It’s probably safe to assume at this point that J.J. Abrams’ two “Star Trek” movies are less his version of “Star Trek” and more his version of what he really wants to do — which is a “Star Wars” movie. Fans of any iteration of the “Trek” franchise could probably have told you that, though it didn’t really come to me until Abrams was recently given the “Star Wars” franchise and the writer/director let it be known that he had always been meh about “Trek”, but really, really loved “Wars”. No surprise, then, that watching the Abrams “Trek” movies is like watching an action movie in space. Any space action movie, really. These two just happens to have the “Trek” name in them, and its two main leads just happened to be named Kirk and Spock.
The boys are back for the second time ’round, with “Star Trek Into Darkness” opening on an alien planet where the crew of the Enterprise are trying to prevent the imminent demise of an alien civilization. Even non-Trek nerds could tell you that this is in direct violation of “Trek’s” famous Prime Directive. Of course, Kirk (Chris Pine), still full of piss and vinegar, and apparently not having matured all that much since his last adventure in 2009’s “Star Trek”, decides the Prime Directive be damned. Why by-the-book Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto) goes along with it, detonating a bomb of some sort to stop a raging volcano and thus spare the planet, is a bit of a mystery, though.
Smartly, Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), Kirk’s father figure, strips him of the Enterprise, which miffs Kirk off something awful. He’s particularly pissed that his buddy Spock was the one who sold him down the river. Have no fear, though, kids. Soon, Kirk is back in the Captain’s chair after disgruntled Starfleet baddie John Harrison (“Sherlock’s” Benedict Cumberbatch) blows up a giant section of London then tries to massacre Starfleet’s head brass. Kirk is sent after Harrison, but that’s where things get really complicated. Conspiracies, Klingons, and a giant ship called the U.S.S. Vengeance all converge to make Kirk question his ability to lead (and save) his crew. Sitting in the big chair is a huge responsibility, as it turns out, though Sulu (John Cho) seems to like it well enough.
If you like your sci-fi action fast and shiny and loud, then “Star Trek Into Darkness”, from a script by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof is a winner. It’s even got some on-the-nose wink-and-nod to today’s War on Terror (killer drones!) for those interested in such things. But it’s not really the action or spectacle that makes “Darkness” good, it’s actually the characters. Yes, the characters. Spock and Kirk’s relationship, Spock and Uhura, and John Harrison’s motivations make the big-budget space action worthwhile. Harrison makes for a particularly worthy foe, and Cumberbatch conveys the villain’s ability to be intelligent, brutal, and downright human all at the same time with fantastic clarity. He really does at times comes across like his Sherlock Holmes character, but without a Watson to control his homicidal urges.
Two movies later, and you can see that Quinto and Pine have embraced their characters. While the script spends most of its time on the two bros bro’ing out (or more precisely, arguing about their bro’ing status), the rest of the crew do get some moments in the sun, in particular Simon Pegg as Scotty, who questions the Enterprise’s latest mission, while Chekov (Anton Yelchin) gets promoted (sort of), and Bones (Karl Urban) does what Bones usually does, which is worry a lot. If I recall, Sulu never actually leaves the bridge of the Enterprise for almost the entire movie, not counting a brief scene near the end. Newcomers Alice Eve, as the new science officer, brings some sex appeal to all the bro’ing on the ship (no offense, Uhura), and “Robocop’s” Peter Weller plays an Admiral with his own plans for Kirk and company.
Fans of the first Abrams’ “Star Trek” won’t have anything to complain too much about here. This is a great continuation of that reboot, though those who moaned about the first movie will find plenty to moan about here, too. Abrams’ version of the Klingons is interesting and certainly sets up for a nice third movie, if they choose to go that route (though the ending of “Darkness” would say otherwise). “Star Trek Into Darkness” delivers on pretty much every level you expect from your Summer Hollywood tentpole movie. It’s fun, it’s got action to spare, and the budget is all there on the screen. As a bonus, we get some great character work by Cumberbatch and Quinto, and Pine ain’t too bad, even though he comes across as a bit one-note next to the other two gents. Overall, if this is Abrams’ version of “Star Wars”, I am fascinated to see what he actually does with the real “Star Wars”.
J.J. Abrams (director) / Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof (screenplay)
CAST: Chris Pine … Kirk
Zachary Quinto … Spock
Zoe Saldana … Uhura
Karl Urban … Bones
Simon Pegg … Scotty
John Cho … Sulu
Benedict Cumberbatch … Khan
Anton Yelchin … Chekov
Bruce Greenwood … Pike
Peter Weller … Marcus
Alice Eve … Carol