Star Trek was an important milestone in science fiction, a TV series that gave us hope for the future, that posited a world where race and gender had become irrelevant. As the 60’s TV show evolved and spawned new TV series and ten feature films, things became rather grim. The campy humor and brash personalities of the Star Trek universe had become tired cliches held together with duct tape and old tropes.
That’s why in 2009 when wunderkund director J.J.Abrams released the “reboot” film Star Trek, it was so well received. We all hope the human race can move towards harmony, even with weird alien races in the mix. The film did very well, with domestic grosses topping $250 million and is doubtless a cornerstone of many sci-fi cinema fan’s DVD collection.
Star Trek Into Darkness takes place a few years after Star Trek ends, opening with a “Hero”-like technicolor sequence where Spock (Zachary Quinto) risks his life to prevent a nascent civilization being destroyed by a volcano. When Spock ends up stranded in the caldera it’s up to Kirk (Chris Pine) to violate the ever-important Prime Directive to rescue him. But Spock has also violated the Prime Directive by interfering with the natural order of the planet. Not good.
Back on Earth, Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) gives them the bad news: Kirk’s being suspended from Starfleet and Spock is reassigned to a minor space mission as a result of their violation of the rule that Starfleet holds highest in its code of conduct.
But all is not well in The Federation and a terrorist attack reveals former Starfleet officer and general bad dude John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) as the culprit, causing Starfleet to convene an emergency meeting with the top brass, a meeting where warmonger Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) tells everyone “this is a case of revenge. Find him. Now!”
The action just speeds up from this point as we learn Harrison is more than he seems, that there’s a plot to attack the Federation from within, and that not everyone in Starfleet headquarters is working for the same side.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a rollercoaster ride, a visceral orgy of special effects that are wonderous and often breathtaking.
And so many of them are derivative of other sci-fi action films we’ve all seen. From nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Fifth Element, from The Matrix Reloaded to Minority Report, from Blade Runner to, yes, Star Wars, few of the scenes felt original even as the action slammed along non-stop.
There are also lots of references, overt and subtle, to the original Star Trek TV series, including a guest tribble that was great fun to see. In a lot of ways, Star Trek Into Darkness is a film made for the Trekkie, the hardcore Star Trek fan who is knowledgeable about the entire universe, and if you’ve seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, you’ll recognize lots ripped from that film, elements both interesting and poignant. We just needed the Genesis Planet to complete the set. :-)
What I most liked about the original Star Trek series was the dialog, the camaraderie and occasional tension between Kirk, Spock, medical officer “Bones” McCoy and chief engineer Scotty. The film retains much of this energy with many amusing scenes and some terrific dialog between Kirk, Spock, Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin). The relationship between communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock continues, and the sporadic tension between the two of them produces some of the best dialog in the movie.
So it’s a film for Star Trek fans. But does it work for everyone else? When I saw the film screened, it was easy to tell who the fans were because they kept cheering and laughing. For the rest of us, Star Trek Into Darkness is fun, but has a lot of plot hiccups. Enough that more than once I said “Huh? How did that happen? How did we get here? Where’d (s)he come from?” To avoid spoilers I won’t detail the issues I saw, but it marred a really fun film and makes me wonder if the “director’s cut” might not add 20min of additional footage that explains the story a bit better.
I’m a long time Star Trek fan, and still remember watching the TV show with my Dad, who famously would ask “Explain to me why they’re entrusting this multi-billion dollar starship to this immature, headstrong Captain Kirk?” I could never answer him, and yes, that question comes up again in this film. How rich is the Federation that they can go through starships in film after film?
Star Trek Into Darkness is a film for science fiction fans. It’s fun, it’ll be entertaining the second time you watch it too, and it’s non-stop action and humorous dialog. Heck, it’s more fun than Iron Man 3. But is it a flawless example of the best of sci-fi cinema? No, not so much.
Enjoy it this weekend and let us know what YOU think of the film!