Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Ochi, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Alice Eve, and Benedict Cumberbatch
We start above a red-leafed forest on an alien planet as two robed figures run away from a temple chased by the primitive indigenous population. We quickly learn Kirk (Chris Pine) and McCoy (Karl Urban) are the robbed figures, and they have stolen a sacred scroll. This is all a distraction to allow Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) time to place a cold fusion device in the unstable volcano that is not only on the verge of an eruption, but is also a trigger for a planet wide cataclysmic event. After a series of unfortunate events the shuttle craft carrying Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is scuttled, Spock is rescued from the erupting volcano, the Enterprise rises from the ocean depths in full view of the native population and becomes part of the local mythology, and the Prime Directive is violated on multiple fronts. In other words, just another Kirk & Company adventure from the Original Series.
Next we are in London. And through a slow-burn montage we are introduced to the terrorist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his attack on a Starfleet “archive” in London. The attack is only a first strike before his assault on Starfleet Command. After Kirk barely fends off Harrison, he is sent on a mission to capture him in Klingon territory.
The story moves forward at a quick pace and never lets up. Its one major flaw is that it is too reverential to previous films and the original series. Though this was acceptable in the first JJ Abrams film in order to establish this as an alternate reality timeline, in this case it feels tacked on–almost as a clique making inside jokes. It results in an unnecessary cameo at one point, and an unfortunate use of a classic Trek line by an inappropriate character on another end. But what did work was the chemistry between characters and the morality issues the script sets up.
In classic Trek fashion, the story did ask difficult moral questions that do not have black & white answers. Is the enemy of your enemy really your friend? Do the means justify the ends?
Pine, Quinto, and company are falling comfortably into their roles and making them their own. Simon Pegg as Commander Scott in particular is a joy to watch; though more comical than the original portrayal from the orignal series, it fits this new Scotty for a new audience without reducing the importance of the character. Pine & Quinto play-off each other well and have a natural chemistry–which is the key to the continued success of the franchise. The unknown quantity is Urban as McCoy. Though humourous, Urban’s performance is also borderline parody. It’s an approach that would work on a television series where the character can be molded over time, but in a movie it is more difficult to pull-off. Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison is superb. Too bad he was not allowed to remain Harrison.
If the writers had allowed the story to stand on its own feet as opposed to being a re-engineered story, then they could have fashioned a tale that would have worked with the character of Harrison remaining the antagonist. The idea of the idealistic Federation & Starfleet creating its own homegrown terrorists is a good one and works. Cumberbatch’s performance from that point-of-view works. It’s only when the writers try to bring the original series references back to life that the character does not work.
As for the remaining cast, they fair well. The supporting characters in Trek films always suffer from lack of screen time, and this film is no exception. At least each character is given their moment to shine.
The other thing that shines is the witty banter between the characters. This is definitely the funniest of the Trek films. From Kirk ordering McCoy to stop speaking in metaphors to the exchange between Admiral Pike and Spock, the dialogue is quick and smart.
The overall feeling from Star Trek Into Darkness is one of what could have been. This could have been a great film if only the creative team cut the umbilical cord to the past. We the audience have accepted the doorway to the alternate reality, now the writers have to walk fully through it and create their own path.
Grade = B+
Click on image to view trailer