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Review | Star Trek Into Darkness


A funny thing happened on the walk out of Star Trek Into Darkness: I plummeted from a high of soaking in fun visual splendor and adrenaline-churning large-scale action sequences to a middle ground of frustration once I actually took a moment to ponder some of the plot points connecting all the lens flare-soaked glory.

If you’re a fan of 2009’s Star Trek, you were likely charmed by director J.J. Abrams’ ability to enthusiastically introduce us to a set of well-matched characters, commandeer thrilling action pieces and confidently usher his audience through a reasonable (albeit not particularly sophisticated) plot. The film stands as a successful melding of entertainment value and homage for fans — precisely what should be expected of a summer blockbuster branded with the name of a beloved franchise.

That’s why you’ll likely find the director’s follow-up to be a bit lacking, eclipsed in the planetary shadow of its predecessor when it comes to both character and plot development, while upping the action ante to the point of distraction. The highs are pretty high, though, beginning with a gorgeous opening sequence rivaling that of the 2009 film.

It’s clear that Abrams enjoys hanging out with his characters as much as we do. His adept eye for casting was showcased in Star Trek, and the chemistry between his actors is no less diminished in Star Trek Into Darkness. Unfortunately for the second film, Abrams’ enthusiasm doesn’t quite follow through to effect, and the players are often plunged into shallow scenarios and given nothing but predictable, contrived material with which to work. (Karl Urban’s Bones is perhaps the most shining example of this unfortunate effect; he’s reduced to nothing but bad one-liners, sucking the goofy charm from his character and replacing it with profound annoyance on the audience’s part.)

star trek2Where the theme of 2009’s Star Trek is self-acceptance and embracing one’s destiny, Into Darkness settles firmly on the intricacies of family. The script’s lack of depth begins right here: The idea of connecting a cast of characters via shared emotional plights (as opposed to juxtaposing them wrestling with said emotions individually) requires more of an effort than Abrams and his writing team seem willing to expend. Much of the camaraderie — particularly that between Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) — feels laden with unearned, forced emotion. And the common thread is practically shoved down our throats throughout the film, starting with an inciting incident involving a Starfleet member desperate to save his dying daughter, continuing with Kirk’s clashes with Admiral Christopher Pike, and even involving the film’s antagonist (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), who taunts Kirk with comparisons of crew members as family. It builds to a swell beyond metaphor; it simply pummels the life-force from every character, transforming them into pawns moved along the script’s very deliberate laundry list of items to be packed into the movie’s 132-minute run time. Almost none of the intriguing philosophy we’ve come to know of Star Trek is showcased here — it feels a bit like looking at the marketing posters for Into Darkness: an iconic image going down in smoke.

While the film’s plot all but falls apart by the third act (truly, the audience is asked to swallow some pretty astounding leaps in logic), there are admittedly plenty of beautiful large-scale action experiences to satiate the big crowds. The troubling thing is, while one would expect the Star Trek reboots to cater to the masses, they don’t necessarily have to feel that way. The 2009 film managed a semblance of intimacy between the maker and the built-in market, yet Abrams’ recent comments about never being a fan of Star Trek feel about right where Into Darkness is concerned.

Cumberbatch serves as the film’s breath of fresh air, at least, in spirit. Despite his character’s inferior arc, he’s a force in both presence and physicality — both commanding and calculating in the absolute. And, for what it’s worth, he seems to be having fun with it. Pine and Quinto remain perfectly cast, as does Zoe Saldana (as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura). Simon Pegg’s Scotty gets in on some action, but is still relegated to slinging the story’s biggest bits of comedic relief, although he’s not as backed into a corner as Urban’s Bones. Cast newcomer Alice Eve never quite elevates beyond the pretty face of the Enterprise’s science officer, although she heroically does her duty of fulfilling the movie’s bra-and-panty quotient.

While sophomore efforts are often a bumpy ride, especially following a reboot beloved by both a ravenous fan base and newbies alike, Into Darkness feels like even more of a divergence from the spirit of Star Trek’s history, clocking in as a purely popcorn movie and missing the opportunities for more substance. The writing could do with a bit of practicing what its key character preaches, as many of the film’s plot points are in desperate need of Spock-style reasoning. It’s a bit ironic that Pike chides Kirk at one point, “You don’t respect the chair”; to take on a film labeled Star Trek is an automatic burden, and it cannot simply be brushed off.

