STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Movie Review
“To boldly go where no man has gone before”. The classic line that would open the original Star Trek series took on a new form when it provided a fitting end to J.J. Abrams’ cinematic reboot four years ago. It was no longer just a quotable phrase that surmised the adventures of the USS Enterprise; it also reflected the ambitious new territory to which the soon-to-be Star Wars director took the franchise. After all, what once only appealed to a niche of science fiction fans became a thrilling, entertaining and surprisingly cool universal phenomenon with the 2009 film. It’s a shame, however, that the phrase cannot apply to its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness.
The film opens with a spectacular scene that excellently reintroduces us to the cinematic universe of Star Trek. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) leads his crew – including Spock (Zachary Quinto), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Bones (Karl Urban) – on a dangerous mission at a visually breathtaking tribal planet. Though simply there to explore, they ultimately attempt to prevent an erupting volcano from engulfing its population in a set piece filled with the same outstanding blend of imagery, humor and emotion that made its predecessor a roaring success.
The plot of Star Trek Into Darkness begins to take shape in the wake of this mission, catapulting us from this beautifully designed landscape to a futuristic London where the enigmatic John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) executes a terrorist attack against Star Fleet. The attack sets off a revenge-driven manhunt across the galaxy to kill the man responsible, one that threatens to ignite war with the Klingon race.
It’s here that Into Darkness (a title with no relation to the story, by the way) sadly descends into painfully middle-of-the-road science fiction. As their quest takes flight, the script strips away almost everything there was to love about J.J. Abrams’ take on the franchise four years ago. The scope, for starters, is significantly smaller here with the majority of the action resigned to one or two locations after the film’s opening act. Similarly, the high stakes, which made the former so thrilling, cannot be found here. The threat of a Klingon war, for instance, barely registers seeing as we meet the species for no longer than a minute.
What’s worse is that Into Darkness has almost entirely lost the humanistic, character-driven approach that gave this Star Trek a new mass appeal. None of the characters in the script – penned by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof – are allowed a chance to develop. The place at which they found themselves as the credits of 2009’s film rolled are, for the most part, where they stay for the entirety of its sequel. New introductions to the universe such as Alice Eve‘s Dr. Carol Marcus, on the other hand, don’t even serve a purpose – well, at least beyond taking her clothes off in an embarrassingly contrived and sexist scene.
Because of the writers’ disinterest in their characters watching them is incredibly dull. Some might argue that it’s unnecessary seeing as the first film did such a good job of establishing them and Into Darkness should instead focus solely on the action. But, on the contrary, many of the set pieces are un-engaging for precisely that reason. Action is only compelling if you’re invested in the characters and their stories – and that is certainly not the case here. The ensemble tries hard to give them life – Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg and Chris Pine in particular are excellent in their portrayals – but it’s ultimately hopeless with what little the actors are given.
None are wasted in quite as extraordinarily disappointing fashion as Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison though. With the Sherlock star’s slimy demeanor, cold stare and sonorous delivery – not to mention the speculation that has surrounded his identity – he has all the makings of a classic villain. Nevertheless, in spite of being repeatedly told throughout the movie what a terrifying force of nature he could be, Harrison is surprisingly tame. The script simply doesn’t provide a payoff worthy of the hype that has engulfed it. He rarely feels like a threat, he’s missing from the most of the film’s set pieces, and in fact spends most of Into Darkness in custody.
Thankfully, J.J. Abrams’ skilled hand at the genre saves Into Darkness from totally crash landing. Unsurprisingly for the man who accepted the Star Wars VII chair, a role which carries such expectation that it could destroy even the most acclaimed filmmaker’s career, he handles the task with aplomb. Be it a tender moment between Kirk and Spock or an eye-popping money shot of a spaceship hurtling through a city, he pulls it off with an almost clinical ease.
But in spite of his talent, Star Trek Into Darkness amounts to little more than an unexceptional and ultimately forgettable bit of escapism – and that simply isn’t enough for a franchise of this caliber handled by a team with such prestige. There’s no excuse for it to be this lackluster and this obvious. It’s a conventional set-up that plays out in a familiar, often clichéd fashion. Gone are the thrills, the suspense, the laughs and the powerful punch that breathed new life into the reboot – that boldly went where no Star Trek had gone before.