By Gary Dowell
The latest entry into the long-running Star Trek franchise finds the series still boldly going, though not quite where no one has gone before. When the reboot movie Star Trek was released in 2009, it re-invigorated the franchise and left its future wide open; Star Trek Into Darkness sees it backtrack a bit to recover what some may consider hallowed ground.
The gist of it — and that’s really all that can be provided without spoiling the plot — is this: Shortly after the previous film, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is relieved of command of the Enterprise after violating the Federation’s sacrosanct Prime Directive. Almost immediately after, rogue Starfleet officer John Harrison (Sherlock‘s sublime Benedict Cumberbatch) commits a series of brazen attacks on Starfleet in their own backyard. Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) reinstates Kirk’s command and sends the crew of the Enterprise on a mission to kill Harrison.
This is the arguably the film series’ biggest departure to date, and it’s not the only one of many in STID that are likely to divide fans. Abrams’ take is a more militant take that is out of step with Roddenberry’s shiny, optimistic vision of the future, one that sets up a moral quagmire for the crew. It’s no coincidence either; substitute the super-secret photon torpedoes with drone strikes and the Enterprise‘s incursion into Klingon-controlled space with the black op that bagged Bin Laden, and you have roughly a post-9/11 allegory.
Which is not to say it’s an overbearing message movie; his is a megaplex morality play with an emphasis on action and adventure, not the science fiction version of Zero Dark Thirty with lens flares instead of night-vision POV shots. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof keep the emphasis on the characters, carrying on with the crew’s growing pains and clash of egos — though it often retreads the character beats from the previous installment: Kirk is still arrogant and cocky, Spock (Zachary Quinto) still has anger issues, he and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) still have relationship problems, McCoy (Karl Urban) is still cranky, Sulu (John Cho) is still stoic, Scotty (Simon Pegg) is still the comedy relief, and Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) is still underused. They haven’t quite established the level of repartee of the original cast, but this is such a fine collection of performers with chemistry to spare.
For the most part the rest of the cast fares well, also. Cumberbatch is chilling as Harrison, a man who always seems to be in utter control of his surroundings, even when imprisoned, and the actor brings the combination of eloquence and ruthlessness so often found in a classic Trek villain. Weller follows close on his heels as Marcus, a crusty officer with a few dark secrets. Alice Eve is largely in the background as the admiral’s daughter and Kirk’s underdeveloped love interest, Dr. Carol Marcus; one gets the feeling she’s there just to establish the character for later installments
Like its predecessor, Into Darkness is fast-paced almost to the point of frenzied; which makes its only real flaw all the more pronounced. An adrenaline-fueled race across the cosmos full of space battles, shoot-outs, betrayal, and startling revelations, it concludes with an anti-climactic brawl where the story began.
It’s a whimper of a conclusion for a movie with a lot of bang. Nevertheless, the movie as a whole stands as one of the best Trek movies to date, and as one of the summer’s must-sees.