Star Trek Into Darkness opens Friday nationwide.


  • TheRandomFactor

    I have to say, I absolutely loved it. It’s an absolutely fantastic sci-fi action movie, and was a joy to behold.

  • BeastieRunner

    Did they kill Spock(s) again?

  • Jimmy

    I’ve seen it twice so far, and I’m going back a third time. I think most reviewers are being way too critical of a film like this but heap praise on shit like Avatar. Try and be consistent for a change.

  • Randall Lloyd

    I agree, except that I liked it even less. Once your eyes and brain readjust from the over the top lens flares and you watch it again, you will notice the incredible plot holes, deus ex machina and poor scripting. Those who love these characters like family cannot help by be left wanting here and I would rather have had no movie at all than to have this be the new official canon for future generations.

  • Happily LS

    Avatar was an “original” (sarcastic quotes). This is Star Trek. Have as many explosions as you want, but Star Trek needs to at least reach for something greater than spectacle for spectacle’s sake.

  • George Caltsoudas

    Thank you, FINALLY someone else who sees all the flaws that I found in this movie. The plot is full of illogical things.

  • matt

    I think the earlier movies benefited greatly from having the tv shows introduce them and flesh them out. Expecting two movies to do that is too great of a leap in my mind. Not even having novels or major comics series tell new stories I think hurts these movies. Yes I know some comics have been published but not enough to bring in new fans.

  • Knivesinwest11

    That’s spot on. Star Trek just works better in a serial format like television. Even the original cast films weren’t that great with the exception of Wrath of Khan.

  • Dandru

    What do you mean “finally?” This review didn’t say anything several other reviewers have already pointed out.

  • Katie Calautti

    For what it’s worth, I’m firmly in the anti-Avatar camp.

  • [A]

    what a strange comment. ridiculous, too.

  • Bill

    I could not agree more with this review. I was glad I saw it in IMAX because the effects were incredible. But the story really was bad. I think Nick Meyers should have someone arrested for theft.

  • Hamish Kanakaredes

    What the opening line of the review tells me is that this person enjoyed the movie until he talked himself out of it.

  • Gateway81

    This is a really good review hitting many of the issues i had with the movie. As Stated by Kattie, I had a real issue with Bones being reduced to hockey lines. Abrams throws in STar Trek references like someone who wants to be accepted as a fan without taking the time to understand the franchise. Cumberbatch’s character was a dead end for the film and only there for fan appeal and two or three action sequences.

  • Kensei Yonzon

    Wow. What kind of review is this? Trying to sound intellectual by barely masking a contrarian stance on an incredibly scripted, action-packed, reverential film? Really? If you’re a Trekkie, I honestly can’t believe you didn’t enjoy the homage to old material, and the way they created a divergent alternate reality. If you didn’t at least well up at the lead in to the flipped sequence between Spock and Kirk, I have serious doubts on your fandom. If you’re not a Trekkie, I honestly can’t believe you didn’t enjoy the spectacle.

    Love the old series all you want — I do, immensely — but I embrace this new canon equally well.

  • Kensei Yonzon

    Yikes. Homage =/= theft. Let’s hope you never get called for jury duty any copyright case.

  • Paul Moses

    Wow, the actual movie is worse than the 2 minute tv promo, which by itself has scenes lifted from half a dozen Trek episodes and movies.

  • LightningBug

    This movie was really really good. I think critics and fans alike are being too hard on it. Trek fans in particular (and sci-fi fans in general) have a bad habit of not being able to enjoy the stuff they claim they like. I had a blast at the movies, and I was just as pumped at the end of this one as I was in 2009. Also, let’s be real: as a huge Trek fan I feel qualified to point out that most Trek episodes and movies are way too slow, and filled with just as many inconsistencies and plot holes as this movie. I don’t mind it, and usually find it endearing, but it is nice to have the action ramped up so that it isn’t as much of a distraction as it has traditionally been. I love Star Trek, but a modern audience would literally walk out of every Trek movie made before 2009. JJ and company are doing this absolutely right.

