After somewhat reinventing the wheel with Star Trek in 2009 JJ Abrams is back with a sequel, Into Darkness, that continues to both create a new Star Trek for a new generation of fans, while also paying tribute to its origins.
Thematically Star Trek Into Darkness does what all the best Star Trek, and sci-fi in general, does and hold up a mirror to our world today, so, where the original series dealt with issues of race, civil rights and had some post Second World War, pre-Vietnam feelings going for it, Into Darkness takes us into the shades of grey world of terrorism and threat of ‘the other’ while also mining a rich seam of conspiracy fact/fiction.
While it does the reflecting contemporary issues thing, what Abrams has brought to Trek is a new life as a modern blockbuster movie with action and irreverence aplenty. Some Star Trek fans seem to have taken this as a negative step, but, speaking as a huge fan from Kirk to Janeway and back again, for me it has simply brought what seemed to be a dying series back and in a big way.
This can be clearly seen in the film’s opening sequence where Kirk (Chris Pine), McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), still the central trinity of the franchise, discuss the issues surrounding the Prime Directive but, rather than doing it sat in a room on starship as was often the case in the past, they do it trying to escape the primitive culture they run the risk of effecting, while Spock sky dives into a volcano with a cold fusion bomb.
Of the three traditional leads, much like in the 2009 movie, it is Quinto who stands out as he has truly created his own version of the Vulcan that is both clearly the same character as Leonard Nimoy’s iteration but adds something new.
Into Darkness also does something interesting with notion of the half human/half Vulcan, which really had only been hinted at in previous versions, with Spock’s emotions being tested and used like never before as regards both his friendship with Kirk and his relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) – though to say more would lead to some major spoilers.
The other highlight of the film for me was Benedict Cumberbatch’s rogue agent John Harrison, who, while a fairly stereotypical bad guy initially, grows into something more interesting as more is revealed.
Following a slower (but by no means slow) first act introducing us to Harrison, as well as Admiral Marcus, the Enterprise heads out and things don’t let up for an instant until the credits role.
While this makes for an exciting ride that takes us from Starfleet HQ in San Francisco, to Qo’noS (The Klingon homeworld) and back, it is in this fast pace that I find my one major criticism of the movie, and that is that the motive and means of the main antagonist is never really properly explained which gives one section of the big set piece effects and action sequence an oddly unbalanced feel.
Aside from this the only other problem I found was occasionally when putting in elements from the original version of these characters it came across more as spoof or parody than being a genuine part of the character, this was particularly notable in some of McCoy’s lines such as “Dammit Jim I’m a doctor, not a torpedo technician.”
This aside Star Trek Into Darkness continues with Abrams revamped Trek universe excellently and puts a new spin on some old ideas while also being very much its own thing.
With Abrams now heading off to direct the other great Star franchises’ return I hope Paramount can keep up the trend of good Star Trek movies that has been established and not fall back into the even-numbered films are good trait of the originals which had diminished to such a point is was not clear even those were going to be good movies anymore.