I must admit that when I walked into the crowded theater to watch J.J. Abrams’ second journey into the ‘Star Trek’ universe, I was a bit apprehensive. The studio didn’t hold any press screenings before the film was released on Wednesday. For some reason, the actual press screening was one hour later than the regular screening for paying audiences. Usually, studios do this when they know they have a terrible movie on their hands and don’t want negative reviews published before opening day. Would that be the case here, or did Abrams simply want to keep the film’s many secrets under wraps until it was released?
I’ll avoid specific spoilers in this review, and will try to talk more or less in generalities. First and foremost, know that I loved ‘Star Trek into Darkness’. Abrams has conjured an action-packed thrill ride of a sequel with just enough heart to appease new fans of the franchise as well as old school Trekkies. I have no doubt that this will be one of the most successful films of the year, and won’t be surprised if Paramount announces a third entry in the next few weeks.
‘Star Trek into Darkness’ still takes place in Abrams’ alternate ‘Trek’ timeline, established in his first film, but he continues to link the two continuities here as well. One of the things I love most about this sequel is that it’s a story about how Kirk and Spock’s friendship evolves. In this reboot of the franchise, we haven’t seen Spock and Kirk become the friends that we know they’ll be. Kirk is still young, cocky and brave, while Spock struggles with his half-Vulcan and half-human sides. These two Starfleet officers do not mix.
Things start out with Kirk, McCoy and Spock on a primitive alien planet as a very large volcano is about to annihilate the entire landscape and its inhabitants. With this intense situation, Kirk does what he does best, by acting rogue and unwilling to follow the rules. Spock, of course, uses logic rather than emotion to accomplish the same task. From this, we see what their relationship is and what it could be. Later, Kirk is relieved of his Captain rank due to his insubordination, and is replaced by Commander Pike, who demotes him to First Officer.
Meanwhile, a huge terrorist explosion destroys a bunch of buildings and kills a lot of people on Earth. At a Starfleet meeting led by Admiral Marcus (Peter “RoboCop” Weller), we learn that a man named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) is behind the bombing and has escaped to a far off, supposedly uninhabitable Klingon planet. The Enterprise is sent to capture him. However, there’s much more to this story and Harrison than meets the eye.
Abrams focuses more directly on the duo of Kirk and Spock this time around. While we have some good moments with other characters, they don’t have much screen time and mostly serve for comic relief, which is done flawlessly and works in great references to the original films and TV show. And if you thought that the previous movie had a ton of action sequences and spectacular visual effects, you’re in for a treat with this sequel, which turns the action up to Eleven.
Cumberbatch really shines here. You never know quite what to think about him, but he’s truly a force to be reckoned with. Even though he’s roughly the same size as everyone else in the film, he appears larger-than-life and is very terrifying. Quinto and Pine turn in stellar performances as well. This is maybe some of their best work to date, as we see both men struggle with their flaws and their friendship. I believe that the true core of this sequel is almost a love story, but one between two friends who are destined to do great things.
Simon Pegg as Scotty has his own separate mission and is a key part of the movie. The humor he brings is much-needed and always welcome. Karl Urban never fails to impress as McCoy, the doctor who’s always angry at something. It’s amazing to see him flirt with some of the staff on the ship. Anton Yelchin’s Checkov doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but has a great scene involving his uniform. I believe Sulu (John Cho) will have a bigger role in upcoming films. In his brief time on screen, he demonstrates that he’s capable of leading a starship. Zoe Saldana as Uhura serves as more of a comic relief role this time around. And of course Peter Weller puts his all on the table and is ruthless to a tee.
I saw the movie in IMAX 3D. If you have the option to see this in IMAX, by all means do so. I truly felt like I was on the bridge of the Enterprise for the whole film. The sound was incredible. The 3D, however, is take-it-or-leave it. I didn’t find it to be good or bad, just average. I would have much preferred to see the film in 2D.
I can’t wait until we have ‘Star Trek’ films where the Enterprise does what it’s meant to do, which is go out into the beyond and explore new planets and life forms – to boldly go where no one has gone before. This isn’t that movie, but I expect that the next one will be. ‘Star Trek into Darkness’ has tons of twist and turns and is on the highest level of entertainment. This is a remarkable sequel and I can’t wait to see it again. This might be the most fun I’ll have at the theater all year.
[Editor's Note: We will publish a spoiler post about this movie on Monday. Feel free to discuss whether you liked the picture or not in the Comments to this post, but please refrain from giving away major plot spoilers until everyone has had a decent chance to see the film. Thank you. –JZ]