Star Trek Into Darkness (3 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by JJ Abrams (Super 8, Star Trek)
Written by: Robert Orci (Mission Impossible III), Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek), Damon Lindelof (Prometheus)
I was never a fan of Star Trek growing up, I was raised on Star Wars by my father. Star Trek (the original series) was a little ahead of my dad, so he did not grow up on it. My grandfather used to watch Next Generation and all the other modern versions, and i would watch sometimes with him. When the reboot was announced with JJ Abrams attached I was beyond thrilled. Abrams, and Joss Whedon are the modern day champions within this genre, and they do things right. They get great actors, they put their heart into the film, and know how to satisfy the fans. This film continues this legacy.
Into Darkness starts with the Starship Enterprise doing what they do best exploring planets, but mainly helping prevent a volcano from destroying a "primitive" civilization. Their mission is suppose to go undetected, but they Starship Enterprise is seen, and this calls into question Kirks leadership. As all of this is going on someone who works within the Star Fleet has a young daughter dying; he is visited by a mysterious man (Cumberbatch) who give the girl his blood in order to help her live. This comes with a price, and John Harrison (Cumberbatch) sets in a motion a plan to take down the Star Fleet.
I was intentionally vague about the plot, for this film, because for me half the fun within seeing this particular film is the way the screenplay sets things in motion. While the script is not as good as the first film there are some fun twists and turns throughout the film, which make this story worth watching. One of the interesting elements is the role in which Star Fleet is compared to the armed services, and not always in a good way. There is an interesting underlying tone, about this higher power having control, and setting things in motion to create a war which is not needed. There are many present day parallells to that, and while some will bemoan this, Simon Pegg's Scottie helps laughingly balance the heavy nature rounding out the the tone of that story element.
Cumberbatch and his character's story arc is central to what drives the latest Star Trek film. I am not giving away spoiler, because if you look up on imdb.com he is listed as playing Khan. Khan is known as the greatest villain to Star Command; he is not only dangerous, but almost unbeatable. In this story Khan is out to enact his revenge, and the lines of right and wrong become blurred. Who is good vs. who is bad, is Kirk and his team fighting on the right side, or are they headed in a direction from their own people which could get them into hot water with the Klingons. The concepts of terrorism foreign and domestic run through this film, and the screenwriters do a good job of never letting the message overwhelm the fun within the script.
Abrams not only knows this world, but he has made it an action packed adventure. One of the signature aspects to Abrams direction is the lack of steady camera work, which makes you feel like you are part of the action. This was used much more in Cloverfield, and Super 8. While Abrams did not direct Cloverfield, this lack of steady camera work made me feel nauseous, when Abrams was at the helm in both this film and Super 8, the technique worked. While there are times when the camera work becomes a bit much, I liked feeling a part of film, and it sucked me into the action of the film. Abrams motto with this film was go big or go home, and he did with incredible visual effects, and some action sequences like a massive erupting volcano, which set this film apart.
The other thing which makes this a great film, is the cast, Abrams has some of the best casting directors, and his actors he uses in this film flesh out the Enterprise in ways the original cast not have the opportunity. The best of the regular cast is Zachary Quinto who steals the show from Chris Pine. Spock was always a beloved character, and Quinto is fantastic within the role; he is both hilarious and captures the Vulcanisms. Chris Pine is actually the weak link of this cast; he is an attractive guy, but one of the most wooden actors. Cumberbatch is new to the franchise; he takes on a classic role and is a tour de force; he is such a brilliant actor, and I love the way he makes you love and hate him in the same moments.
So how does this compare to the first film? I think it matches, but does not equal the reboot. The film is funny, has great action sequences, a solid plot, and continues to work with the great characters. The first in this series just launched something so brilliant, and was one of the best films of 2009. Into Darkness is a film that will not disappoint, because it is good, and also proves that there are so many stories to be told. This film is great, it's fun, and entertaining, but does not advance anything it merely adds a great next chapter within the franchise, which is not a bad thing.