It’s difficult being a film buff in this era. On one hand, if you’ve always wished Hollywood would adapt your favorite comic book tales into well-made films that did more than sell toys to kids, it’s a great time to be a lover of film and all things geek. On the other hand, the monetary success that geek-friendly properties have achieved over the past decade, alongside the other successful blockbusters of The Aughts, has lead to Hollywood developing a fixation on only stories with built-in audiences, i.e. existing franchises instead of new, unproven films. If you wanted something truly unique or at least emotionally satisfying, your options are limited.
That was tolerable though, because the directors, writers, cast and crew of some of the big blockbusters of the last couple years were given some leeway in how they crafted their work. For example, TV maven J.J. Abrams was given the keys to a new Star Trek in 2009, crafting it with the exacting standards that made Alias and LOST appointment television. This year, Abrams is back again, rounding up Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and the rest of the cast, as well as screenwriters Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, to put together another tale of the crew of the USS Enterprise with Star Trek Into Darkness.
If you want an engaging adventure film with proper craft and substance, you can’t go wrong with Star Trek Into Darkness. Abrams and Co. managed to capture lightning in a bottle twice, which was rather surprising, even if the lightning itself is a touch… darker.
The crew of the Enterprise is all back: Pine and Quinto are on their place on the bridge as James T. Kirk and Spock, respectively, Zoe Saldana joins them as Uhura, Karl Urban as Bones, Simon Pegg as a surprisingly badass Scotty, John Cho as an equally badass Sulu, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, and Bruce Greenwood returns as Kirk’s unofficial mentor Pike.
The story starts out on a planet where the natives haven’t even discovered the wheel yet. The Enterprise crew are trying to save them from an erupting volcano that will wipe them out, which requires Spock to be lowered down into the volcano to drop a bomb that will halt the eruption. The whole operation is in violation of The Prime Directive, which is to not interfere with the development of alien civilizations, and comes back to bite Kirk in the ass.
Suddenly Starfleet’s London and San Francisco offices are attacked by a terrorist only known as John Harrison (Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch). Kirk’s crew are sent on a mission by Starfleet Commander Marcus (Robocop’s Peter Weller) to kill Harrison. But the mission isn’t as straightforward as it appears.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way. Everyone who guessed who Harrison actually is months ago, sit the fuck down and stop saying you were right. Yes, Abrams shouldn’t have bothered trying to keep his identity a secret, but the movie isn’t about who Harrison is. The movie is all about the relationships between the crew members of the Enterprise, particularly Spock and Kirk, and how their bonds only grow stronger taking out an adversary they thought they could never beat.
Abrams gets a lot of crap thrown at him over things such as his obsessions with lens flares and “The Mystery Box” secrecy concept, but Abrams knows how to connect with audiences beyond wowing them with special effects. Darkness is surprisingly emotional, going all the way when it comes to drama, such as Cumberbatch’s Harrison spilling his heart to Kirk about how he cares for his people. And the humorous moments in the film – the best of which revolve around a lovers’ spat between Spock and Uruha – do an excellent job of making you laugh and connect with the characters and their struggles. And the action scenes are far more impressive than some of the other big blockbusters that’ve come out so far this year. (Something tells me that Pacific Rim might outdo Trek, though.)
Overall, Star Trek Into Darkness is honestly a superb film. Not superb for a sequel, it’s a superb film, period. 9/10