I thoroughly enjoyed the first Abrams Star Trek with all of its timeline meshing, cute references and lens flares. Into Darkness has been on my radar for a good while, and with Abrams now in the chair for Star Wars this seems like his final test. Into Darkness still has some big shoes to fill on its own. Can such a trick be pulled off again? Can Abrams deliver that same fresh and bold delivery as he did with the reboot?
As I’ll get into more detail in this review, Abrams delivers an absolute joyride of a sequel that really goes above and beyond to become what might be the best film of the Summer and, undoubtedly, one of the most enthralling features of the year.
Star Trek Into Darkness
Director: J.J Abrams
Release Date: May 9, 2013 (UK); May 15, 2013 (US IMAX), May 16, 2013 (US non-IMAX)
Rating: 12A (UK), PG-13 (US)
Into Darkness follows the next chapter of Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) of the Starship Enterprise. From the very beginning, Kirk’s leadership is questioned and ripped open by some dramatic events. What happens, alongside all this, is an act of terrorism in London which plunges the entire Federation into alert and into full scale manhunt mode. Kirk is sent, off the record, to track down the man behind the attacks, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), and is soon thrown into inter-galactic political tensions, alien threats and sciency-wiency laser battles. Kirk must destroy the near unstoppable Harrison and uncover the darker truth underneath Starfleet Command.
The plot honestly borrows quite heavily from the likes of The Avengers and The Dark Knight, with most of it revolving around the capture of a dangerous figure and the truth behind the destruction he brings to the world. The film decides to go into full-scale Empire Strikes Back-mode and has character conflicts, reversed relationships, action pieces full of genuinely terrifying sequences and some final beats that reveal the true emotional depth in Abrams’ sci-fi tinged fingertips. The plot and general thrust of the film is simplistic, often predictable at times, and yet the evolution of the characters and enthralling pace just keeps you still second-guessing every single moment of this sugary roller-coaster ride.
That’s not to say the film is completely obsessed with superficial, fizzy detail. The lens flares, clean white atmosphere of the Enterprise and set design all create this gorgeous and often breathtaking scenery that holds a delicious place for Into Darkness to play out. Abrams’ meshing of physical sets with digital artistry fuels more confidence that he has complete handle over what makes modern science-fiction truly buzz with excitement, injecting great hope into the claim that he’ll make Star Wars work again. What really works, more than anything in the film, is its attention to detail with the characters. These are all treasured icons, and yet Abrams is somehow able to craft new emotional depth and collide new elements together to bring to light what makes Star Trek such a great avenue for exploring characters and relationships. I’ve never understood the ‘bland’ and ‘unoriginal’ critique of Abrams’ work. The emotional pulp realism of Cloverfield, the ode to nostalgia in Super 8 and now the crucible of characters with Star Trek show an absolute commitment to humanity, feeling and history. Into Darkness delivers moments in which both Trekkies and everyone else will absolutely delight in equally; it is a simultaneous faithful and fresh vision, one that could be used in a quantum physics textbook as an analogy. That marriage of past and present is possibly the greatest achievement of Abrams’ career thus far.
The film doesn’t play fast and loose with its roots in any way, besides some small odd referencing that just seems to exist for referencing sake. The fresh up-scaling of the Enterprise is still incredibly faithful, the make-up and costumes carry that same intricate attention that the original series embodied, and it’s, as a whole, a trip into what makes Star Trek wonderful. The action set-pieces are all engaging, though a few of these pieces may be a little bit flabby. The film’s pace still keeps on that Warp throttle to create a deliciously dizzy sense of involving inertia that never lets your attention fade. Characters rip flaws in each other and shout out revelations over loud explosions and crackling phaser stun-ning shootouts. This is really a film that manages to get its exposition in both subtle and literally explosive means. Into Darkness has a fluid structure to that, just as it seems jarring or jumpy, manages to tie itself all together in succinct ways and develop itself further. Some entire sub-plots are resolved in five to seven words and Abrams manages to still make it all incredibly satisfying to the point of absolute glee.
The centerpiece of this film, however, has to be its performances. Chris Pine shines as a Kirk under some impossible pressure, layering on some great showcase of his emotional flexibility and ability to fluidly move from snarky witticisms to full-on feelings. Zachary Quinto’s Spock deals with existentialist drama and his entire character arc serves as the film’s main thematic backdrop, allowing Quinto to show off his own brand of Spock that makes every single blink from him just make you believe he was born for the role. The way that Abrams manages to neatly insert a special piece of Star Trek history inside of Spock’s character arc, to show off Quinto’s juicy acting chops, is a testament to the true intelligence that rides inside the film. Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison is an incredible shock to the Star Trek system, creating a presence of absolute terror and awe in every scene he is in. If you’re a fan of Sherlock you’ll be surprised to see just how physical of an actor he can be, and just how scared you’ll be to see his cheekbones appear. Zoe Saldana as Uhura is given some time to show off her absolute badassery, while newcomer Alice Eve stutters ever so slightly to find her place on board. Praise also has to be showered on Simon Pegg’s Scotty who manages to keep the film in its most outlandish moments still grounded in heartfelt and bubbly territory. My only criticism is that Yelchin’s Chekov and Cho’s Sulu are relegated to ‘sitting around’ duty while the entire film takes place. It really feels focused on a handful of the crew members rather than feeling like an entire team’s journey into the unknown.
Into Darkness is a practically perfect Summer blockbuster. It’s not exactly clever in its plot activity and some of its Trekkie references just sit around as mere tidbit mentions rather than actually meaning anything. Still, however, this is an absolutely Cumbersbash of a film. It’s a rocket-propelled, stunning symphony of cracking action pieces, character crashes and moments of absolute jaw-dropping delight that just crackles with what a Summer blockbuster should be. Abrams delivers an entirely fresh leap out of the new Star Trek broth, managing to keep it exciting and buzzing with thrills galore. This is, so far, the best film of Summer and, aside from a few niggles from MIA characters, plot holes and pacing that is sometimes unforgiving, it’s an otherwise incredible journey into the heart of Star Trek. Abrams, with these films, shows how he is the absolute auteur of blending the old-fashioned with the new-fashioned and shows off exactly what a treat we have in store for us when we get his offering of Star Wars fantasy.