Movie Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness- A Polished and Entertaining Sequel That Remains Consistent to J.J. Abrams’ Reimagining of a Space Opera Focused Star Trek

star-trek-into-darkness-benedict-cumberbatch-chris-pine1When director J.J. Abrams set out to recreate the beloved Gene Rodenberry television series “Star Trek” into a new cinematic franchise it was clear he didn’t want to be dogmatically chained to the original material as if it were an untouchable gospel, a direction some die hard Trekkie fans found a tad sacrilegious. Setting up a rival timeline of events in his first Star Trek as the foundation within his film universe Abrams opened up the potential creative possibilities of rethinking the origins of the series but riskily teetered on the tightrope that balanced between modern audience accessibility and adored fan homage. The first installment of Star Trek was undeniably entertaining and kinetically exciting despite the fact that the highbrow philosophical humanist reflections of the original series were cheapened for space opera theatrics. This is the same expected fate for J.J. Abrams polished sequel Star Trek: Into Darkness, an energetic action blockbuster with chaos, laughs, and explosions to spare that still has momentary slivers of thin moral reflections on the differences between retribution and genuine justice. Returning screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are joined this time by LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof to construct a more than familiar plotline that may go where numerous other films have gone before but it does the familiar with a spectacularly assured confidence. Though there is some provocative content involving the threat of terrorism and the potential for losing one’s conscience in the face of evil most of that intriguing premise is completely secondary to the immense spectacle of action that fills the screen. Comparing the dissimilarities between the original series and the new franchise would be a daunting task but it’s unnecessary because this is a revision of the universe that keeps faith to the original characters, which is the only element that should have any nitpicky concern. Excessively logical Vulcan criticism might have to be reserved for another time because Star Trek: Into Darkness fulfills most of the skeptical expectations through its nostalgic consistency to provide a mixture of thrilling action, shallow yet relevant contemplation, and an intriguing twist of character role reversals that makes it a summer blockbuster worth venturing.

Star Trek: Into Darkness offers the promise and expectation that this sequel will venture into darker territory, which is a promise that is fulfilled on numerous occasions relating to catastrophic loss and the necessity of sacrifice. Opening up the film is an engaging sequence of high risk and challenging circumstances that involves spear wielding natives and an unstable Volcano that puts the excessive logic of Spock (Zachary Quinto) against the impulsive emotions of Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine).  This clever setup continuing these established characters’ personalities makes for one of the stories more interesting themes where instinct is constantly battling against logic where one is needed more than the other. Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof’s script attempts to combine the expected action bravado of the first installment with a pseudo-intellectual touch as it parades utilitarian sentiments amidst crushingly loud action packed destruction where the action constantly overpowers the slim philosophical presence. However, there is a great deal of thought provoking basics in Star Trek: Into Darkness as the crew of the Starship Enterprise are pitted against a lone terrorist known to them as John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a malevolent and manipulative super soldier intent on the eradication of the inferior. His promise of genuine terror is a guaranteed threat with real impact that is the real strength of the script and inspires some soul-searching darkness in Kirk who feels the vengeful urge to take Harrison down at any cost. The relevancy of terrorism and the moral questions involved with manhunts is the reflective core of this installment of Star Trek where the expediency of action is a temptation over what is morally right in the sense of diplomatic justice. Of course this moral posturing is only clearly focused on throughout the first half of the movie as the second half ventures into familiar territory relating to inside conspiracies and expected paths of vengeance. Though there might be some cliché elements to this Star Trek sequel it still remains witty and engaging on the character front where the chosen challenges ignite their best and worst qualities keeping us engaged in their actions. Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof have provided a familiar but strong script to guide J.J. Abrams slick direction, which is the true highlight of Star Trek: Into Darkness besides the energetically fun performances.


