I loved director J.J. Abrams’ reinvention of Star Trek the first time around, but Star Trek Into Darkness, though often fun and exciting, suffers from many of the usual sequel pitfalls. It’s not a bad movie, just one that trades the first movie’s spark of originality for a workmanlike approach that’s more about setting up future installments than telling a cohesive and satisfying story.
The original cast (Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Simon Pegg) is all back, and as the film opens they are trying to stop a volcano from destroying a primitive society on a far away world. The first 10 minutes are breathtakingly fast and loud, with a cool reveal of the Enterprise and some amazing volcano effects. Spock even gets to wear the Trek version of an Iron Man suit. It’s so fast and loud that it took me until long after the movie was over to piece together what the hell happened.
The rest of the film continues in similar fashion, as a renegade Starfleet officer named “John Harrison” (a terrific Benedict Cumberbatch) carries out a series of terror attacks on earth before fleeing into distant Klingon territory, which is off-limits to Starfleet. Never one to follow the rules, Captain Kirk orders the Enterprise to warp into enemy space to capture or kill the fugitive. If the Klingons (classic Trek villains from back in the day) become aware of the ship’s presence, it could mean war.
I could say more, but you’d scream spoiler. Here’s the thing, though: Into Darkness is almost all spoilers in search of a serviceable story. It’s not that the plot is incomprehensible; it’s just not that interesting. And large chunks of it (the aforementioned Klingons, Alice Eve’s character) seem included only to serve a bigger role in Star Trek Into Battle or whatever they call the next chapter in the series.
Despite my gripes, Into Darkness is ably directed by J.J. Abrams, and features good performances all around and truly spectacular special effects mixed with some great character-driven scenes that only the Trek franchise can provide. The knock on the old Trek movie series was that the even-numbered flicks (Star Treks II, IV and VI) were better than the odd ones. It looks like the opposite will be true in this modern Trek universe. Talk about a reboot.
Notes on the 3D: No movie with Into Darkness in the title should ever be converted into 3D, which significantly dims the picture compared to standard projection. Consider that a warning.