Review: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (Spoilers)

StarTrekIntoDarknessPosterOK, there is really no way to fully discuss J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness without getting into spoilers, big spoilers, specifically in relation to one character and a plot point that sets off the film’s final third. Granted some of these spoilers are out there, but some are not. My one sentence, non-spoiler review would be that the film is entertaining enough if viewed in a bubble, but in context with the entirety of the Star Trek franchise it is a disappointment.

For a fuller critique read on, but be warned that there are spoilers from here on out.

When Abrams successfully rebooted the Star Trek franchise in 2009, he managed to do what was thought to be a near-impossible task – he not only refreshed the stale theatrical arm of the long-running science-fiction franchise but he did it in a way that allowed him to bring in a new cast to play beloved characters and in a way that not only didn’t invalidate what had come before but also freed him off the past’s shackles. And at the end of the film, Abrams and audiences were left with a new Star Trek universe into which the crew of the Enterprise could boldly go to seek out strange new worlds, etcetera, etcetera.

So when news reports about the sequel began to circulate stating the film’s villain would be Khan Noonian Singh, memorably played by Ricardo Montalban in the original Star Trek TV series episode “Space Seed” and then again in Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan, I thought that was a bad idea. With a whole new galaxy to explore, why try to go and revive one of the series’ best loved villains? It seemed like a fool’s errand. The dynamic interplay between William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and Montalban’s Khan was in no need of updating, so why try? It was a story told well the first time, so why not take advantage of the blank canvas you have and do something new?

And so when Benedict Cumberbatch’s terrorist bombing character reveals to Kirk (Chris Pine) after leading the starship captain on a chase deep into enemy Klingon space that his name is Khan, I let out an audible groan. But then something happened. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof zigged where you would have expected them to zag and set up a situation where Kirk and Khan had to form an uneasy alliance in order for both of them to survive. And it worked. I found myself actively warming to the idea.

StarTrek2QuintoCumberbatchPineHowever, just as the film manages to do what I thought was impossible in establishing its own unique working dynamic for the Khan character it had to go and recreate one of the entire Star Trek franchise’s most iconic moments – the death of Spock in the Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. Now I am sure that Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof all congratulated themselves on being so clever as to reverse Kirk and Spock in this situation, placing Kirk in the deadly radiation-filled chamber and Spock on the outside unable to reach his friend. But this isn’t clever, it’s a terrible cheat. Abrams and company aren’t just taking elements of what has gone before and reworking them, they are relying on a specific moment from a previous film to evoke an emotional reaction from the audience rather than doing the heavy-lifting themselves and trying to create their own scene to do get that reaction. However, it falls short of achieving what they seemed to hope for and felt rather forced in the film. It not only pulled me out of the movie but made me lose any good will I had built up from their previous handling of Khan. It is just lazy and cynical screenwriting and the film’s third act suffers greatly for it.

(I should note screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (Lost In Space, I, Robot, I Am Legend) has a cameo as a Starfleet admiral in one scene. Since I have found a number of his films also suffer from third act difficulties, I half want to believe that it is his own bad mojo responsible for the problems here.)

The rest of the film is fairly top notch. The relationship we glimpsed in the 2009 Star Trek between Spock (Zachery Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) gets explored a bit more prominently this time, allowing for a comedic moment between the two with Kirk stuck in the middle and lets Saldana have more screen time and things to do than Nichelle Nichols got to do in any of the original cast films. Although not specifically stated in the film, there are a few moments for Spock’s character where we see how the destruction of his homeworld in the last film has colored his actions. The rest of the main cast all acquit themselves nicely with what they are given, though John Cho’s Sulu seems to get the short stick again.

As I stated before, Star Trek Into Darkness is an entertaining enough film if you experience it in a vacuum, without the baggage that fans of the series will undoubtedly bring with them to the theater. However, the filmmakers seem to be distinctly counting on that baggage to sell a major moment in the film’s finale but instead they only manage to remind us how much better the original was.

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About Rich Drees 6302 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture.

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Britt Meitzler
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Britt Meitzler liked this on Facebook.

Jacob Garner
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I can somewhat agree with you, but let’s be honest here…these Star Trek films aren’t really made for us. They’re made for people who otherwise would never watched Star Trek, and I think that’s why they went with this direction for the sequel. It’s part of what annoys me about the IDW series based on this movie series, as it’s just minor variations on the original series episodes to reintroduce them – I was about to drop it until they started writing their own storylines into it 8 issues in. But because of the plot they went with, I think… Read more »

Erin Astolfi Blank
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What Jacob said.

John Anthony Spangenburg
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Saw it last night, really enjoyed it from an enterainment perspective, but it raised my eyebrows a bit to see a repeat of the earlier movie only in reverse. (Kirk inside the chamber not Spok) But overall it was top notch.

Scott Van Tassell
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There was a special on this movie last night on TV. What Jacob said is EXACTLY what they said in that special. These films aren’t being made just for Trekies. They’re being made for movie goers also. If you go into these thinking you’ll see a traditional Star Trek film, you will be disappointed. I’m certain this will happen with the upcoming Star Wars films as well.

Alan Gribble
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Alan Gribble liked this on Facebook.

Scott Vinnacombe
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Star Wars has been hugely and continuously successful. 1st graders TODAY are wearing SW shirts because of the marketing, production machine that SW is. Star Trek, though I enjoyed every film and the last TV series, had apparantly grown stale with even the fans and needed to be rebuilt in a way that would appeal again. I think it’s clear that these new films have more of a SW vibe to them, but that they still are ST at heart. Any franchise wants to appeal to as mass an audience as they can, but SW doesn’t have the problem facing… Read more »

Anthony Ryba
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I feel much the same way about the third act of what had been a solid sequel. The “Kirk Saved From Death by magic serum” plot device robs his scen with Spock of the emotional core of the original in Wrath of Khan.

Anthony Ryba
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I feel much the same way about the third act of what had been a solid sequel. The “Kirk Saved From Death by magic serum” plot device robs his scene with Spock of the emotional core of the original in Wrath of Khan.

Erin Astolfi Blank
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Old Doctors complain that DW is “sexed” up. Will we see that with Star Wars now that Lucas is out? After all even Pirates and the Lone Ranger got a more adult makeover.

Scott Van Tassell
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I’m not sure why we keep comparing the original Star Trek films to these. Wouldn’t the purpose of this Khan story line be to show the back story to the original? (mind you I have not seen the latest instalment) After all, these are young versions of the characters. So they wouldn’t be remakes….

josephus
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josephus

I decided a long time ago — being a big fan of TOS and someone who sees untapped potential in fleshing out the original canon (the series Enterprise did this successfully in its final two seasons) — that I wasn’t going to give JJ Abrams my money. I’m not going to watch this in the theater. When it hits HBO, I’ll check it out. I was pleased about the rumors of a potential Gary Mitchell villain, but hearing now that it’s Khan….VERY disappointing and unoriginal. JJ Abrams, in my mind, is a completely overrated talent. He is very good with… Read more »