If 2009’s Star Trek was an energetic and exciting movie that demonstrated there was still life in the decades-old franchise yet, this year’s Star Trek Into Darkness feels like its polar opposite: uneven and circuitous where the previous movie was focused and fast-moving, and-despite some amazing action pieces-far too concerned with what has gone before.
Into Darkness may have more to offer viewers who aren’t overly familiar with the original Trek TV series and movie franchise, in part by offering less. There are so many Easter eggs and call-outs to Trek nostalgia laced throughout the movie, from dress uniforms that echo the outfits from Star Trek: The Motion Picture to dialogue that quotes The Wrath of Khan and episodes of the television series, that at times it becomes almost overwhelming and distracts from what’s happening on screen.
That inability to concentrate is reinforced by the scattershot nature of the plot, which was scripted by the all-star tram of Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. We veer from what first seems like a straightforward story where John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) attacks Starfleet to something almost comically labyrinthine in structure.
Plot twists pile on top of plot twists for seemingly reason beyond the brief shock of the reveal. (No, I won’t spoil any of the movie’s big reveals; they’re important enough that the movie would feel weaker without them.)
The visual effects and stunt work in the movie are very impressive, as you’d expect in a J.J. Abrams film, and offers up the kind of spectacle that almost makes you forgive the flaws elsewhere. (Almost.)
But the number of climactic action sequences contained within the plot corkscrews also starts to feel exhausting, eventually pushing the audience from feeling like “Things keep getting more intense!” to “Seriously, shouldn’t this be over yet?”.
And it’s a shame, because each of the numerous action set pieces are well done and utterly enjoyable in each moment, even if they don’t hang together as any kind of coherent narrative.
The actors also impress, despite the story problems, with Chris Pine delivering a Kirk that’s both evocative of William Shatner and far more sincere and charming than he ever was, and Karl Urban doing more than should be possible with the criminally underwritten role of Dr. “Bones” McCoy.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s steely Harrison is properly compelling, but Peter Weller disappoints as Admiral Marcus, who appears at times to have wandered in from a more campy, melodramatic movie.
Perhaps Weller’s performance best suits the finished script. For all of the teasing of serious commentary on the nature of terrorism and fear in the pre-release trailers, interviews and promotion of Into Darkness, the film itself shies away from actually saying anything interesting or new about the subject. Instead, it opts instead for a tired story about the value (or lack thereof) derived from gazing into the abyss of violence and revenge.
It’s hard to get past the feeling that Star Trek Into Darkness is a film that’s good enough because of the efforts of all the excellent people involved, yet it still falls short of the greatness of J.J. Abrams’ first outing because of a weak screenplay.
Star Trek fans will see it anyway, and why not? For disposable summertime cinema, it’s certainly enjoyable, but you come away with the sense could have been so much more than that. File under “Missed Opportunities”, and look forward to the next one.
— Graeme McMillan