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
Nearly five years ago, an intrepid crew set out on a mission which had never been tried before and which no one was entirely certain would succeed to recreate the “Star Trek” franchise as a tent-pole summer film with over the top action sequences and underwear model leads. And against all odds they succeeded, crafting not just an enticing piece of summer entertainment, but a compelling drama that managed to satiate both the old school fan and the teenager looking for his quick effects film fix.
Sure, it wasn’t perfect. The cast was too young, new Kirk Chris Pine in particular lacking the age and gravitas to be believable as The Captain. The film peaked too soon and was never able to build to as powerful a climax. But it was a good first. Surely, with a few years to reflect, the experienced creators behind “Star Trek” would come back with a new plan of attack, keeping what worked, jettisoning what didn’t and crafting a sequel that built on the strong foundation they had laid down.
It turns out, not so much.
If anything they’ve gone backwards, generating a technically impressive piece of fanwank filled with humor and weak characterization, tied to a plot that is just a bad idea from the get go.
A terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch) with an axe to grind against the Federation has been blowing up buildings all over Earth, taking out secret Starfleet installations and top brass. When Starfleet discovers he is hiding on the home world of the Klingon’s, they decide to send a covert team of the most serious men into Klingon space to kill the man and return without anyone the wiser or interstellar war being started. Of course, there’s only one man for that job master order-follower and king of the subtle, Captain James T. Kirk.
The Kirk of the first film was less a character than a caricature, a frat boy with a chip on his shoulder who would make a pass at anything female that came along. But that was okay because he was a character in development, a caricature on his way to becoming the man he will be.
Except, having established that concept, director J.J. Abrams and writers Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindeloff do not seem too interested in building on it. They’d rather just repeat what already worked the first time, which pretty much sums up “Star Trek Into Darkness” as a whole. The film has barely started before Kirk is back in a bar, drinking his cares away and being lectured by Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) about what kind of man he could be if he’d just try.
Which makes him the perfect man to go into enemy space to hunt out his target in a second act plot development which makes less sense the more you think about it, except as an excuse for a spaceship chase that looks great but is ultimately pointless.
To be fair, not every character is just a copy of the first film. Some of them, like Anton Yelchin’s Chekov and Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy, are barely present, making room for vastly increased roles for Simon Pegg’s Mr. Scott and Zoe Saldana’s Uhura. Zachary Quinto’s Spock still remains an eerie recreation who actually does get a fair amount to do as he deals with having real relationships despite his commitment to pure logic.
But none of that is the big problem with “Star Trek.” The big problem is that the filmmakers are fans and as much as they managed to avoid giving into their inner fan in place of what worked the first time around, they have gone nearly 180 degrees the second time, and not just with a cacophony of call backs. Somewhere along the line they have decided to try to remake “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” bigger and badder than ever.
All of which leads to a derivative third act lacking in any of the freshness or originality of the last film, which can only really be enjoyed by hardcore fans or those who dont know what its referencing.
Yeah, it’s well put together with several well-put together action sequences that put anything from the last film to shame. It also repeats the last film to an astonishing degree, and when it’s not doing that, it repeats even older “Star Trek” films, albeit without any of the drama or permanence that made “Star Trek” so affecting.
There’s no rule that a big summer movie should be any more than that, even if the filmmakers involved had managed that before. But it can’t help but be a disappointment and that is what “Star Trek Into Darkness” is. Pretty and loud, but unimaginative and repetitive. Far from going where no one has gone before, this “Trek” is only interested in retreating along his old tracks.