A new Star Trek for a new audience may be the best way to describe this sequel to the 2009 alternate timeline reboot. We’ve got the same characters, the same Starfleet, and the same (kinda) NCC-1701 USS Enterprise and, as a fan of the series, it’s great to see all of these on the big screen. But, despite the familiarities, it’s apparent that this Trek is a new and exciting journey that is trying to sever the ties, while making clever references, and carve its own identity.
Being set some time after the first film, Into Darkness has characters settling into their more traditional roles. Spock and Kirk aren’t at each other’s throats and it’s evident that Kirk has sincerely embraced his friendship with Spock. It’s a nice change from the tense relationship between the two in the previous film and more in-line with the characters from The Original Series (TOS). There’s witty banter between the two and the relationship between Spock and Uhura gets some worthwhile focus as well which leads to some well-done character interactions and hilarious dialogue between the Kirk, Spock, and Uhura.
The film’s primary plot has been the subject of speculation and rumors for some time with fans believing that Benedict Cumberbatch’s villainous character was Khan Noonien Singh from TOS’s “Space Seed” and the film The Wrath of Khan or Gary Mitchell from the season 1 TOS episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” While it’s evident that there is a great deal of direct influence from TOS’s existing plots, Cumberbatch’s John Harrison is very much a product of this new Trek for a new audience. Fans can sit back and pick out all the clever references and embrace this villain while new audiences are able to enjoy the struggles of the Enterprise and her crew against this fierce opponent unburdened by the necessity of having to know the series’ history.
Plot progression is done very well with location changes and new developments providing a wonderfully coherent but incredibly diverse experience. The film forges its path like a composition of six mini-episodes where the climax is the penultimate episode leaving audiences with a “To Be Continued…” cliffhanger and the finale wrapping up the conflict, restoring order, and teasing what the next season holds for us. Even with its distinct take on the property that often feels alien in the Star Trek universe, the film unfolds in the way you’d hope or expect a Star Trek film to and is the perfect model for what future entries in the series should strive for.
Characters differ from their TOS counterparts. In some instances, this is understandable. Shatner’s Kirk from the Star Trek of the past is brash and sometimes reckless, but in a responsible way. He’s not going to forego protocol simply to forego protocol. If he can find a way that won’t endanger his crew and disregard the Prime Directive, he’ll make the right call. This isn’t to say that Shatner’s Kirk was the perfect model of a Starfleet commander, but he did still respect, to a certain extent, the rules even though he was willing to break them when necessary.
Chris Pine’s Kirk is much less refined. He’s like a child given a set of responsibilities for which he is absolutely not ready. He’s reckless with little or no thought about the consequences. He doesn’t think of whether or not there is a better approach, he takes the quickest or the easiest one simply because he feels that the end will justify the means and that the success will outweigh the cost. Given that this alternate timeline Kirk was given command of a ship in much less time than TOS’s Kirk and grew up without his father, it’s understandable that he’d be less mature or wise than Shatner’s rendition of the character. However, it’s baffling that, after all of this, he managed to stay in command of the Enterprise during the events between Star Trek and Into Darkness.
Zachary Quinto’s Spock is excellent, in this reviewer’s humble opinion. He nails the Vulcan demeanor and his delivery is mechanically organic. At times I felt that his character lacks the human side that Spock Prime of TOS had with this Spock being almost too Vulcan at times, but that feeling is unfounded as Spock has some excellent dialogue that highlights his human nature and one incredibly powerful scene that brings forth the Spock I know and love.
The rest of the cast rounds out the experience nicely with Benedict Cumberbatch playing an excellent villain who is as brutal, powerful, and war-hungry as he is intelligent. This isn’t just a villain who relies on brute strength, but cunning and an infallible strategy to ensure success. Simon Pegg’s rendition of Scotty is also worthy of note as he fills the role perfectly. This isn’t a surprise as I felt his performance was one of the best things of the 2009 film and it’s great to see him back aboard the Enterprise.
On its own, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a fantastic film. It was everything I was hoping for from a sequel to the 2009 film. It was, however, somewhat hollow. The main emotional conflicts and the most rousing scenes are the ones that are modernized echoes of TOS. For a film so heavily reliant on creating its own identity, it’s so heavily reliant on the premise of existing plots to succeed in the task it’s trying so hard to achieve. It hurts the film, but not in such a way that you can’t sit back and enjoy the experience and love every second aboard the Enterprise.
The events from the first film, a Romulan (Nero) traveling back in time to kill James T. Kirk alters the course of the future and sets up a timeline drastically different from that of TOS. While certain events from that film have had a huge impact on that fictional universe, a part of me was hoping that they would move this film franchise closer to merging with the original timeline, for some reason. It’s apparent with Into Darkness that they’re content with straying far from making reparations to their fractured timeline while referencing the existing materials to keep the fans happy. This isn’t a bad thing as it gives us fans some unexpected turns and ensures that the future isn’t predictable, but it’s still hard to not be protective of a property you’ve considered “yours” for years. This modern take on the property has eschewed socio-political commentaries for high-adrenaline action featuring characters that fans are familiar with and non-fans can appreciate. It’s nice to see the crew of the Enterprise back in action and the film is an absolute blast, but you can’t help but feel a little disappointed at times for the lack of traditional Trek feel.
Star Trek: Into Darkness: 4 out of 5