The Star Trek franchise has always been known for its thoughtfulness while being grounded in the human experience of scientific endeavors and exploration; the core of all great science fiction. Director JJ Abrams delivered a blockbuster with brainpower with his 2009 reboot Star Trek. The spectacle remains in the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness but the IQ takes a massive nose dive. The crew of the Enterprise is sent to a hostile part of the universe to track down an individual who has declared war on the United Federation of Planets after a series of attacks on Federation buildings on Earth.
Abrams’ Trek universe is still a very cool place to be and the visuals are spectacular. The sleek Enterprise glides through beautiful solar systems and the vastness of space fills your mind with wonder of the endless possibilities. When on the bridge of any ship you just want to jump through the screen and press every button, take the ships for a spin and fire every laser. Abrams drops a massive payload of action into the film and you can almost time the frequency of phaser battles, spaceship dogfights and futuristic ninja moves to every 15-20 minutes. It’s relentless but thrilling.
The chemistry between the main cast is the strongest element of Star Trek Into Darkness and proves how crucial this ensemble is to the success of the new era of films. Watching Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) interact with each other is a joy. Everyone gets the perfect one-liner or moment to shine and there is character progression in all these little moments as we get to know our travel companions better. You feel it might pay off in later films if the series continues in its current form. On the flip side, the newbies don’t fare so well with Dr Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) showing up as the grating character with all the expositional dialogue whose only memorable contribution is a scene where she strips down to her underwear. Eve’s character shows that screenwriters Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof can’t seem to write more than one decent female character into the film beyond Uhura and resort to literally stripping down the character when they run out of exposition. The villain played by Benedict Cumberbatch brings intensity to the film but has barely anything decent to work with beyond the mundane intricacies of a vague revenge plot and “you killed my blah blah blah”. There are moments where Cumberbatch is so aggressive that his mouth moves furiously, while keeping his head still, and he looks like an old-fashioned ventriloquist dummy.
The story is where Star Trek Into Darkness almost goes supernova. The film’s overarching theme is the prospect of the Federation using its technology for peace or warfare. It’s almost like a commentary on the state of the Star Trek franchise itself, the peaceful futuristic vision of the series creator Gene Roddenberry verses the mindless action film muscle that hogs so much of the runtime to appeal to the widest possible audience. It’s a complete contradiction of itself when characters are condemning the fierce tactics of their enemies while our heroes are detonating anything with a fuel cell. There’s even a scene where Scotty points out that they’re supposed to be explorers, which is a valid point and with such a vast cosmos to discover, Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof can’t seem to cut the umbilical cord to Earth. For this reviewer the real pain came from Abrams and his screenwriters messing around with the newly created timeline (created from the time travelling exploits of the first film) to produce a few truly awkward moments that pillage from Trek film canon. If you’ve done your homework you’ll recognise the crimes while the uninitiated may enjoy forging their own lore as the franchise picks up new fans.
Abrams gets lazy throughout borrowing many similar scenes from the first film such as a cloud covered Enterprise, an extreme space skydiving sequence and a token Leonard Nimoy cameo (it was fun the first time but it just feels laboured now). Abrams even gets so lethargic that he relies on a scene with a ten second countdown to diffuse a bomb that comes right down to the wire. Of all the stars, in the vastness of space and with almost limitless technology, creativity is still stuck at “cut the red wire”.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a cosmic fireball of epic proportions. It’s fun to watch but it's mostly just empty space dust.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies