2009’s big screen Star Trek reboot was a success on just about all fronts thanks to director J.J. Abrams and friends’ delivery of an exciting and entertaining adventure that managed to overcome large script flaws with personality, fun and a real sense of energy. It was a hit with audiences and critics alike and left many people genuinely interested in a follow-up.
Four years later and Star Trek Into Darkness is finally here, but instead of taking that time to strengthen the area of their first film’s biggest weakness (the script) they’ve actually made things worse. Fresh faces, dazzling lens flares and witty one-liners were enough to distract before, but this time the script’s egregious efforts to pillage the past for story ideas and even lift whole scenes has resulted in a hollow shell of a film that thinks ticking recognizable boxes is a valid substitute for earned emotion and engaging narrative.
After a brief pre-title card scene on a primitive alien planet where the Prime Directive is seemingly redefined, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his pointy-eared second in command Spock (Zachary Quinto) are called before Admiral Pike for punishment. Kirk is demoted, but when a terrorist attack in London leads to a deadly assault on Starfleet headquarters he’s quickly de-demoted and sent after the suspect, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Himself a member of Starfleet, Harrison has gone rogue for reasons unknown, but when the Enterprise follows him to a Klingon planet the truth is revealed and endangers everyone aboard.
Abrams, along with writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof have collectively brought back some of the good and bad from 2009, but they also reach their lazy hands into the pockets of the past to steal under the guise of homage. Plot details will be avoided here, but for all the logical inconsistencies within know that the script’s single biggest issue is its wholesale (and wholly unnecessary) theft of previous Star Trek lore deemed valuable for familiarity alone. Abrams and his partners in crime mistakenly believe that certain singular elements have recognizable value absent any of the legwork or effort exerted by their predecessors. They expect emotional payoff where there is no investment.
While the script deserves most of the scorn Abrams does the film few favors himself. Too many of the action scenes are marred by jumbled and confused editing, and he seems incapable of corralling the film into a central narrative theme. Even his beloved and unsurprisingly omnipresent lens flares get the best of him to the point that Alice Eve‘s single dramatic scene sees her face interrupted and half-covered with one.
The whole crew returns for a second go around, but while the relationship between Kirk and Spock remains the necessary focus too many of the others are given short shrift. Bones (Karl Urban) brings some laughs, but his dialogue consists almost entirely of bitching and moaning. Scotty (Simon Pegg) has the opposite problem as he’s given things to do, but they come packaged with mostly failed attempts at humor. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) has relationship troubles that go nowhere, Chekov (Anton Yelchin) tries to get the warp drive working and Sulu (John Cho) gets to sit in the Captain’s chair. It’s understood that these are secondary characters, but the thrill of discovery and the shared chemistry of the first film is distilled down to little more than catch-phrases and “funny” exchanges here.
That would be fine if the main relationship carried anything more than the most basic weight or if their character arcs felt natural instead of forced, but neither is the case. While Kirk is meant to learn responsibility and Spock is being schooled in embracing his humanity, both lessons are shoehorned into a storyline that leaves little room for creativity or earned emotion. The two lead actors do fine work regardless with Quinto in particular delivering an impressively balanced performance.
There is some good to be found on this voyage elsewhere as well, including Michael Giacchino‘s rousing score that elevates the pulse just as well as the visuals. Speaking of which, the effects are sharp throughout with a certain third act crash landing (glimpsed in the trailers) offering the partial destruction of San Francisco in gorgeous detail. (The 3D adds nothing to the proceedings, though.) The script’s only strengths come through in the crew interactions and banter enlivened by a talented cast including the always welcome Bruce Greenwood and Peter Weller. And often rough editing aside, there are some thrilling sequences including Harrison’s meeting with the Klingons and a fight scene atop a ship flying above the city streets.
Star Trek Into Darkness appears to be successful summer fare in that it requires little thought and rewards forgiving viewers with some laughs, thrills and spectacle. It’s true success however is in the fact that two of those things are little more than tricks of the light.
The Upside: Some fun interactions between crew members; Benedict Cumberbatch gives great villain; third act brawl between Cumberbatch’s character and a good guy is exciting
The Downside: Recycled storyline to the point of insult; wasted characters; complete lack of tension or suspense; half-assed story theme; messy action editing; the death of the one outweighs the deaths of the many; 3D offers nothing
On the Side: James Doohan’s (the original Scotty) son, Christopher, has a cameo as a transport room officer.