“Star Trek Into Darkness” Movie Review


     Imagine being director J.J. Abrams right now.  Having successfully revived the stagnant “Star Trek” franchise after it was considered dead for nearly 8 years, he now has been given the reigns to the “Star Wars” franchise as well with “Star Wars: Episode 7” due out Summer 2015.  One man responsible for both of the most storied Science Fiction franchises in film and television history?  If that’s not enough, he has found a way to sneak in a sequel to his successful 2009 “Star Trek” reboot with “Star Trek Into Darkness” while he begins work on “Star Wars”.  If the results here are any indication of what’s to come with “Star Wars”, then I can safely say that franchise is in capable hands.  But today, we’re here to talk about “Star Trek Into Darkness”, which has a mountain to climb with the fans who will inevitably compare this entry to the best of the Trek films, “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn”.

     “Darkness” wastes no time in getting itself going.  In fact, Abrams sequel may be the most action packed of all of the Trek films, which usually use dialogue driven scenes to move the story forward.  In “Darkness”, we are immediately treated to a sequence where Kirk (Chris Pine) and McCoy (Karl Urban) are running for their lives in a pink and red forrest on an unknown planet.  They are being chased by a primitive tribe of alien life, who presumably lives on the planet and are likely a distraction to what Spock (Zachary Quinto) is trying to do.  The planet is in danger of being obliterated by an active volcano and the Enterprise crew are there to insert a device into the volcano that in theory will neutralize it.  With Abrams shot of our two heroes running toward the camera, followed closely by the pursuing tribe, it immediately conjured up the same image at the beginning of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.  Perhaps a homage to Abrams’ mentor Steven Spielberg.

     Decisions are made by Kirk that go against Star Fleet regulations and he is stripped of his command.  No sooner is Kirk and the rest of his crew reassigned, a terrorist attack occurs in London and the suspect is found to be a rogue Star Fleet Officer named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Soon after the London incident, Star Fleet headquarters is attacked with casualties to many of the higher command.  The lone surviving commander, Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), authorizes Kirk and his Enterprise crew to go after Harrison after it is found he is hiding near the Klingon planet Kronos. 

     This sets forth a number of events and plot twists which Abrams and his writing team have carefully meshed with what occurred in the 1967 “Star Trek” television series episode “Space Seed” as well as “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn”.  The events on screen in “Darkness” would take place in the timeline before both, which makes the backstory they have come up with all the more interesting, if not complicated.  Like all fanboy films of this kind, Abrams most important task was to come up with something that would please those who will question the continuity between this story, the television series, and the previous features.  On that accord, (since I would be one of those people) I feel he has succeeded.  In addition, Abrams has to entertain the masses who are too young to have seen either the 1967 television episode or the 1982 film.  Again, there is no question Abrams knows how to appeal to his biggest audience as “Darkness” delivers plenty of jaw dropping action set pieces that rival any of the best in all of Star Trek’s history.  One of the more creative scenes has two of the film’s characters free falling in space from one starship to another, attempting to fly through a hatch only a few meters wide.  Kudos to Abrams for creating a way to entertain without the use if the typical Trek space battle scenes.

     One of the best aspects of “Darkness” is its ability to ensure each of the main characters has their moments on screen. For this type of film to work, you have to invest in these characters, so when their fate is determined, an emotional response is triggered. You’d expect Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to have plenty of banter between them and many of these scenes provide a much needed dose of humor in what is largely a very serious in tone film.  Scotty (Simon Pegg) shines during key plot sequences in a way I haven’t seen the character do since “Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home” (almost as good as “There be whales in here Captain!”, but not quite).  Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) play lesser roles, but are still present in key scenes.

     The introduction of future Kirk squeeze Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) makes you think about what is to come for her character in “Star Trek 2”.  I thought her inclusion was a nice connection between the films.  As Star Fleet Admirals with dueling agendas, Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) and Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) bring a veteran presence to the proceedings which brings credibility to the otherwise young cast.  Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison has many secrets within his character which I won’t reveal here, but I will say he plays a fine villain and a worthy adversary for Kirk.  Some of the best moments of “Darkness” has both Kirk and Spock separately matching wits against Harrison, with the victor emerging from who can predict the other’s next move first.  Great villains make great heroes and what Harrison becomes sets off a chain of events all Trek fans will appreciate.  GRADE: B+