Star Trek films have been hit-and-miss over the years. Even with the original cast, led by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, the Trek franchise had a lot of peaks and valleys. This one is a peak, and it corrects most of the flaws from the previous film. The 2009 film was a good action film, but not a good Star Trek film. This film is both. It appeases both people who are looking for slam-bang action, and those of us who loved the deeper nuance of classic Trek.
The story begins with a still-raw Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) commanding the USS Enterprise with his typical reckless, rebellious style. His well-meaning technique of ignore-the-rules-and-follow-your-gut gets him in hot water with Star Fleet command, and he finds himself demoted back to first officer, again subordinate to his former captain Chris Pike (Bruce Greenwood.) However, a new (or perhaps, old) menace rears his sinister head, and before you know it, terrorist bombing are rocking the Earth and several of Star Fleet’s finest are eliminated in an ambush. Kirk is put back in the driver’s seat to catch the man responsible—a former covert agent called John Harrison, (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is now hiding somewhere on the home-world of the Klingons. With the brilliant Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) at his side, Kirk has to risk starting a war by going into enemy territory to capture the bad guy. And what is the real secret of Harrison?
The big question surrounding this film has been whether or not Cumberbatch plays the classic Trek villain Kahn. Well, no spoilers here, except to say that it really doesn’t matter ultimately to the plot. The story doesn’t need that particular extra twist to get where it’s going. It’s not a terribly original plot but it is serviceable and it works here. It has to be said that Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) makes a suitably formidable villain.
This movie proves that director JJ Abrams remembers what he had forgotten in the previous film. One of the issues that many people (myself included) had about Star Trek (2009) was that it retained only the cosmetics of classic Star Trek but not the spirit of it. It reduced a show about ideas to a simple action film. With this sequel, however, Abrams revitalizes the notion of using the Star Trek Universe as a social metaphor to comment on a turbulent period in history. Just as classic Trek was designed by Gene Roddenberry to be a moral commentary on the stormy 1960s, so this newest installment makes observations on our own tempestuous era. Aside from the obvious allusion to terrorism, the film also makes a not-too-subtle condemnation of pro-war hawks in government. It’s good to see Star Trek returning to its roots, and being about something deeper than just dazzling us with action and FX, as the first film did.
JJ Abram’s gives us a Young Guns interpretation of the Enterprise crew, which could easily go askew, but there are enough moments of emotion and characterization here to make up for the silly or frivolous aspects of the crewmen. This sequel does a better job than the previous one of recapturing the Kirk-Spock dynamic, although they do tend to slip into ‘Buddy Cop’ mode once in a while.
This film does a good job of giving all the Enterprise crewmen their moment to shine. Chris Pine is fine as kirk, although the character is written as being less wily and resourceful than the classic Shatner version. He seems to rely more on luck, guts and help from his friends than from pure strategy, as the classic Kirk did. Zachary Quinto once again steals the show with his excellent revision of Mr. Spock, keeping respect for the original version while creating a new, individual interpretation. Some of the rest of the cast seem more interested in doing imitations of the original cast members (Karl Urban, Simon Pegg and Anton Yeltson seem to be doing impressions of their predecessors as McCoy, Scotty and Chekov). However, Zoe Salanda and John Cho manage to do something new and fun with the characters of Uhura and Sulu.
The film does pay homage to classic Trek and even seems to take aspects of earlier films (The Wrath of Kahn, the Undiscovered Country, Insurrection), including an almost shameless recreation of a pivotal scene from Star Trek 2: the Wrath of Kahn. But it’s better to see the new series gushing over the classic franchise, rather than ignoring the heart and soul of it, as the previous film did. This is the best Trek film since First Contact (1996) and one of the most entertaining films of the year so far.
Star Trek Into Darkness gets a 7.5 out of 10.