Despite having been released in countries across the universe (well, world) to enthusiastic response, Paramount refused to screen Star Trek Into Darkness
press deadlines. (We revisited
some Star Trek
flops.) Critic AP Kryza deems it worth the wait.
Critic's Grade: B
When J.J. Abrams took over the Star Trek
universe back in 2009, he managed the impossible by taking decades of mythology that had been pored over by rabid fans for light years and boiling it down to something accessible to everyone, whether they knew a tribble was an intergalactic space hairball or thought it was the switch next to "bass" on the USS Enterprise
's radio dial.
Abrams' Trek was a hyperkinetic, rowdy, ass-whomping blast of smartass banter, an intergalactic globetrotting adventure that managed to please the fans while hitting reset on a franchise that, in the mainstream at least, was more synonymous with phaser-equipped geezers than slick young 'uns blasting their way through the galaxy. Moreover, it united fans of Star Trek and Star Wars under the banner of awesome (something Abrams will have another chance to do when he puts on his George Lucas hat and goes to helm a new galaxy far, far away).
In his second outing in Trek's captain's chair, Abrams hammers down on the throttle right in the opening, when we find Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) getting all Raiders of the Lost Ark on a distant planet, where they're being chased by primitive, clay-painted natives while Spock (Zachary Quinto) dives deep into a volcano in order to prevent an apocalyptic eruption. It's a whiz-bang opener that starts in the middle of a chase and reintroduces us to a likable crew that includes Zoe Saldana's Uhura and Simon Pegg's hysterical Scotty.
It's a ballsy move, opening with such a colorful and exciting set piece, and the film keeps up its sprightly spirit by following up the scene with a tail-chasing Kirk in a threesome with two tail-having alien babes before getting into a goofy argument with Spock. For a while, it seems like we're in for a pretty light ride.
Ah, but this is the second film in the rebooted franchise, which is traditionally the "dark" one (as if the title didn't allude to that), and things go sour with the arrival of British gem Benedict Cumberbatch, who launches a one-man war of terror on Starfleet before taking refuge in an isolated section of the planet Klingon, with which Earth is on the precipice of war. Naturally, a pissed-off Kirk heads out for some righteous retribution.
As with much of founder Gene Roddenberry's work, there are echos of current political sentiments spattered throughout Into Darkness, from Kirk's blindly guided quest for retribution for innocent lives lost to an attack on London that closely mirrors 9/11. As a result, the film tends to slow down considerably when the phasers aren't firing and the characters unleash cookie-cutter debates on duty and morality.
Also slowing the film is its fairly claustrophobic setting. Whereas the 2009 film spent its time on various planets and facing numerous alien forces, most of the action of Into Darkness is confined to the corridors of the Enterprise, eventually giving a sense of cabin fever that's effective during a Silence of the Lambs-esque interrogation with Cumberbatch (who is obviously harboring a pretty amazing secret about his past), but eventually feels suffocating in scenes that are intended to be lighter.
Still, the cast alone could elevate even the dourest of settings. Pine brings the requisite swagger and cockiness to the role made famous (and famously parodied) by William Shatner, while Quinto's Spock manages multiple layers of humor, stoicism, intellect and badassery (yes, Spock gets to beat some ass). Pegg is perfect in the comic relief role of the put-upon engineer, while Anton Yelchin chomps hard on every W as the Russian rookie Chekov.
But it's Cumberbatch who, unsurprisingly, steals the show at the mysterious villain, a highly intelligent superhuman who is as effective wielding a rail gun as he is toying with minds. The actor, a superstar across the pond for his charismatic role in Sherlock, slips into the skin of a snake with ease, wrapping his tongue around each snarled threat with a calculated menace that could well make him the summer's villain to beat.
Into Darkness can't match the verve of Abrams' first outing, but it eclipses it in terms of character development and humor. That's no small feat for a director taking on such a beloved franchise and amping it into a blockbuster summer action extravaganza. Missteps aside, Abrams boldly goes where no Trekkie would ever dare by beaming in a wider audience to the cult of Trek—luring viewers in with the spectacle but keeping them salivating by pulling back preconceptions to reveal real humanity.