I should probably say that I’m writing this review as a Star Trek fan, so forgive me if I seem biased at any point.
Four years ago, we were treated to a rebirth, as J.J. Abrams took the original Star Trek crew into the 21st Century, gave them younger — and more attractive — appearances, and dazzled us with amazing visual effects. There was a specific excitement in the air as characters Trekkies have come to love took to the screen with new faces: Chris Pine replacing William Shatner, Zachary Quinto replacing Leonard Nimoy, etc. But the magic was not in these new faces; it was in how these faces gave us a sense of nostalgia. The excitement was not seeing Kirk and Spock reborn, it was enjoying how they made us think of Shatner and Nimoy. And then, of course, there was the thrill of the story.
Star Trek Into Darkness lets go of all these sentiments and allows itself the freedom to zip through space, even if it doesn’t know where it’s going. It’s bigger, bolder, more complex, and a whole lot faster, but that does not necessarily make it better. This sequel — which everybody knew was coming — takes advantage of its characters’ relationships and works to strengthen them. But by doing so, it drops its plot just a little bit. Even though it remains coherent for the most part, there are times when motives seem to be lost, and actions become baseless, which makes the story a little murky.
The crew of the USS Enterprise is on a planet inhabited by weird white tribal humanoid aliens, who are chasing Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) through the jungle — “I think they’re trying to kill us!”. Their mission: explore this tribe while saving it from the eruption of a nearby volcano. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, it wouldn’t be Hollywood if it was. There’s a catch. Spock (Zachary Quinto) has to descend into the heart of the volcano and detonate some sort of freeze bomb that will stop its eruption dead in its tracks. This is made worse when the cable connecting him to one of the Enterprise’s shuttles snaps, leaving him stranded on a rock in the middle of dancing lava. Now, because this tribe has not seen technology, it’s imperative that the Enterprise be kept hidden from them. But when Kirk decides to rescue his first officer, he breaks the rules (yet again) to pull Spock out, who has already accepted death.
Why am I elaborating on this scene? Because it sets the foundation for the kind of relationship Kirk and Spock will have throughout the rest of the movie. If Star Trek sought to introduce Kirk and Spock as a working duo, Into Darkness seeks to make them long lasting friends, and I can imagine them being Best Man at each other’s weddings. More characters are brought into the fray this time, including Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison, Peter Weller’s Admiral Marcus, and Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus, but the relationship in focus here is very much the one between the captain and Spock. Even Uhura’s love affair with Spock takes a backseat to the bromance being formed.
Vulcans, as we know, have immense difficulty trying to express their emotion. We saw Spock do it a couple of times in the previous film, but it was rare. And so here, there is a heavy battle within him to bring out his human half. He builds his life upon reason and logic, and when a comrade’s life, or career, hangs in the balance, reason and logic might not come in so handy. This is the lesson he has to learn, and only when something tragic ends up happening does he do so. This is brilliant for the film as it gives another layer to Quinto’s character, and in turn, to all the others as well. We already know that the crew can work together. Now we must know if they can survive together.
What, or who, must they survive? John Harrison. And that’s all I will say. There are too many revelations, and twists and turns to give away if I go on about the plot any further. But John is not who he claims to be, and the impact he will have on Starfleet is larger than any of the Federation officers can imagine.
Like I mentioned earlier, Into Darkness is bigger and faster than its predecessor. Right from the beginning, it zooms, but instead of slowing down, it picks up speed and eventually goes into Warp drive. Abrams crafts action sequence after action sequence, most of which are sharp and exhilarating. They’re not contrived; they’re built upon the motives and actions of the film’s characters, who drive the story more than before. Zoe Saldana and Simon Pegg get more screen time, and accordingly, more weight to their respective characters. Karl Urban does more of the same with Bones, but the fact that he doesn’t push the character teeters him on complacency’s border. The real stars though, are Quinto and Cumberbatch, who dominate the screen with their bravado, clever timing, and intelligence. And Cumberbatch’s voice is simply mesmerizing. I only wish he had been given more screen time.
If Into Darkness teaches us anything — apart from not trusting Vulcans — it’s that success can be achieved even if you don’t know how to achieve it. Kirk has always been a blind captain who makes decisions based on gut feelings (he even admits to being clueless), but his gut is where his heart lies, and more often than not, he gets the job done, however unorthodox his methods may be. I think he makes a good captain. If this series continues, which I’m sure it will, it’ll be interesting to see how his character progresses.
It’s a fun journey, and I refuse to say if it’s better than Star Trek. Both are entertaining, and both carry on Gene Roddenberry’s legacy, bringing a classic franchise into the new century with wit, charm, beauty, unmatched speed, and lens flares. I suspect that die hard fans might be disappointed by this film, but hey, you can’t please everyone.
Best Moment | There are a few to choose from, but right now I’ll go with the Enterprise rising from the sea. Coupled with the score, it’s a sight to behold.
Worst Moment | For the life of me, I can’t remember what it is, but I had one. Oh well.