I’ve allowed a few weeks for Star Trek Into Darkness to sink in, but my opinion of it remains the same.
It’s a very good film that is extremely entertaining and features excellent action sequences, special effects and a brilliant villain, but it ultimately lacks the wow factor of its predecessor and somehow ends up feeling like a glorified big screen season finale of a TV series.
The 2009 reboot, Star Trek, also directed by JJ Abrams (who will now also take over the Star Wars franchise, yikes) was phenomenal. It was a film non-Trekkies such as myself could enjoy but it also had something for the die hard fans (or so I have been told). Apart from a slightly disappointing villain (not Eric Bana’s fault — more a problem with the character itself), it was a film that had it all — action, drama and romance; and enough space fantasies to make fan boys spray their shorts and casual fans become fan boys.
Four years later, we have the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, which hits the ground running with a spectacular opening sequence featuring the crew of the USS Enterprise headed by captain James T Kirk (Chris Pine) and first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto).
Naturally, Kirk’s maverick decision-making lands him in hot water and at odds with Spock, but then disaster strikes courtesy of a brand new villain played by the man with the best name and arguably best voice in Hollywood, Benedict Cumberbatch. It is then up to the regrouped Enterprise crew to track him down and avenge their losses.
Into Darkness has a lot going for it. The cast, of course, is fantastic. Apart from the aforementioned Pine, Quinto and Cumberbatch, there’s the old gang of John Cho (ie, Harold), Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban (who provides the dry humour), Simon Pegg (who provides the Simon Pegg humour), Anton Yelchin and Bruce Greenwood. Another newcomer is Alice Eve, who provides the obligatory eye candy. All of them have key roles to play and don’t just blend into the background, which is a reflection of Abrams’ mastery of character and character development. At its core, however, the film is still driven by the love/hate/trust/loyalty relationship between Kirk and Spock, which takes another big step forward in this sequel (it’s getting to that bizarre bromance, bizarre sexual tension level). As for Cumberbatch, all I can say is that this dude rocks. He’s terrifying, he arouses sympathy; he’s just an electrifying and magnetic screen presence. I think I love this man.
Given how fantastic Star Trek was as a reboot of a legendary franchise, it was always going to be difficult for the sequel to match it. You have to strike a balance between reintroducing the characters and not rehashing too much; you have to take the action and relationships to new heights; you have to make the faithfuls happy with references to the original series; you have to try and do something different, be it the storyline, the action or even the jokes.
For the most part, Into Darkness achieves all of these. For the Trekkies in particular, there are some special treats, especially if you have stayed away from the trailers and the gossip. As a non-Trekkie, even I had an inkling that some of the revelations in this film were HUGE. It sets things up nicely if they decide to extend the franchise, which they almost definitely will.
I have few complaints. The pace of the film moves so quickly that you rarely have time to stop and think about how illogical or improbable the things happening on screen are, which is a sign of good filmmaking. I was sort of expecting more despair given that the title of the film is, after all, Into Darkness. I thought there would be more “darkness”, more hopelessness for Kirk and the gang to crawl out of, but it wasn’t that bad, all things considered. (Speaking of which, it seems Hollywood has been using the exact same formula for these big action blockbusters for quite some time now. Hero gets defeated — absolutely smashed, really — by a seemingly unstoppable villain. Hero rises from the dead and goes on a journey of recovery. Hero returns and triumphs against all odds. Celebration!)
The more troubling thing for me was that the film, or maybe the script, didn’t feel like it was depicting an extraordinary event too big for the small screen. It’s difficult to describe the feeling, but at times it felt like I was watching an epic season finale on a big screen rather than a blockbuster made especially for the big screen. It’s a strange thing to say considering the scale of the film, the star power and the special effects were all more than sufficient, but that was just the way I felt.
Does that mean Into Darkness is an unworthy sequel? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s one of the better executed sequels in recent years. It didn’t blow me away like the first film, but it still provides 133 minutes of solid entertainment that everyone from old Trekkies, new-Trekkies and non-Trekkies to casual science-fiction and blockbuster fans can thoroughly enjoy.
4 stars out of 5
PS: You don’t need me to tell you again. Ignore the 3D version. Please. I beg you. Don’t waste your time and money.