(WARNING: SPOILER ALERT! This review assumes that if you’re a Trekker/Trekkie, then you’ve seen this film at least three times already – and if you haven’t, shame on you. The rest of you may scratch your heads and wonder, “What spoilers?” Either way, this post ain’t subtle about plot twists, and you proceed at your own risk. So there!)
Star Trek Into Darkness begins at breakneck speed and keeps the adrenaline running for the length of the film, proving that J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the franchise was no fluke. Where sequels limp, his soars – and after a year of disappointments (I’m looking at you, Skyfall), this film, while far from perfect, is a rousing lurch into a promising summer.
The acting is uniformly excellent. The regular characters, having been established in the Abrams’ original, now fit their respective actors like well-oiled machines. Kirk, Spock and McCoy have started to settle into their familiar relationships with each other; Karl Urban as Bones, in particular, has marvelously channelled his inner DeForest Kelley. The old beats have been picked up nicely by the new actors. But the roles that intrigue the most are the “secondary” characters: Sulu, Uhura, Scotty and Chekov. Since the original series only gave a passing nod to these Starfleet members, the actors inhabiting the rebooted roles have a much broader canvas on which to develop their personalities, and both the actors and the writers have embraced the opportunity to expand on the characters.
There’s a reason that I’m focusing on the acting first. Star Trek is nothing if it isn’t the ideal buddy series. These characters and their interplay are at the core of the Star Trek experience, to the point that they have become iconic in American culture. They need no introduction beyond their names, and a floodgate of memories and perceptions are opened in all of us; this is the reason that Star Trek is universally recognized as the premiere science-fiction series, even surpassing Star Wars. And that is why this movie succeeds. Because the plot, whether brilliant or labored or full of holes, is really only the connecting tissue that allows us to tag along with old friends.
Speaking of plot, you may want to re-watch Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan before you see this film. Darkness is a kind of re-imagined mash-up of the original series’ Space Seed episode and Wrath, with other fan-favorite references thrown in for good measure (my favorite was the reference to the small freight ship the Enterprise seized during “the Mudd incident last year”; the idea that Harry Mudd is lurking around somewhere is quite the tease, and with the late Roger C. Carmel gone, well…anyone think Robin Williams would be terrific as Mudd?). What I find interesting is that Abrams has put his individual stamp on this film while hinting that somehow certain events and situations are destined to occur no matter how much the Star Trek timeline has been changed. Kirk and Khan are mortal enemies, and they are doomed to clash with terrible consequences in any timeline, no matter how striking the differences.
In retrospect, if I have one complaint with this film, it’s that there are just a few too many dire situations that always seem to have that one last-ditch way to overcome disaster, usually involving Star-Trekky gobbledygook to avoid certain doom. Still, the mark of a great movie is its ability to carry you through the film without second-guessing the action as it unfolds, and on that score Star Trek Into Darkness succeeds brilliantly.