Star Trek: Into Darkness

© 2013 Ray Wong

Since J. J. Abrams rebooted the waning Star Trek franchise and literally altered its universe, our universe has been waiting for his follow-up. Into Darkness is much darker episode that taps into much of today's fears: terrorism, military abuse, genocide, etc.

After a successful but "unauthorized" mission, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is demoted by Star Fleet. Worse, it creates a rift between the hot-headed, go-by-the-gut Kirk and the logical-to-a-fault Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto). After a deadly domestic terrorist attack in London and another attack at the Star Fleet headquarters in San Francisco, Kirk is reinstated as Captain to lead the Enterprise on a secret mission to hunt down the mastermind behind the attacks: John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).

The mission takes them to an abandoned Klingon outposts where Harrison is hiding. Their mission is to destroy Harrison with the torpedoes outfitted on the Enterprise. But Kirk changes his mind and decides to do the right and logical thing -- as Spock would have it -- by trying to capture Harrison and bring him back to Earth for justice without starting a full-on war with the Klingons.

This change of plans angers Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), who follows the Enterprise into the Klingon territory. Marcus's motivation becomes highly suspect when Kirk and the crew discover the true identity of Harrison. As Marucs vows to destroy Harrison and everyone onboard of the Enterprise, Kirk, Spock and their team must outsmart the Admiral in order to survive.

Chris Pine (People Like Us) continues to mature as a rising star, and he has definitely made the iconic role his own, displaying his own brand of earnestness and charisma while channeling Shatner's swagger and cockiness. He and Zachary Quinto (Margin Call) make a great team together, successfully recreating the dynamics and bond between Shatner and Nimoy in the original. Quinto's Spock also has a sensitive side that sets him apart -- he can be at once infuriatingly logic and unemotional, and then becomes a full-functional human being (well, half-human anyway).

Zoe Saldana (The Words) has some key scenes as Uhura, and her romantic dynamics with Quinto (one of the true "What the heck?" moments in the first Star Trek reboot). Karl Urban (Dredd) reprises his role as the cantankerous but loyal "Bones" McCoy. Simon Pegg (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) is again hilarious as Scotty, and John Cho (Identity Theft) is resourceful and stoic as Sulu. Anton Yelchin (Fright Night) daftly plays the young Chekov, and Bruce Greenwood (Flight) is solid as Admiral Pike.

Three new actors join the impressive cast. Benedict Cumberbatch, best-known as Sherlock Holmes, plays the mysterious villain Harrison with gusto, cool, and a deadly stare. Cumberbatch successfully makes us fear, loath and also admire and even root for the character, despite all the bad things he's doing. Peter Weller (Dragon Eyes) is superbly smarmy as Admiral Marcus -- it's really good to see him in another sci-fi blockbuster again. And Alice Eve (Men in Black 3) is beautiful and sexy as usual, good enough to be Kirk's would-be love interest (those who are familiar with the original Star Trek would know what I am talking about), but also convincing as a brainy science officer.

The story and screenplay by Robert Orci (Star Trek) and Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek) weave a nice yarn of intrigue, excitement and superb conflicts while still maintain the tongue-in-cheek humor and character dynamics that made the original Star Trek such a classic. They also pay tribute to the original -- even the casual fan would notice the references. The story itself pays homage to one of the best movies in the original Star Trek series. I wouldn't tell you which one for it would spoil one of the big reveals in this one, but you don't really need to try too hard to guess it. There are certainly enough parallels to the original to walk a fine line between homage and borrowing, and I think the writers did a great job. There are enough deviation in this version that makes you truly understand this is a true alternate reality. That realization is made even more apparent with the brief cameo of Nimoy as Spock Prime.

J. J. Abrams could do no wrong with this series -- and yes, he has toned down his infamous lens flares (there are still plenty to go around, but not as annoyingly distracting). The pacing is superb, the plot twists are well placed, and the character interactions, especially between Kirk and Spock, are wonderfully rendered. The set pieces are fantastic, the special effects excellent and, despite some logistic flaws, the story is strong. If there is one problem, I would be that the superb cast is rather underutilized. The cast had so much more to do and to show off their different personalities in the first movie. Here, they are truly a team and thus, they all kind of blend into one, leaving room for Spock and Kirk to play out their major bromance. That is fine for the story, as the focus is on Kirk and Spock, but I can't help but feel a bit cheated because I like this cast so much.

Still, Into Darkness is a wonderful addition to the series and a worthy second installment. It is pretty awesome. I can't wait to see what J. J. Abrams and his team will bring us next.

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Alice Eve
Director: J. J. Abrams
Writers: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, brief strong language
Running Time: 132 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 9
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 9

Total - 8.0 out of 10.0 

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