Directed by J. J. Abrams, written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, & Damon Lindelof, starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, John Cho, and Benedict Cumberbatch - Rated PG-13
The Kurgan knows about darkness...just look at the guy.
J. J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise a few years ago, and it caused a rift in the fan base. Because it was popular and action-heavy, many die-hard fans cried foul and claimed that Abrams had essentially turned Star Trek into Star Wars. Now that Abrams has been announced to make the new Star Wars films, it seems obvious that he was trying to make Star Wars all along. I’m fine with that, as I thought the 2009 Trek movie was one of the most entertaining films of that year. Star Trek Into Darkness is no different. If you liked Abrams’s first film, then you’ll love this one. If you felt that he ruined Star Trek, well, you’ll think that even more this time around.
Darkness continues the tradition of sci-fi franchises making things a bit grimmer for the second film, but don’t let the title fool you; this is still a very fun movie. The banter between all of the crew members is as funny as ever. The amusing dialogue, from a script by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof, makes what could be bland expository scenes come to life. Anytime Kirk (Chris Pine) is talking to Spock (Zachary Quinto), it’s as good as an action scene. Add Karl Urban’s pitch-perfect DeForest Kelley impression as Bones and you have what could essentially be a comedy in between all of the action scenes.
Of course, that amount of comedy in a Trek film could bother the fans. This is not to say that Trek is a humorless property (just watch the old films, especially The Voyage Home), but this new version just seems so much funnier.
The comedy is juxtaposed with a very serious terrorism plot. The film has been shrouded in secrecy leading up to its release so I won’t spoil anything aside from pointing out that the film’s villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), has an issue with the Federation and is willing to kill as many innocent people as necessary to get what he wants. This is why the film might leave you feeling a little troubled by the end. It’s fun, there are a lot of laughs, but if you think about it, potentially millions of people die in the events of this film. I suppose it’s similar to the first film since an entire planet was destroyed. But it feels different when the destruction takes place on Earth and some of the explosions can potentially remind the audience of real events. I know, I know, it’s just a movie. It’s meant to be fun. I get that, and I agree. I enjoyed this movie very much, but it might hit too close to home for some.
That said, the action of the film is impressive. The destruction is massive, but that’s not what is entertaining (once again, seeing a building topple doesn’t make me think, “Cool!”; it makes me wonder how many people were in there). The best parts of the action take place in the hand to hand fight scenes and the more sci-fi heavy moments. Anything involving Harrison is great, and all of the scenes involving space (like flying through a debris field) or the Enterprise (like the gravity going haywire) were tense and very well-choreographed.
The fact that I’ve discussed comedy and action before even mentioning the word “theme” is what bothers Trek fans the most about this new version of the series. The previous films/shows had some action, but it was basically about Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise sitting in the control room outthinking the adversary. The action was the equivalent of a chess game while the ideas of the movie took center-stage. For example, the second film in the original franchise dealt with the morality of humans playing God by creating life on a dead planet. The naysayers will call Darkness dumb, and that’s debatable (a lot of elements of the film can be nitpicked quite easily), but that is not to say that there isn’t a message, or at least the attempt of a message in this film.
To be honest, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the message of the film since I left the theater. It’s tough to get into any lessons to be learned from the plot of the film without giving it all away, but I will say that the film attempts to say something about justice, revenge, war, death… Now whether or not that message is clear and/or is even a good message is up for debate. But at least there’s an effort.
So maybe Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t a philosophically deep film that will have you pondering it and analyzing it for years to come, but it’s not really trying to be. Sure, there is a message, but this film is more concerned with being entertainment, and, for better or worse, the Star Trek franchise is now mainly about pleasing a large audience. I understand the hardcore fans being upset, but if they are willing to accept that Trek has changed, they might find some enjoyment in this film, too.
Star Trek Into Darkness is enjoyable at the most basic cinematic levels. It’s funny, well-paced with plenty of action, looks great, and the actors are all well-cast. Speaking of the actors, I only want to focus on the main new addition. Just know that I still think the main cast is great. Benedict Cumberbatch (he of the most British name ever) is the main new face, and he makes for an amazing villain. He brings a surprising physicality to the role (he certainly doesn’t appear to be formidable at first glance), but it’s his resonant voice that makes the character.
New villain aside, Star Trek Into Darkness is no better or worse than its predecessor. That’s either a good thing or bad thing depending on the viewer, but it’s certainly a good thing to me. This film felt like the natural next step for the series, and it left me even more excited for future installments.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
So Harrison is Khan. This is bothering a lot of people online (honestly, why do I keep checking the message boards of the films I enjoy? I just can't help it...). It's mainly the fact that he's white when the character was previously played by Ricardo Montalban and was supposed to be from northern India. I really don't care what race Khan is as long as the actor is good, so this casting didn't bother me. In fact, I think if it upsets you that the race of the actor is different, then that says something about you, not the makers of the film. Cumberbatch was suggested to Abrams, he liked him, he cast him. End of story. If the issue is with the performance, fine. But if you're bashing him because of his skin color, then that's messed up.
That "controversy" aside, I was expecting Harrison to really be Khan since all the rumors had been swirling around about that for nearly a year. I found myself pretty confused by it all, though. I hadn't watched The Wrath of Khan or the "Space Seed" episode of the original series for years, so the backstory was not fresh in my mind. Granted, they do explain Khan's origin in this film, but it is done very quickly. I suppose my biggest source of confusion was the reference to him being frozen for 300 years. This would mean that Khan was from the 1990s. That is in keeping with the show, but speaking as someone also from the 90s, I can say that we didn't have superhumans and it's doubtful that the weapons technology of the era is better than that of the 2200s. It's hard for me to accept that because of the timeline stuff from the first film I have to accept that a different version of the 1990s happened in which there were the "Eugenics Wars." I only found this out from research, however. The typical audience member is going to have my initial questions. I suppose this bothers me because it could be easily explained away if they just altered the timeline a little and pushed it another hundred years into the future. Khan being from the 2090s is at least a possibility yet to be disproven whereas Khan from the 1990s seems stupid. Minor issue, I know, but it confused me.
As for the message of the movie, it seems to me that it's about holding back emotion lest you act brashly and make things worse. So instead of automatically killing Harrison/Khan, stop and think about what the motives were before you shoot the torpedos and start a war. But the problem with that is that war was started anyway, right? I mean, they did assist in killing a lot of Klingons. I was under the assumption that the war went ahead as Marcus planned. Basically this movie could be seen as an allegory of the Iraq war. Tensions were high due to terrorist activity and a country was invaded under false pretenses. My only issue being that there isn't a real lesson learned by anyone other than "Don't trust anyone."
Nice to see Peter Weller with a sizable role in a big film again.
I was okay with Spock's version of "Khhhhhaaaaaaaannnnnnnn!!!" Although, as someone pointed out on one of the boards I checked out, it would have been better if he yelled that when he beamed down to chase him.
Not sure what to think about Khan's magic blood. So no one on the crew will ever die now? What about the rest of the planet? Is everything cured? Will everyone turn into superhumans like Khan? I hope this isn't ignored in the sequel.