Thrilling if not exactly groundbreaking fun
“Star Trek: Into Darkness is a terrific, action packed space adventure, surely the kind of film for which the term “summer blockbuster” was meant. Like many sequels, it is essentially more of the same fun that satiated trekkers and non-trekkers alike, and that made 2009’s re-boot such a monstrous hit.
But it isn’t just nitpicking to say something is missing this time around. Director J.J. Abrams returns and delivers a thrilling story with some nice twists and one particularly noteworthy reveal – which won’t be spoiled here. But this second installment lacks the originality and freshness of the first film. Even Abrams’ trademarked “lens flares” wear out their welcome early on.
It could also be argued the frenzied pace of “Into Darkness” squashes the character focus that made the TV series so beloved. That may not matter to most of the audiences that marvel at a film that zips from one crisis to the next with skill and technical acumen, but it should.
Speaking of technical skill, “Into Darkness” has a 15-20 minute prologue set on a faraway planet where a volcano threatens its primitive inhabitants, and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise must violate some galactic provisions in order to neutralize the threat. It is a terrific, colorful opening that contains action, life or death peril, humor, heroic sacrifice, cool new aliens, and a never-seen-that-before moment for our favorite starship. It is also arguably the best scene in the whole movie because it doesn’t rely on past references, nor does it try hard to please everybody.
Still, “Into Darkness” has plenty to cheer about. All the main cast members return, and leads Chris Pine as playboy captain James T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto as the Vulcan Dr. Spock are settling in nicely to their roles. The new characters include Benedict Cumberbatch as villain John Harrison, Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus, and Alice Eve as a beautiful weapons specialist Carol. Bruce Greenwood has a particularly effective cameo as Admiral Pike – and the film could have benefited from more of the Kirk-Pike chemistry. Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) all return and are either underused or predictably used – reminding again how their introductions in the first film were a big part of the enjoyment.
Klingons show up briefly, and one emotional scene—depending on your perspective—is either a creative homage to 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (arguably the best of the previous films until the re-boot), or a blasphemous recreation.
If you were put into cryo-freeze and the last film you had seen was the aforementioned “Khan” and you woke up to watch “Into Darkness” you might be blown away by the film’s great special effects and breakneck speed. You also might have wondered why the character development and heartfelt relationships and dialogue had vanished.
Sure, sequels are a challenge, especially coming on the heels of an uber-successful first chapter. It may sound like a broken record, but “The Empire Strikes Back” remains a benchmark for taking what is beloved and finding new and creative ways to thrill both the heart and mind.
Take note, Mr. Abrams.
Rated PG-13 for science-fiction action and violence.