  • CaptPerfectHair

    Cumberbatch’s character is certainly there for fan service; However, he is also there as an effective form of dramatic irony for long time fans. It is an incredibly gratifying feeling to tell a character on screen: “Hey, moron, why don’t you just ask…oh, good job.”
    I don’t expect Bones to do anything else than what he did here, exactly what he did in the show, heal people and crack jokes.

  • mary

    I totally agree with the review! Literally, every word. “Typical popcorn movie”.

  • MR

    I agree with the reviewer – I watched the movie last night and was terribly underwhelmed. I find that if it isn’t full of flares and action then Abrams’ Trek simply is not any good. The story was contrived and rehashed from previous Trek movies (blatantly so) and so full of plotholes it felt like a piece of cheese.
    I won’t point out any of the many MANY problems with the so-called “story” that this movie professes to have because I do not want to spoil the movie-going experience for anyone who has not seen it. Needless to say, once you get beyond the pretty special effects, you are really left with nothing of substance.
    My opinion of what Abrams has done to Star Trek? Taken a rich and complex idea (the “thinking man’s sci-fi”) and turned it into the science-fiction equivalent of The Expendables.

  • kneelB4zod

    Spoilers Abound!

    I liked the movie, and tried to take it as just a good popcorn movie and a fun thrill ride that looked pretty. If you don’t think about the plot too much, it did its job and entertained to the max. I do think, though, that the rehashing of –

    again, spoilers –

    the death scene from Wrath of Kahn (although flipped with Kirk dying this time) was a huge mistake. The two biggest reasons why Spock’s death in WoK were powerful: one, the characters of Kirk and Spock had been friends and coworkers for what, 20 years or so at that point of their careers? You could fully believe why Kirk would feel so painfully saddened by his best friend’s death. Also, ST fans (or at least I did at the time) probably thought Spock was dead for good. Why not? The actors were getting older, it was a fitting heroic death, and they wouldn’t just keep making more ST movies just to keep making them, right? We thought we were saying our final farewell to a beloved character right along with Kirk.

    Now, fast-forward to the new movie. Kirk and Spock have been together for a couple years at most. While their friendship was apparent, it was still just beginning and the true brotherhood that the original Spock/Kirk had was nowhere near cemented. Yes, Spock would be sad to see Kirk die, but I didn’t buy that it would be that dramatic. The tears felt very forced, and the “hands on the glass” goodbye was almost silly compared to how powerful that scene was in WoK. Also, no way in hell did anyone believe that Kirk was dead for good. A 4th grader could see how they were going to bring Kirk back; it was that obvious. Really amateur, almost embarrassing writing there.

    Again, I enjoyed the movie, but I can see how ST fans would find their fault with the movie, and they are deserved.

  • Movie Mother

    Amen Mister, Avatar smelled to high blue heaven!

  • Movie Mother

    No pretty much everyone dies but alas thanks to “startrekscience” they get to be alive again, great disappointment although I do go only to see the “Pegg”.

  • Ccopas

    I love it! Even better than the first one :)

  • Lyle

    Yes, yes, yes, I saw all the flaws that you saw, but, I have to say, I really, really, really enjoyed this movie (I’m not sure I put enough reallys in there). The movie was action packed, the characters were well developed though this was partly because the actors were able to go above and beyond the script, and I found myself concerned about what was going to happen with the characters. I’m not sure what else to expect from a summer movie.
    I felt the main problem I had with the movie was that: Did the second movie really have to have Khan as the villain? And, did it have to borrow so liberally from Wrath of Khan? I agree with one poster that certain relationships seemed forced because of the past film, like the fact that in the original Khan had 20 some years to fester with hate towards Kirk and here Khan has to show the same level of hate without any history with Kirk. But, Cumberbatch did a wonderful job of portraying the character and it was a fun movie. Still, if the next movie is about the Enterprise going back in time to bring two whales to the future, I am calling shenanigans. Why do I fear the next movie will have the Borg in it?