After having a fantastic time with 2009’s Star Trek reboot, things were looking up for the new crew of the USS Enterprise, with a sequel pencilled in for 2011. Amid delays and rewrites, the film fans received was Star Trek Into Darkness, a notably grittier and deeper sci-fi romp. Today, we’ll be discussing whether or not this follow-up holds a candle to the quality of the 2009 reboot, and as you may expect, be on the lookout for spoilers.
Star Trek Into Darkness picks back up with the crew of the USS Enterprise, as Kirk (Chris Pine) is demoted after an attempt to save Spock (Zachary Quinto) goes awry. However, when a former Starfleet worker John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) reappears to cripple his former employer, it is up to the reformed crew – also including Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Bones (Karl Urban), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho) – to stop Harrison. But that’s when everything turns on its head.
Perhaps the element that does the best service to Into Darkness is its cast. As mentioned in our Star Trek review, the vast majority of the key members of the Enterprise plays their role really well. Most notably, of course, is Chris Pine’s Kirk, who is utterly fantastic in the role: so likeable, charming but serious, dedicated and driven when needs be. He’s given even more to do in Into Darkness, a welcome addition Pine handles admirably. His chemistry with other crew members, particularly Bones and Scotty, is palpable, and Pine shines throughout.
Also worth mentioning, albeit in quite a small role, is Bruce Greenwood as Pike. Although his involvement in the film’s plot is pretty minor, his performance is terrific, exuding a commanding presence and stealing the show when alongside Kirk and Spock, really standing out here.
On the topic of Spock, Zachary Quinto is definitely better here than he was in Star Trek, primarily because he’s no longer being painted as a foil to Kirk. His performance, although purposefully robotic, is undeniably charming at times, and when slight occurrences of emotion does enter his performance, he pulls it off admirably. The one complaint about Spock is that he’s quite poorly-written at times, and its clear the writers don’t entirely know what direction they want to take him in, with some rash decisions and lapses in logic spoiling his character at times.
Finally, Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain Harrison/Khan needs to be mentioned, but not entirely for good reasons. Admittedly, Cumberbatch plays a tantalising, deliciously evil villain, but there are times where its a little over-the-top. Whether or not he’s trying to imitate Ricardo Montalban’s take on Khan is unclear, but it’s very off-putting when he suddenly switches from dark, serious and gritty to animated. Once again, the script doesn’t quite know how to handle Khan, as his motivations are quite poorly-explained, despite multiple (yet expository) efforts to clear things up, and the end of his arc is more-or-less non-existent. Yes, they might be trying to establish him as a big-bad for the franchise, but this lack of closure is incredibly frustrating, and he’s just not given enough depth here.
To quickly run through the rest of the cast: Anton Yelchin is fantastic, as is John Cho. It’s nice to see Zoe Saldana get an enlarged role and pull it off so well, but Karl Urban’s portrayal of Bones isn’t quite as good here as in Star Trek.
Alongside a strong group of characters, Into Darkness can be a rollicking time at points. Arguably the outstanding element of this film is its humour: I laughed much more at this than I have any Adam Sandler/Vince Vaughn film, and its a testament to the talent of leading actors such as Pine and Simon Pegg that the humour works so well. None of the jokes feel out-of-place this time around and, when jokes are flying around, this film soars.
That said, a large portion of the script does let the film down. The plot is flimsy, brimming with contrivances and holes, despite showing promise. The writing is downright lazy, and its clear Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof have tried to cram too much into this film: there’s numerous (but all underdeveloped) villains, main cast members who aren’t seen for large amounts of time, elements that are set up to be important, then don’t appear again, a distinct lack of closure at the film’s end, and some really gratuitous and unnecessary inclusions (Carol Marcus needn’t be shown half-naked at all). It’s not nearly as tight as Star Trek‘s writing was, which really is a shame.
Nonetheless, Into Darkness shares a lot of strengths with the 2009 reboot. The technological elements of this film are flawless, from the consistently thumping, atmospheric and bombastic score, once again from Michael Giacchino, to the ground-breaking CGI, almost unparalleled in its quality, conviction and sheer scale. JJ Abrams’ direction is once again fantastic, and you can really see some early elements and ideas from Star Wars: The Force Awakens seeping into this, alongside superb cinematography from Daniel Mindel (who also went on to shoot TFA), who brings in a really beautiful colour palette, especially in the brilliant opening sequence.
After being blown away by the spectacular 2009 reboot, it was always going to be hard for Into Darkness to live up to the high expectations, and unfortunately it can’t quite manage this. When this film works it’s fantastic, highlighted by what is a nearly-perfect opening hour, some absolutely stunning performances, great comedy and breathtaking action, but a weak, lazy and messy script really drags this film down. It’s a fun watch if you can ignore its problems, but doesn’t reach the same heights as Star Trek.