J.J. Abrams gave his reimagining of Star Trek a distinct personality that had futuristic polished sets, clear sweeping cinematography (including the constantly mocked lens flares), and effectively utilized special effects that is effectively repeated in his consistent sequel. His ability to erratically jump from candid humor between his characters to shocking moments of violence or seriousness without splitting his adventurous tone shows a great deal of skill that he is known to deliver. This doesn’t mean that everything is pristine throughout Star Trek: Into Darkness because the film follows a recurring tendency in summer blockbusters to amplify the spectacle of action over every other quality, especially the moments of potential contemplation in this film. Some of the sequences are overwhelming in execution as the relentless bombardment of explosions, laser blasts, and ship destruction in the final space battle seem Michael Bay inspired instead of continuing Abrams’ kinetic action creation in the first intallment. Star Trek: Into Darkness embraces more of the Vulcan element over the human element as the cold technicality overpowers the humanist capability leaving behind a thrilling yet slightly hollow action experience. However, comparing this action blockbuster to others would provide evidence that Abrams knows how to efficiently and effectively deliver rousing entertainment focused on energetic thrills, animated characters, and intense visuals making this worthy sequel one of the better popcorn flicks in recent memory. Everything from Dan Mindel’s glossy cinematography to Michael Giacchino’s audacious score compliment J.J. Abrams adventurous vision of this particular Star Trek reimagining that is more content with finalizing its own origins than staying true to the original series gospel. As sacrilegious as that may seem there are plenty of references, homages, and important storyline connections that Abrams sprinkles throughout the film to keep it appealing to dogmatic Trekkies while staying focused on widening the Star Trek appeal.

All of the iconic characters from Captain Kirk to Spock to Uhura were all effectively portrayed in J.J. Abrams first Star Trek installment and all of the quality actors continue their interpretations here with charm, humor, and moments of surprising complexity. At times some of the characters appear to be amplified caricatures of the original personas, such as Simon Pegg as the tech savvy Scotty or Karl Urban as the exceptionally skeptical Bones, but those moments are few and far between and counteracted by genuine humor and competent delivery. Chris Pine surprises again as the emotionally irregular Captain James T. Kirk and gets to explore the temptations of revenge versus the knowledge of what is right. Without Pine’s dedicated expression of outer emotions than the script’s exploratory explanation of Spock’s inner struggles wouldn’t have hit so successfully. One scene where Kirk expresses how much he’ll miss Spock and Spock’s returned stoic gaze defines their two characters quite well. Much of the development of their two roles is in how Kirk must come to understand Spock’s logic while Spock must come to terms with his confusing inner emotions that he chooses to ignore. The real praise should go to Zachary Quinto who embodies Spock with a calculating logic and containment of emotions that eventually explode in a deserving tribute to the original series that is also quite powerful. But our heroes are only as good as the story’s villain and the always-captivating Benedict Cumberbatch delivers with a perfect amount of dark passion and frightening unpredictability that drives the entire momentum of the film. Cumberbatch’s consistent poise mixed with his detached ambivalence gives his villainous intentions a promise of sincerity, especially when the film enters the moral grey area of making deals with this obvious monster. The cast of Star Trek: Into Darkness follow through on their expectations from the first installment and though some of the characters received a bit more attention than others their performances were engaging, light hearted, and appropriately in line with J.J. Abrams’ vision.


Most of the criticisms relating to J.J. Abrams disregard for the gospel of Gene Rodenberry’s original television series were already launched with his introduction to the new Star Trek conception in the first film released four years ago so any expectation that it would change this time around was a tad misguided. Instead, Abrams delivers on his initial promise to recreate a Star Trek universe that is mostly focused on adventurous action rather than cerebral science-fiction reflection. Though there are some minor moments of philosophical pondering and moral posturing Star Trek: Into Darkness only really offers intense visual special effects, exhilarating thrills, and animated performances (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof all offer some intriguing twists on the role reversals of Kirk and Spock as well as borrowing a known plotline from the original series that will either please or anger some dedicated fans. Star Trek: Into Darkness often resides in more familiar territory but is definitely a well polished, efficiently made action machine that has some minor personality and poses some interesting questions. As summer blockbuster experiences go there are infinitely worse choices and despite J.J. Abrams changing up a beloved origin he still has enough respect for it to keep it embedded in his new construction. While teetering on the tightrope between modern audience accessibility and adored fan homage Abrams has definitely drifted more towards the accessible but it still remains an engaging and entertaining space opera adventure.

Grade: B

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