Spoiler-Free Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

When JJ Abrams was tasked with making the Star Trek franchise commercially accessible back in 2009, I’d say he did a pretty good job—characters and general situations that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in parodies rather than in their native habitat suddenly became relevant and… well, I don’t wanna say “cool” since that would be pushing things, but at the least the franchise was back in the public eye for doing what it did best in the form of a blockbuster movie. And while the sequel didn’t necessarily disappoint in that respect either, I just felt like Star Trek: Into Darkness didn’t tap into the potential that is almost fifty years of source material to work with.

Star Trek: Into Darkness posterThis time around, the crew aboard the Enterprise isn’t the only ones in direct danger, as an unknown terrorist has their eyes set on the entirety of Starfleet. Revelations are made, people are killed, betrayals are had, and things are decently wrapped up in around 2 hours. I wouldn’t say it’s an incredibly by-the-book sci-fi movie, but it isn’t exactly groundbreaking by any means either. Similar to the previous Abrams Star Trek, all the tension and plot-building in Into Darkness isn’t your typical gradual climb up to a climax. Things slow down, speed up, halt completely, and meander in an almost aimless sense. Then again, the main characters are a crew of explorers, so such an aesthetic works to a certain degree. Still, something about the movie just didn’t sit right with me.

Perhaps the movie suffers from the standard sequel problem of simply seeing if it can get away with more of the same. Yes, performances are great, settings and costumes are visually stunning (Uhura’s covert “civilian” clothes are disgustingly stylish), and there were a good couple of lines that really did give me chills from their emotional impact, but nothing seemed to try to go above and beyond expectations. This is especially apparent in the character arcs of Kirk and Spock. Yes, their characters have already been established in the previous movie, but that only makes me wonder how said characters are further developed this time around, and (more importantly) how that will tie in with the story. What we get is an initial setup of Kirk and Spock’s conflicting opinions on following Starfleet protocol, only to have the general theme lost halfway through for the sake of plot twists, and then shoehorned back in for the finale. Maybe it’s not as bad as I put it, but I hesitate to say it’s spectacular by any means.

I did enjoy seeing where Earth sits in the Trek universe, with the first terrorist attack being on a Starfleet building in London, though it also led to my wondering why the scope was immediately broadened to space for the majority of the movie. From the get-go, it is made clear that the villain’s plans had some direct affect on Starfleet as a whole, so to have things solely focused on the Enterprise crew made it seem as if a lot of off-screen goings-on were being skipped over. Maybe such consequences will be told in the next movie, but to hold off until then results in the story not being as strong as it could have been.

Another point I must bring up are the little nods towards the old-school Star Trek material. Now, I am by no means well or even decently versed in Trek lore, but internet humor has made me privy to at least a handful of tidbits, nearly all of which were paid homage to in some shape and form in this movie resulting in my just being taken out of the movie’s world if only for a bit. That’s not to say little easter eggs in movies are horrible; if that were true, Stan Lee’s IMDB page would be considerably shorter. The problem is when the easter egg goes from being in the background (Iron Man’s Ultimate Comics suit in the third movie) to the front and center of the action (“I’m the Juggernaut, bitch”). And in the case with Into Darkness, one particular scene is near identical to a certain scene from an old-school Trek movie, to the point that any seriousness and emotional impact intended was just lost on me—a guy who at best has seen one or two DVR’d old Trek movies.

As a whole, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a serviceable action/sci-fi movie. Though from a franchise as long-running as this that has only just recently been put back on the map with the Abrams movies, you would think that absolutely every effort would be made to make sure the franchise doesn’t go back into obscurity. I wouldn’t exactly call this a popcorn movie, since the occasional Trekkie jargon does involve some form of thinking on the viewer’s part, but maybe that’s just the direction that popcorn movies are taking as of late.

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