Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

The post-conversion 3D is disappointing, but the newest 'Star Trek' adventure remains exciting summer entertainment with a most appealing ensemble cast.

The uncannily astute casting of young actors in iconic roles continues to be the key to success for the rebooted Star Trek franchise. Star Trek Into Darkness, the second film in the new-generation series, is indeed darker than 2009’s Star Trek and not quite as ebulliently enjoyable, but what a pleasure it is to welcome back 2.0 Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Bones, Scotty and the rest of that indelible crew.

For this outing, screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are joined by Damon Lindelof, director J.J. Abrams’ partner on the cult TV series “Lost.” One major improvement of Into Darkness is its more vivid villain, John Harrison, played with tremendously imposing fierceness and icy elegance by PBS’ Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch. Harrison is a calculating creature of powerful intelligence and super-strength, a most dangerous and elusive foe for cocky young Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine).

The film opens with a standalone action set-piece in which Kirk and Dr. “Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) flee a tribe of primitive men on the exotic planet Nibiru, which is about to be decimated by a volcano. First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) volunteers to sacrifice his life in a bid to save the planet; against his wishes, Kirk violates mission protocol to rescue him.

Kirk is demoted due to his insubordination, but he’s soon called back to the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise after a terrorist campaign in 23rd-century London fatally wounds his respected mentor. Kirk’s assignment is to find and kill Harrison, the attack’s mastermind, who has taken refuge on Kronos, home of the hostile Klingons. But the encounter between Kirk and Harrison takes a surprising turn, leading to Harrison’s imprisonment on the ship and a volatile battle of wills. The Enterprise crew also discovers it has ruthless enemies in the most unexpected places.

Abrams stages an abundance of space battles in which our heroes seem on the verge of total annihilation, but the rapid editing of these sequences becomes a bit of an incoherent blur in 3D (especially as seen from the front rows of an IMAX theatre, where this writer was seated). And though some scenes were lensed with IMAX cameras, they don’t have the stunning impact of the (non-3D) IMAX footage in the Dark Knight films; the culprit may be the 3D post-conversion here.

What keeps you riveted to the action in Into Darkness is your investment in the film’s characters. Once again, Pine and Quinto ably recapture the essence of William Shatner’s headstrong, somewhat narcissistic Kirk and Leonard Nimoy’s cerebral Spock. The screenwriters explore Spock’s half-human, half-Vulcan mindset with an incisive monologue by Quinto on the difference between not feeling and not caring. They also expand on the romantic relationship of Spock and Communications Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), which sets Kirk to wondering what a lover’s spat with someone like Spock could possibly be like. Urban continues to delight with his line readings as the excitable Bones, and Simon Pegg again supplies irresistible comic relief as Chief Engineer Scotty, whose frantic race through a cavernous ship recalls his lead role in the comedy Run, Fatboy, Run. Along with the great Cumberbatch, notable additions to the cast are Alice Eve as new science officer Carol Marcus and Peter Weller, RoboCop himself, as a very intimidating Star Fleet admiral.

It wouldn't be a Star Trek film without some modern-day parallels, and the screenwriters follow suit with echoes of the moral choices that arise in the fight against terrorism. The modern-day 3D seems extraneous here, but overall, Star Trek Into Darkness is a satisfying summer entertainment spectacle with heart and a brain.