Zimbio Review - 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Thrills, Doesn't Feel Like a 'Star Trek' Movie


The Bottom Line
Should you see it?

Abrams' fantastic action sequences are genre porn for sci-fi geeks, and Cumberbatch is riveting in villain-mode.
In glorious fashion, J.J. Abrams continues to reinvent the campy Star Trek franchise into something it never was before: cool. While Trekkies far and wide may argue this point, the old Star Trek TV series and movie franchise were never close to the pop culture phenomenon something like Star Wars was and it was never as respected. By infusing the reboot with spectacular action sequences and skipping the melodrama, Abrams carries on the legacy of Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise in creating an action film filled with violence and grounded in (relative) reality. It's the golden age of sci-fi/fantasy action films ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy the ride.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a much more complete film than its predecessor, 2009's Star Trek. The sequel has a more robust and topical storyline, a better villain, and it doesn't have to resort to tired formula while explaining characters' origin stories. Into Darkness does have the same sharp canon references the first movie had. Fanboys will appreciate the screenwriters (Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci) including many parallels to the original franchise's own sequel: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The inside jokes are fun to pick out, but the film also works as a stand alone action movie. All of these elements are what makes producer/director Abrams such a talent. Outside of Nolan, there's isn't a filmmaker better at walking that line between geek and pop in action cinema.

Into Darkness has the 2009 film to thank for its success. Star Trek sets everything up for this sequel. Kirk (Chris Pine) is Enterprise captain and a wild card thanks to Nero killing his father. Spock (Zachary Quinto) has lost his home planet of Vulcan and is entrenched as Kirk's first officer while finding time to romance the gorgeous Uhura (Zoe Saldana). The rest of the crew are firmly in place as well. Karl Urban cracks wise as McCoy, Simon Pegg is nervous energy incarnate as Scotty, John Cho is passionate as Sulu, and the crew's lone newcomer Alice Eve brings the token sexual heat as Dr. Carol Marcus. Star Trek put the characters in place while traversing a clunky script but it's easier to appreciate the film now since it set up this sequel so nicely.

(Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.) During an observation mission (to a primitive planet—featuring an homage to Indiana Jones), Kirk breaks the Prime Directive to save Spock's life and is consequently demoted to First Officer. Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) assumes control of the Enterprise but is killed when a former Starfleet agent, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), rains bullets on a meeting of high-ranking Starfleet officers. Harrison is later revealed to be Khan, a genetically-altered superhuman who doubles as Into Darkness' terrorist surrogate. After 300 years in stasis, Khan was awakened by Starfleet's Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to develop weapons for an imminent war against the Klingons. Marcus uses Khan's fellow superhumans, still in stasis, to blackmail him to do his bidding. Khan attacks the meeting in retaliation.

The moral compass of the villain is something new for Star Trek and creates a heightened sense of danger missing from the first movie. Khan has a noble purpose and, although he resorts to extremism, is a highly sympathetic character. After killing Pike, Khan retreats to Kronos, the Klingon home planet. Kirk is reinstated as Enterprise captain and gives chase with a payload of photon torpedoes at the instruction of Admiral Marcus. Scotty, sensing the new weapons could be dangerous, resigns from the crew.

The Enterprise heads to Kronos where we get our first glimpse of the rebooted Klingons. Kirk finds Khan and pummels him relentlessly, but the invincible superhuman barely flinches. When Khan surrenders, it's obvious he has a plan. He knows what's in those torpedoes and knows the fate of the Enterprise and its crew.

The action sequences are exhilirating and
seemingly endless. Abrams and crew prove yet again they're at the top of the list of big budget action mavens, flawlessly integrating CGI within the stunt work. The Enterprise is rendered magnificently, leaving behind magical contrails in its wake when moving to warp speed and spinning through space in one riveting sequence before disappearing into a bed of clouds. The sights are fantastic and Abrams vision for this world is worth the price of admission alone.

The coolness of Kirk is a bit heavy-handed (he wakes up from a threesome near the beginning), but Pine does well conveying the character's smarts and humanity—important traits in this alien-heavy universe. Quinto is brave as Spock, but he'll never be Leonard Nimoy (who makes a cameo). Urban stands out as McCoy and delivers the film's best line, calling Kirk out for his ridiculous metaphors. The coup of the casting department, however, is Cumberbatch. The British actor on the rise is in for a huge year with five films on top of his work as Sherlock on the BBC series. His thunderous voice is a perfect fit for Khan and his wide-set eyes convey the turmoil of the character.

Into Darkness may not replace Wrath of Khan as the "Best Star Trek Film Ever," but it's damn close. For those of us who never followed the original series or films, the new film fits in easily alongside The Avengers or Skyfall as a thrilling blockbuster experience while not reinventing the genre. Into Darkness works because it, like Star Trek, pays homage to the original films while remaining markedly distant from them. It doesn't feel like a Star Trek film strangely enough and that's precisely why it works.

(Star Trek Into Darkness images and poster courtesy of Paramount)
Senior Editor at Zimbio. I'll take Johnny Clay, the Rev. Harry Powell, and Annie Savoy. You can have the rest.