"Enough with the metaphors... That's an order."
In 2009, Paramount handed the reigns to one of its most successful franchises, Star Trek, to their in-house wunderkind, J.J. Abrams. The film that Abrams delivered was a fun throwback to the Trek of old, with plenty of action thrown in to hold the attention of viewers not used to the more leisurely pace of Gene Roddenberry's creation. The film was a surprise hit that summer, and expectations could not be higher for the follow-up, Star Trek: Into Darkness. So could the film live up to those expectations? Read on to find out...
The answer to that question will depend on two things... Your affinity for big budget, science fiction filmmaking & your tolerance for said filmmakers' interpretation of Star Trek. I will therefore be giving the film two scores, one as a joe schmo sci-fi fan with no particular reverence for the Star Trek canon, and one as the faithful Trekker that I am. I haven't done this before, but I've never encountered a film quite like this before that almost requires the scores to be separate.
Picking up less than a year after the events of 2009's Star Trek, Into Darkness opens with the Enterprise crew conducting two separate missions on a primitive planet with no knowledge of Starfleet. Circumstances force Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) to choose between breaking the Prime Directive, which dictates that Starfleet not let their presence be known on such planets, or letting his friend and First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) die inside of a volcano he is attempting to prevent destroy said civilization. Kirk chooses the former, and is relieved of his command of the Enterprise by his mentor Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood).
A terrorist attack in London, masterminded by a rogue Starfleet officer by the name of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) forces Pike to retake command of The Enterprise, and he chooses Kirk to serve as his First Officer. Another attack, this time of Starfleet Headquarters, forces Kirk back into the Captain's chair, and he gathers his crew to track down Harrison and make him pay for his crimes against Starfleet. Disobeying direct orders from Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to kill Harrison, Kirk instead takes him into custody to stand trial, but gets more than he bargained for when Harrison's true motives come to light.
A little background on my history with Star Trek before delving into my review, I grew up a fan of The Original Series, and saw all of the TOS films in the theater with my father. He had introduced me to the series, and I was a fan for life from a young age. My favorite film of the series is Wrath of Khan, and it's a film that I love and never get tired of watching. I wholeheartedly enjoyed 2009's Star Trek and thought it was a great action film with lots of nods to fans of the original series. Putting aside any loyalty to the brand, I would say that Into Darkness is a worthy successor, upping the ante in all the right areas, and will be enjoyable to casual Trek fans and non fans alike.
Now, I'm going to stop being polite. As a Trekker, and more importantly as a diehard fan of Wrath of Khan, this film is a travesty and a sham of the highest order. For only the third time in my life, I walked out of the theater before the film ended. Granted, it was almost the end, but it just became too much for me to bear any longer. A series of events is set in motion that mirrors those at the end of Wrath of Khan, and while I wasn't happy with where things were heading, I accepted it and continued to watch, although I was getting more and more perturbed as I knew where they were heading. When the moment came however, and I won't spoil it here, but the diehards will know what I'm talking about, I couldn't handle it any more and I walked out.
It's fine to pay homage to what's come before, but when you're ripping off a vastly superior film wholesale in the way that Abrams and his hack screenwriters Roberto Orci , Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof were, I refuse to sit idly by just to see where you're going to take things. What they did is inexcusable and I defy anyone to tell me otherwise. It's a slap in the face to Star Trek fans everywhere, and it's even worse to do it in a film that was otherwise nicely setting up its own mythology. I take what they did personally, and I have a hard time believing that other Trekkers won't feel as strongly.
As for the performances, they're pretty good on average, with some being better than others. Benedict Cumberbatch is outstanding as the villain of the film, and I have no qualms with saying he's the best thing about it. His calm, cool demeanor masks a rage that only boils to the surface at key moments, and he's a joy to watch when it does. As for the main crew, Karl Urban as Bones and Simon Pegg as Scotty remain the best at paying homage to their original counterparts without ever devolving into mimicry. They are, without a doubt, the best crew members to watch in these films. Bruce Greenwood is also great in his two scenes as Pike, making him a worthy father figure for the wayward Kirk.
But about that Kirk, Chris Pine is just awful as Kirk. First and foremost, he's not given good material, and I would go so far as to say that the writers treat Kirk like a moron. But it really doesn't help that Pine is so devoid of anything even resembling a personality that he makes mediocre material even worse in practice. His James T. Kirk has all the braggadocio and bluster that made William Shatner such a fantastic Kirk, but he has none of the street smarts or brilliant split second decision making that made Kirk the best captain to ever commandeer the Enterprise. Pine looks like a child on bring your kid to work day, and that should never be what I see when I look at James T. Kirk.
The film is well choreographed, well paced and solidly entertaining summer action nonsense. But as a Star Trek movie, it's grade-A dreck. The filmmakers can't go fifteen minutes without a major action beat, virtually every conversation is had while running or walking or yelling at one another, and there's no time for anyone to convey any ideas without setting up the next action beat. It's a fun movie, but it's not a Star Trek movie. And even worse, they rip-off the greatest Star Trek movie of them all to try and lend the film some much needed gravitas, and they just end up looking as bad as the people who produce those mockbuster movies over at The Asylum.
J.J. Abrams, you may have fooled the general public into thinking that you're a great action director, but you sir are nothing more than a world class hack, content to sit back and rip off much better filmmakers than yourself. Everyone involved in this film owes an apology to Trekkers everywhere, and you can rest assured that this Trekker in particular will approach anything you do in the future with appropriate caution. I shudder to think of what you're about to do to the Star Wars universe.
Average Joe GO Rating: 3/5
Trekker GO Rating: 0/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]