In Summer 2013, pioneering director J.J. Abrams will deliver an explosive action thriller that takes ‘Star Trek Into Darkness.’ When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.
As with the first movie, there are some callbacks to Trek history, both TV and film; some are smart and subtle, others feel blatant and misjudged, and might send the hardcore seeking kolinahr. Yet more than the first outing, this engages with Trek’s long-held thematic ideals, be it the importance of the Prime Directive or the dynamics between instinct versus logic, pacifism versus savagery. Still, Abrams never lets respect for Trekkiness poop the party. Keep your ears peeled for a fabulous joke at the behest of an iconic sound effect. Although the film is directed with the fervor and intensity of a tie-in theme park ride, the script, sadly, has precisely the same narrative aspirations. Offering a nonsensical mess of conspiracy theory, “Into Darkness” ends up becoming something stuck midway between a muddled Truther metaphor and a nearly beat-for-beat remake of the identically-plotted “Star Trek: Nemesis,” widely regarded as the franchise’s worst entry.
Although this review will do its best to avoid spoilers, it should be noted that the film’s “surprises” are delivered with such a lack of creativity that to hold them back in the first place is much akin to, say, if Len Wiseman’s “Total Recall” insisted that it not be referred to as a remake for precisely the same reasons. In truth, the relationship between Kirk and Spock is the heart and soul of Star Trek, being an ambiguous compound of rivalry, warmth and interspecies misunderstanding. As played by Pine, Kirk is a hothead and a daredevil who relies largely on instinct. Spock, of course, is the logician nonpareil, and Quinto has just the right expression of intellectual bemusement when faced with the muddle of human emotion. One of the best moments here comes when Kirk, about to part with his first officer, goes all misty-eyed. “Truth is, I’m gonna miss you,” he says, echoing one of the movies’ universal refrains of buddyhood, and looks to Spock’s reciprocation of the sentiment. But Spock just stares back, impassive, and poor old Jim’s left hanging, like the high-five that gets no returning smack.
Mostly, this is fantastic fun: a two-hours-plus blockbuster that doesn’t bog down in exposition or sag in the middle. There are reversals and rug-pulls galore, most of them executed with whiplash skill. Trouble is, at a certain point peril-fatigue starts to creep in, putting the story at the risk of burning out. What’s more, this wild, plot-driven ride has a tendency to leave character moments on the back seat. Often, minor figures first time out remain minor figures, some of them left out in the rain until the narrative calls for them to make a reappearance. Rewardingly, though, this isn’t Star Trek Into Vastness, a sequel that aims bigger but ends up bloated. True, there’s the sense of an expanded universe, and how it might determine the direction of future installments.On the other hand, most of the drama is confined to the Enterprise, and all the better for it. As for darkness, it’s there literally and figuratively, Abrams dragging his heroes over sticky ethical terrain.
For the bottom line Star Trek Into Darkness gets the job done without ever threatening to raise one’s pulse. It’s a thoroughly professional entertainment. But in some sense, the title is misleading. Into Darkness is a blast, fun, funny, spectacular and exhilarating. The rule of great even-numbered Trek movies continues. After a confident take-off, Abrams keeps the franchise flying with a faster, faster, FASTER sequel that makes for the most thrilling Star Trek since First Contact.