JJ Abrams most recent reinvention of established continuity moves the characters forward in spite of a concerted effort to bury them beneath an overblown sci-fi spectacle.
On a remote planet, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) makes what he feels is “the right choice” for the local culture but does so in violation of the Prime Directive, getting him stripped of command and reassigned under the watchful eye of his mentor Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Faster than you can say Kobayashi Maru, a former Starfleet operative unleashes a series of terror attacks against Earth-bound installations before fleeing across the galaxy into Klingon space. These incidents propel Kirk back into his familiar command chair and into uncharted space, but an unprecedented initiative within the Federation itself may be making deals with the proverbial devil in the name of fear.
The all-new lensflare-fortified Star Trek is back with a badder bad guy and more destructive destruction. Fortunately, the cast owns their roles, although there have been complaints that Chris Pine’s Kirk is a bit too brazen, but hasn’t the entire cast of characters been tweaked away from the originals a bit anyway? One would hope that the plot might seem incidental due to the focus on the crew, something that happened in glimpses throughout the original series but came to the forefront in the films and in later spinoffs. To build a better villain, however, you need an actor to step up the menace, and Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC’s “Sherlock” and the future voice of Smaug in The Hobbit franchise) fills the bill wonderfully; who he is and what his motivations are fuel the plot. Still, in the aftermath of the sudden destruction of several city blocks full of innocent bystanders, you would think the local citizenry would be a little more panicked while Starfleet should act a little more reverent.
The Enterprise herself doesn’t undergo any major renovations, but a few new regulation outfits have been added to everyone’s sea bag… er, space bag. Wired magazine noted that the new Starfleet dress-gray uniforms “wouldn’t look out of place on an Imperial Death Star;” agreed, but at least there’s a story reason for it. This alternate Federation is becoming a bit less focused on peaceful exploration and more militant minded: “To seek out strange new threats and new foes, to boldly nuke them from the edge of the Neutral Zone.” Adding to the nitpicks is the complete lack of anything resembling global defenses; what happened to Earth being the most heavily defended planet in the Federation? Remember what happened to Vulcan? How about Pearl Harbor? How is it that seven people on a bridge crew seem to be the only ones who know what’s going on and are the only ones doing anything about it?
All snarking aside, it’s a summer tent pole flick, so there’s something for everyone. For old fans there’s all the familiar trappings and knowing what to expect; for the new fans there’s the state-of-the-art special effects in 3D and a fresh young cast they can gush over. Of course, if Zoe Saldana gets cast in the new Star Wars movies, she will officially dominate every major sci-fi franchise as the go-to pin-up girl of the future – not sure that’s a bad thing, really. The emphasis, however, seems to be on spectacle rather than story with no real ambition for growing past that. Good but not great, Star Trek Into Darkness is a summer film that dimly reminds viewers of what it used to be – and could be again – while still being little more than a roller coaster ride.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)