In 2009, J.J. Abrams and crew (including writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) gave the 40+ year old Star Trek franchise a big screen reboot with a new cast and an emphasis on action. The polarizing film, and director, was panned by long-time fans of the franchise. The argument was that Star Trek had always been about science first. Fans who wanted to see a space opera could just watch the Star Wars films and be happy.
Star Trek Into Darkness succeeds in delivering many of the elements that its 2009 predecessor didn’t. The characters, especially Captain James T. Kirk (Christopher Pine), have well-defined character arcs. Their moral code is challenged, and several, including Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Simon Pegg), are driven to desperate actions, with extreme consequences. Even the direction of Star Fleet itself reaches a fork in the road between scientific research and military complex.
The film opens as Kirk, First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), and Dr. “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) are seen mid-mission attempting to save a primitive species. The tribe’s village is housed at the base of a volcano, and as Kirk and Bones tempt the tribe away from danger, Spock enters the volcano with a cooling device that will prevent the eruption. Spock is trapped inside the volcano, prepared to die, but Kirk makes the decision to save him. In the process, the starship U.S.S. Enterprise is revealed to the savages, altering their belief system and their future as a race.
This is the film’s first foray into moral dilemma. Kirk’s actions go against the Prime Directive. (Starfleet members are to observe only, and not to intervene in matters that may change the path of life forms.) By breaking orders, Kirk saves his friend and first officer. Breaking the rules and going on gut instinct are patterns of Kirk’s character, and he soon finds these actions are not without consequences. The crew returns to Starfleet Academy (San Francisco, Earth). In a disciplinary hearing, Kirk is stripped of his command. His friendship with Admiral Pike is the only thing that keeps him active as an officer.
Enter the villain.
While the Enterprise crew was away, a Starfleet operative has launched an attack, destroying an archive in London and killing several civilians and fleet personnel. The fleet commanders, including Pike, Kirk, Spock, and Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), gather in San Francisco to determine a strategy to capture and prosecute the domestic terrorist responsible. He finds them first, launching another attack and killing more fleet personnel and civilians.
In response, Admiral Marcus orders Kirk and the Enterprise crew to go after the fugitive, sending them to the edge of the neutral zone. They are ordered to assassinate the mysterious man. One wrong move could send the Federation to war.
Star Trek Into Darkness cannot be rated, reviewed or discussed without mentioning the strong influence of its villain. Identified as John Harrision, the antagonist drives the entire plot, including his personal quest for revenge, and the entire direction of Star Fleet. (Harrison is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who steals every scene with his commanding performance.) His initial meeting with Kirk, and their subsequent interactions, continue the strong narrative of moral dilemma. He personifies the theme of the film, and the many ways in which it surpasses its predecessor.
Despite the dark theme, the film contains plenty of laughs. Pegg and Urban get the majority of the one-liners, but Quinto gets to deliver plenty of quirky Spock humor. Pine gets to show equal parts charm and seriousness as Kirk. Spock’s relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) provides plenty of fast, funny dialog, and John Cho’s Sulu gets one particularly entertaining monologue, as well.
The film’s effects are brilliantly delivered by Industrial Light & Magic. It runs 132 minutes.
Star Trek Into Darkness is showing in 2D, 3D, Real 3D, and IMAX theatres now.