with that. Obviously this second question has now been addressed, but ask Christopher Nolan if there is any pressure in repeating success with an audience full of high expectations. Ready or not, here come the lens flares.
Star Trek Into Darkness begins with Starfleet Academy being attacked by John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), an enemy from within. With the motives unclear, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) must lead his crew into a warzone in search of this new force of terror. The film plays very heavily on Abrams’s notion of “the mystery box”; the less you know about it, the more you will enjoy it. This is almost impossible, I know, as the twists of the movie are already out on the internet (and have been for weeks), but much like with M. Night Shyamalan movies, you go to Abrams movies for twists, so I don’t know why you would want to ruin it for yourself.
The two main mysteries in the movie revolve around the new additions, Alice Eve and Benedict Cumberbatch. Abrams once again continues to both try to refresh the series and simultaneously pay homage to its beginnings, with Star Trek Into Darkness being much more heavily influenced by previous Star Trek film history than his first film. This is a difficult tight rope to walk, and this film takes much greater risks than the previous one. Perhaps it is because I’m not a die-hard Trekkie, but I suspect that for most audiences, Abrams has once again given them what they want while also entertaining them in ways they didn’t know they wanted to be. The “twist” that comes from Cumberbatch’s presence and its impact on this universe in contrast to previous canon will largely dictate whether you find this movie incredibly satisfying or incredibly frustrating.
Besides the new additions of Alice Eve and Benedict Cumberbatch, the rest of the phenomenal cast from the original film all return. This time they have the benefit of not needing to set up all the characters, so there is way more character development (heck, Simon Pegg didn’t even enter the last movie until halfway through, if that gives you any sort of sense of perspective). Pine’s Kirk in particular benefits from this, as he is forced to figure out what it truly means to be a leader.
The film definitely has implications towards our world, as it is not about a foreign enemy like the Romulans, Klingon, Borg, etc.—but rather a fight against an individual. Much like now, war is no longer just a geographic battle; it is a philosophical one, and your enemies are not as easily identifiable. The real gem in this is Cumberbatch. While gaining a lot of fanfare for his work in TV’s Sherlock, his film career has been mostly modest supporting roles. This is his first significant chance to shine, as they have made no mystery of the fact that he is the villain, one of the few things the production let out to the media. It isn’t often you seen actors transitioning between playing heroes and villains, and transitioning in such a manner that their characters are simply heroic or villainous; all of them tend to exist in shades of gray.
The scale of the movie is impressive, as it spans many different worlds. Following very much in the same vein as the original Star Wars trilogy, the opening film serves as an introduction to the universe, and the subsequent sequels expand the scale and the action. Despite the scale growing, the film still is very efficiently packaged, with a run time a tad over two hours (just five minutes longer than the original film). One of Abrams’s strongest attributes as a director has been pacing, as he has kept all of his movies consistently moving through their plots (simultaneously earning himself a place in my heart for it). Besides the basic challenges of creating another engaging story, though, Abrams also had a lot more technology issues in this film than in its predecessor. In exchange for letting Abrams film in IMAX, the studio required a 3D post-conversion to be done. While the 3D is fairly well executed, it pales in comparison to the scale of the movie, and I can’t wait for an opportunity to see it in a true IMAX setting.
The one question that will not need to be addressed for the movie is whether it will be a success. That is a foregone conclusion. People can quibble over its place in the history of Star Trek or its reimagining of Star Trek canon, but Abrams once again has created an immensely entertaining film. I fear him getting trapped in the world of big franchises (Star Wars, Star Trek, whatever), but it is hard to argue with success. The movie is good…good enough that I will see it in theaters multiple times, and nowadays that is really saying something.
Final Grade: A