J.J. Abrams has done it again; he’s made another incredibly entertaining “Star Trek” movie. “Star Trek Into Darkness” proves to be just as much fun as the reboot he helmed in 2009, and I found myself with a big grin on my face as the end credits came up on the silver screen. In a summer season that has gotten off to a somewhat tepid start, Abrams manages to thrill us with a combination of spectacular action pieces and characters we come to care deeply about. He also takes this movie to where no “Star Trek” movie has ever gone before: a place where roman numerals and colons are not needed in the title.
One year has passed since the events of the last movie, and this one starts off with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise accidentally catching the attention of a primitive civilization that is not yet ready to discover the existence of things like starships. This leads the crew, and James T. Kirk in particular, to violate the Prime Directive which dictates that there will be no interference in the development of an alien civilization, to attempt to save one of their fellow crew members from certain death. Back on Earth, none of this sits well with Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) who berates Kirk (Chris Pine) for acting as if the rules don’t apply to him.
But things change quickly when a vicious domestic terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) lays waste to certain parts of Earth, and Kirk becomes consumed with vengeance and determined to bring him down at any cost. But in their pursuit of Harrison, the crew of the Enterprise find themselves in conflict as to what course of action is the best one to pursue. While Kirk feels justified in killing Harrison, this action could lead to an all-out war that the Federation of Planets cannot afford.
Now some complain that ever since Abrams became part of the “Star Trek” franchise that the movies have become more about action than ideas, but that’s pretty much been the case since “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” What Abrams gets right though is his attention to the characters, and in the end this franchise is really more about the characters than special effects. While we love the action with all those starships firing their torpedoes at one another, it’s the characters and what they go through which keeps us endlessly riveted.
I love the complicated relationships these people have with one another. Admiral Pike continues to be the father figure Kirk needs in his life, and Greenwood is perfect in the role as he dishes out some hard love to the strong but arrogant captain of the Enterprise. You never really catch Greenwood acting in the role, and his moments opposite Pine are filled with a lot of genuine emotion that never feels faked.
But the key relationship in this particular “Star Trek” movie is the one between Kirk and Spock which remains as complicated as ever. While Kirk is willing to fudge the facts in order to justify his course of action, Spock has no choice to be 100% honest about everything because he’s a Vulcan, and Vulcans don’t lie (but they do exaggerate). You wonder how these two can stand to be on a starship together for even a brief period of time, but the fact is that these two need one another in order to survive from one galaxy to the next. This becomes all the more apparent as “Star Trek Into Darkness” reaches its relentless conclusion.
Pine gives another excellent performance here as the iconic character James T. Kirk, and it’s fun to watch him take Kirk from being a cocky individual to one who ends up making selfless decisions in order to save the only family he has left: his crew. Quinto remains riveting as ever as Spock as we watch his half-human and half-Vulcan sides battling with one another for supremacy. Spock has always been a very complex character, and there are many reasons why he was the only one to survive the pilot episode of the original “Star Trek” television series.
Zoe Saldana really gets to kick ass as Uhura, and there’s something thrilling about her not just being relegated to her communications station on the bridge. Simon Pegg remains a delight as Scotty who finds out more about starships than he’s supposed to in this one. John Cho really does get his moment in the sun as Sulu when he is required to take the Captain’s chair and makes it clear he is not to be messed with. And then there’s Karl Urban who remain as pitch perfect as ever as Dr. McCoy, and he delivers some of the character’s most iconic lines with a freshness which reminds us how much we loved this character in the first place.
As for Anton Yelchin, his character of Pavel Chekov is kind of underused in this “Star Trek” movie. Yelchin gives a good performance, but Chekov is relegated to engineering a little too much this time around, and he comes off looking like he’s not a necessary part of the Enterprise crew.
There are also some new additions to “Star Trek” family in this sequel that prove to be very welcome. Peter Weller, the original “Robocop,” co-stars as Starfleet Admiral Marcus, and he brings to his role the same relentless hard ass intensity he brought to the fifth season of “24.” Alice Eve portrays the very alluring Science Officer Carol Wallace who knows more about weapons than anyone is comfortable with, and she hides secrets which may jeopardize her relationship with the crew.
But the one actor everyone will be paying the most attention to is Benedict Cumberbatch. Long before this sequel was released, it was believed that he would give us one of the most unforgettable villains of the summer 2013 movie season, and he doesn’t disappoint. John Harrison is not your typical one-dimensional bad guy, and that makes Cumberbatch’s portrayal of him all the more mesmerizing to watch. He also gives the role a strong depth you don’t expect it to have as we discover his true nature and why he is wreaking all this havoc.
To say anything more would risk spoiling the movie for you, and I am not about to do that. Abrams makes a very welcome return to the director’s chair for this “Star Trek” adventure, and his success here bodes well for that “Star Wars” movie we are waiting for him to make. While some directors get caught up in visuals, battles and explosions, Abrams is one of the few who gives an equal amount of attention to the actors and the characters they play. That makes his films all the more thrilling and emotionally involving to witness.
It’s hard to say where “Star Trek Into Darkness” ranks among the other movies in this franchise that continues to live long and prosper, but it’s safe to say that it won’t be sharing company with “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” anytime soon. This film entertained me from beginning to end and it never sacrificed character for the sake of action. It has me looking forward to the next film which should have the Enterprise crew finally starting their five-year mission to explore strange new worlds. Whether or not Abrams will be in the director’s chair, it’s bound to be a very entertaining journey.
* * * ½ out of * * * *
Copyright Ben Kenber 2013.