I found Star Trek Into Darkness to be a very good film that addressed some of the concerns raised by fans over the previous film. Star Trek Into Darkness is surprisingly political for a summer blockbuster and sees Star Trek return to the allegorical story telling for which it is famous.
The movie acts as a metaphor for America’s descent into moral ambiguity following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The hunt for John Harrison is analagous to the search for Bin Laden and the debate about whether to launch photon torpedoes at the Klingon home world is relevant to current debates regarding the morality of drone strikes.
The film concludes with Kirk realising that he lost perspective following the terrorist attack on Starfleet. He then rededicates himself to science and peaceful exploration and begins the famous five year mission, to explore strange new worlds and to seek out new life. The title “Into Darkness” refers to the moral state of American foreign policy following 9/11 (fear, vengeance, anger, and violence) and the final scenes state that it’s time row back from this.
Star Trek Into Darkness opens with Kirk debating on whether to violate the prime directive in order to rescue Spock whose life hangs in the balance as he tries to save an entire civilisation from an erupting volcano. Roddenberry would be proud of these aspects of the film.
Much like the first film, Into Darkness moves at a fast pace and has a lot of leavening humour courtesy of Simon Pegg as Scotty. The special effects work is outstanding, particularly the scenes with Spock in the volcano. I also really enjoyed the beautiful musical score from Michael Giacchino who cleverly riffs on existing themes from Jerry Goldsmith and Alexander Courage. He also cements his own Star Trek theme, providing a musical identity for the modern movies.
Chris Pine was excellent as Kirk and the film showed a Kirk who was quite similar to the portrayal in Season One of the original series. There were some great moments between Kirk and Spock, in particular I enjoyed the scene where Kirk confesses to Spock that he has no idea of what to do and you could really sense the burden of command. Cumberpatch was excellent as the villan, although I thought the casual viewer might have needed a little more back-story to really appreciate his character. All of the supporting cast were excellent, particularly Alice Eve and the hawkish Admiral Marcus, played by Peter Weller.This is where my main criticism of Into Darkness would lie, the film is great for trekkies like me, but I wonder if the general audience fully appreciated Cumberpatch’s character – which I can’t reveal here without spoiling the film. There are a lot of easter eggs for the trekkie in this film, but it’s sometimes hard to be immersed in the film when you are constantly thinking how clever some of the inter contextual references are. But maybe that’s my problem – I saw it with a couple of non-trekkies and they were able to follow the film just fine.
I enjoyed the plot of the film, although how much you enjoy it might depend on your appreciation of homage. That said, I did find some story logic problems with the movie in that some aspects could have been better explained (the novellisation fills in some of the gaps).
I didn’t quite enjoy the film as much as the 2009 movie – it tried hard to pull on the heartstrings in some scenes, but it never achieved the big emotional impact like the death of Kirks father in ST09 for instance. I also thought that the last thirty minutes were very much in the mold of a generic action movie and I would have preferred some more talky character scenes. Some of the dialog in the early part of the movie was supremely well written and the actors rose to the challenge well.
All in all though, I think that this is JJ Abrams best directed movie, and the story flowed very well. I felt that the vignettes in the opening sequences of the previous movie led to a staccato feel to that film. Star Trek Into Darkness was an action romp in the vein of Indiana Jones rather than the bleak and brooding Dark Night that the trailers had suggested. For the next film, I’d like to see the crew exploring a strange new world and I think that it is not necessary to have a ‘big bad’ as the previous two movies have had.
In summary then, Star Trek Into Darkness has a pleasingly relevant theme, is visually superb, well acted and has a terrific musical score.