The 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness, directed by J.J. Abrams and starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Benedict Cumberbatch, is the sequel to the very well received 2009 film Star Trek (also directed by Abrams). This science fiction action movie is also the twelfth installment in the beloved Star Trek franchise. Pine and Quinto reprise their roles as Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock, respectively, while Cumberbatch takes on the role of the film's villain, John Harrison aka Khan.
The movie begins with Captain Kirk violating the Prime Directive by revealing the USS Enterprise to the primitive civilisation of the planet Nibiru so as to save Spock from the inside of an erupting volcano. Kirk is demoted as punishment and Admiral Pike is reinstated as the commander of the Enterprise. Pike almost immediately makes Kirk his first officer. The pair then attend an emergency meeting at Starfleet Command to plan the hunt for former Starfleet special agent John Harrison, who has perpetrated an attack on a secret installation in London. Harrison, flying a gunship, attacks the meeting room, killing Pike before Kirk shoots him down. He escapes from the striken gunship, via portable transporter, to the Klingon homeworld of Kronos. The rest of the movie consists of the Enterprise, once again under Kirk's command, hunting Harrison down.
This hunt is drawn out by a narrative overly replete with easter eggs, intense action sequences, and plot twist after plot twist. The easter eggs, including uniforms and dialogue, are too numerous to integrate seemlessly with the film, instead becoming overwhelming at times and serving to distract the viewer's attention. The action sequences, while enjoyable, climactic and impressively well executed, also serve to exhaust the viewer with their shear numbers and are only tenuously held together by the plot. Lastly, the vast majority of the plot twists (which nonetheless make the movie stronger, so I won't be revealing them) seem utterly pointless and transform an initially straight forward story into a complex maze with needless turns that have no lasting impact other than the cheap surprise of the reveal.
For all the narrative issues, the actors are on the whole compelling. Chris Pine delivers a very human Kirk, different enough from Shatner in sincerity to be interesting, and Zachary Quinto's depature from the traditional Vulcan in his portrayal of Spock once again gives the story the emotional back drop it needs. Benedict Cumberbatch is a particularly compelling villain, playing an ice cold and ruthless Khan excellently by mixing condescension with a biting acidity. Finally the supporting actors, especially Karl Urban as a truly inspired Dr "Bones" McCoy, do more than seems possible with so few lines between them, lightening the movie's drama and truly fleshing out the Star Trek universe.
Overall, Star Trek Into Darkness seems exactly like a paler version of the 2009 Star Trek. Many of the elements in the two movies are easily comparable. The space battles between the USS Enterprise and the USS Vengeance are not as appealing as those between the Enterprise/USS Kelvin and the immense Romulan Narada. The dark mystery surrounding Khan is not as powerful as the destructive ability of red matter to summon black holes. Kirk and Khan's space jump from the Enterprise to the USS Vengeance is not as interesting as the jump down to the planet-cracking Romulan drill performed by Kirk and Sulu. Running, Indian Jones style, from a primitive tribe of aliens on Nibiru is not as gripping a sequence as running from a massive, red spidery creature on the frozen surface of Delta Vega. Perhaps the single most different and interesting sequence takes place at the very beginning of the movie, when Spock is lowered into Nibiru's erupting volcano and is surrounded by a swirling sea of lava, which he then neutralises with a cold fusion device. Apart from a very brief encounter with the Klingons later on, the movie clearly misses many opportunities to introduce innovative narrative elements.
Though J. J. Abram offers up the expected amazing visual spectacle, it is not enough to make up for his movie's flaws, namely a cripplingly weak screenplay. Instead of producing a great film, the efforts of all the talented people involved with this movie managed to produce a movie that is just good enough to go see. Watch it with low expectations, accept it for what it is, and simply lie back to wait for the next Star Trek with crossed fingers.
"There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves. Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that's not who we are... When Christopher Pike first gave me his ship, he had me recite the Captain's Oath. Words I didn't appreciate at the time. But now I see them as a call for us to remember who we once were and who we must be again. And those words: Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before."
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