Star Trek: Into Darkness ranges from good to very good throughout, and it captures the fun and wonder that the first installment in the reboot offered. The roster of familiar crew and their relationships have also crossed over into the sequel intact and a little more developed. And, of course, the action sequences are awe-inspiring. Into Darkness struggles, however, in capturing the same level of emotions as the previous film, opting instead for more thrilling elements.
Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is up to his old reckless ways as he and his crew disobey orders and interfere with the development of a primitive alien planet where the indigenous people are about to be wiped out by a volcanic eruption. As a result, Kirk is severely punished, but the consequences don’t last long, because Starfleet is directly attacked by the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who seems to be an army unto himself. Suffering a personal loss in Harrison’s latest attack, Kirk volunteers to hunt Harrison down and bring him to justice.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is very well made, and there’s really no strong argument against seeing it. It’s fun, the characters are endearing and the set pieces are spectacular. The best part of the film, however, is the relationship between Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk. Pine and Quinto are effortless in their portrayals, and their interaction with each other feels natural and unforced. A close second best are the fantastic action sequences. There’s something indescribably thrilling about space combat and watching a lone warrior take on an entire squad of Klingons, including their ships. If nothing else, at no time will audiences be disinterested in what’s happening on-screen.
The film does suffer, however, under the burden of giving all of the major characters something interesting to do. At times, it can feel forced. Consider Bones (Karl Urban) having to dismantle a torpedo or Uhura (Zoe Saldana) trying to broker safe passage past a group of Klingons. “You brought me here to speak Klingon,” she reminds Kirk, “so let me speak Klingon.” It seems like such a limp way to resolve the situation, but unfortunately communication is her forte and the filmmakers wanted to provide Uhura her moment. It also didn’t help that a new character was added to the crew, Carol (Alice Eve), another science officer and potential love-interest for Kirk.
It’s important to remember that this is the first Star Trek crew that has appeared on film without first appearing on television. Audiences haven’t had years upon years to live with the characters and go on the same adventures. Other films in the franchise could get away with giving less involved characters less to do, because viewers had already seen those characters get entire episodes revolving around them. Not so here. There’s no real harm in showcasing each character, but it does give the film a utilitarian feel at times.
Fortunately, audiences who aren’t familiar with the Star Trek pedigree and who couldn’t care less about the characters will still find plenty to keep their eyes glued to the screen. Maybe too much. There are moments that are set up nicely for an emotional catharsis, but are resolved too quickly, and usually by comic relief. So when Kirk looks helplessly at the long faces of his crew who know that they are all about to die, it’s a heart-wrenching moment. But then danger is quickly averted with nary a gasp of relief from anyone. It’s these dramatic lurches that deflate tension in the film, giving an inappropriate sense of safety in every tight spot. Couple that with the fact that essential crew, like the captain, science officer, medical officer and communications officer, keep personally handling tasks that are best left to trained security teams, viewers get a sense of just going through the motions.
Nevertheless, Star Trek: Into Darkness is rock-solid entertainment, and it’s unlikely that anyone will leave the theater disappointed. Sure, some of the writing is awkward, like all of the exchanges between Spock and Uhura, but the performances make up for any shortcomings in the script. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Harrison is an especially charismatic portrayal and he’s a very worthy villain that audiences are going to enjoy. So while it doesn’t quite reach the bar that the previous film set, Star Trek: Into Darkness is still worth every cent spent to catch it in the theaters.