Chris Pine as James T. Kirk
Zachary Quinto as Spock
Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy
Zoe Saldana as Uhura
Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison
Alice Eve as Carol Marcus
Simon Pegg as Scotty
Anton Yelchin as Chekov
John Cho as Sulu
Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike
Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Following an attack on Earth, the U.S.S. Enterprise is tasked with leading a manhunt to bring the terrorist responsible to justice.
In 2009, J.J. Abrams pulled off the nigh-impossible task of creating a “Star Trek” film that could not only bring in new audiences to Gene Roddenberry’s incredible science fiction universe, but one that respected the more than four decades of continuity adored by die hard fans. Four years later, there is, at least, some balance to the universe, as it’s hard to imagine “Star Trek Into Darkness” pleasing just about anyone.
Although the film is directed with the fervor and intensity of a tie-in theme park ride, the script, sadly, has precisely the same narrative aspirations. Offering a nonsensical mess of conspiracy theory, “Into Darkness” ends up becoming something stuck midway between a muddled Truther metaphor and a nearly beat-for-beat remake of the identically-plotted “Star Trek: Nemesis,” widely regarded as the franchise’s worst entry.
Although this review will do its best to avoid spoilers, it should be noted that the film’s “surprises” are delivered with such a lack of creativity that to hold them back in the first place is much akin to, say, if Len Wiseman’s “Total Recall” insisted that it not be referred to as a remake for precisely the same reasons.
Suffice to say, as delighted as “Sherlock” fans might be to embrace Benedict Cumberbatch as the Big Bad of “Into Darkness,” his talents are wholly wasted. The best Trek villians have been grand, literate challengers of dangerously disparate ideologies. “John Harrison” is played instead as a tedious, monotone exposition robot with (particularly for Trek fans) a confusing backstory and nonsensical tech gadgets. (He beams, for instance, from Earth to Qu’onos, effectively the equivalent of having a character in San Francisco jump on rollerskates so that they might flee to the moon.)
Viewers will be hard-pressed to find a single memorable Harrison scene or line that hasn’t already been revealed in trailers and that’s symptomatic of one of the bigger failings of “Into Darkness.” It feels incredibly small, limiting itself to a handful of familiar sets with action choreography that does little more than shake those same sets violently. Added to that problem is the fact that the characters, in scene after scene after scene, survive impossible odds, not through intelligence or ingenuity, but through dumb luck.
The difficulty in becoming invested in the characters is amplified by the fact that they’re just not all that likable. Chris Pine’s Kirk is headstrong to the point of arrogance. It’s one thing to have him dodge the Prime Directive to accomplish the greater good, but it’s very much another to outright mock what should be Starfleet’s central principle, then lie about it and ultimately throw a hissy fit when Starfleet calls him out on it.
The film’s female characters fare even worse, relegating Zoe Saldana’s Uhura to nothing more than “Spock’s girlfriend” and treating Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus as expository eye candy. That scene in the trailer where she’s in her underwear? That’s it. She just takes her clothes off in front of Kirk for a second for no real reason. It all feels dangerously misogynistic and very, very far from Gene Roddenberry’s egalitarian future.
Although there are cute little shout outs to just about every iteration of Trek, “Into Darkness” misses the big picture. As much fun as it is to reference “The Deadly Years,” fans are going to find that major elements of Trek lore simply don’t sync up. Klingons, for instance, are now cultureless monsters, sharing much more in common with Nemesis’ Remans.
There’s much more to be said about the sheer incompetence of “Into Darkness” on a narrative level, but it can wait until the “spoiler” threat has fully cleared. Anxious fans, however, would do well to remember Mr. Spock’s wise words from “Amok Time”:
“After a time,” he says, “you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”
The Bottom Line:
It’s hard not to wonder if the reason Abrams is so big on secrecy in the first place is because he knows his mystery box is empty. This is a “Star Trek” film designed for audiences distracted by shiny objects. Die hard fans — and the moviegoing public in general — deserve better than this shameful franchise entry.