My gut feeling is that despite JJ Abrams' occasional detour from the spirit and foundation of Roddenberry's Star Trek roots, that Roddenberry himself would be likely to approve of the direction, spirit, shits and grins with which the self-proclaimed fanboy has bathed Star Trek Into Darkness.
It feels a bit unfair to mention the Iron Man films in the same review as this sequel to Abrams' series rebooting prequel, but as I was reflecting upon the film I couldn't help but keep going back to that feeling I had after watching both Iron Man 2 and 3, especially 3, which left me feeling entertained but with less enthusiasm, spark and awe than I felt after the original film. While there was no doubt that Iron Man 2 was a lesser film than Iron Man, in the case of Iron Man 3 it partly felt like I'd simply been there and experienced it and simply wasn't wowed by it anymore.
The same thing happened here. Abrams' Star Trek was an awesome experience, perhaps far greater and far more entertaining than anything I'd ever expected or imagined. As someone who could only be considered an entry-level Trekker at best, I was completely wowed by the experience of the first film and everything that Abrams served up.
This time around? I was still entertain, occasionally very entertained, but that "wow" factor was gone with the exception of a couple major scenes and one mind-blowing one. For the most part, it felt like "I've seen these characters before" and while I certainly didn't regret going on another adventure with them I also wasn't completely blown away by it.
The majority of the cast from Abrams' Star Trek are back, most notably Zachary Quinto as Spock and Chris Pine as Captain Kirk. Spock and Kirk are front and center, perhaps as it should be, with Kirk catching the wrath of Starfleet for disobeying an order and rescuing Spock from a mighty precarious situation on a prehistoric planet. About the time Starfleet hands over control of the Enterprise to Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and demotes Kirk, a Starfleet officer named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has rebelled against Starfleet and is inflicting majorly terrorist style campaigns on key locations. Let's just say it's not long before Kirk has his ship back and is sent off in search of Harrison.
There are aspects of Star Trek Into Darkness that will either feel like a rich homage or a freakin' rip-off depending upon your point of view (I'll admit I lean towards homage). There's at least one or two scenes that will leave Star Trek purists crying foul, though once again it seems as if Abrams has remained faith enough to please most purists while also attracting a new generation of fans. While not a full-on Trekker myself, I will admit that Abrams incorporates many of the things that have long satisfied me about the series including an almost masterful ability to provide commentary on contemporary issues within the framework of the film's futuristic setting. There's simply no doubt that at least some of what goes on here feels relevant, even if it does feel like Abrams and his writing crew have slightly de-emphasized substance in favor of style and dialogue this time around.
There are a couple newcomers this time around, with Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus and Peter Weller as her father. The film doesn't really lean into the fullness of Dr. Marcus, whose role in the Star Trek saga became far more significant. It will be interesting to see if the role develops in future cinematic endeavors.
Of course, you do realize there will be future cinematic endeavors right?
The film's 3-D is really only essential in a couple of scenes, though it's certainly not a hindrance for a good majority of the film. Michael Giacchino's original score definitely hits all the right notes, pun intended, and the cast is solid across the board with the relationship between Pine's Captain Kirk and Quinto's Spock taking front-and-center and satisfying quite nicely. Brit actor Benedict Cumberbatch makes for a stellar villain, mostly because he's smart enough to not really play Harrison as a villain but as a layered, complex character. While he won't likely make you forget the cinematic series' most satisfying villain in Ricardo Montalban, he's definitely in the upper echelon of Star Trek baddies.
It has been well publicized that Abrams was striving for a sort of Dark Knight impact with this second revisit to the Star Trek universe.
The simple truth is that while he's made an immensely satisfying and entertaining film, it's not a great film that will leave you breathless. There's also no one in this cast who will be knocking on Oscar's door come awards season with the possible exception of some of the film's production crew. Actually, while the film doesn't achieve greatness it does satisfy and it satisfies immensely. While my gut tells me that those familiar with the series will enjoy it in a far deeper level than newbies, even if viewed only through the lens of an action/adventure flick this is mega-budget entertainment at its most fun and fantastic.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic