J. J. Abrams’ first “Star Trek” reboot was a fun rollercoaster ride that reintroduced “Star Trek” to the general public. In doing so, it relied on a variety of pre-existing tropes from “Star Trek” that the general public was familiar with, as well as a few subtle nods to fans of the franchise.
Notably, it heavily borrowed from one of the best original “Star Trek” films, “The Wrath of Khan.” The similarities are almost too numerous to list, and anyone who has seen both films will have an idea of what I am talking about. The main plot of “Khan” features a dangerous man with a powerful ship set on destroying Kirk and everything he holds dear. In “Star Trek (2009)” a dangerous man with a powerful ship is set on destroying Spock and everything he holds dear.
At the time, I was fine with these similarities. It felt like a good place to jump off from the established “Star Trek” franchise, and I was looking forward to seeing where Abrams would decide to take this new franchise. Unfortunately, it is to the exact same place as before.
“Into Darkness” is “The Wrath of Khan” in all but name, and while a few details are changed, the primary meat of the story remains. Everything not already borrowed for the first film is taken, often shot-for-shot, directly from “Khan” and slapped onto “Into Darkness.”
That does not necessarily make it a bad film, just not a very original one. This is understandable, as Abrams’ strength has never been originality, but rather copying other things and putting his own particular flair on them.
The cinematography is wonderful, if a bit over-reliant on shaky-cam at times, and the sets are well-crafted and give the film a feeling of authenticity often absent from modern blockbusters.
There are nice little character moments, setups and payoffs, and comedy relief in just the right amount. It is a well-crafted film, there is no doubt about that.
Unfortunately, there are also some problems, the greatest of which are Chris Pine (Captain Kirk) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Harrison).
Pine is just clearly out of his league in this film, and it shows. He is good eye candy, but his acting needs desperate work. He can not emote without coming off clumsy and over the top, almost on par with a high school drama. Key moments that rely on Pine’s ability do not really work, and his poor performance lowers the quality of the film drastically.
Cumberbatch, on the other hand, is a perfectly fine actor. He is just horribly miscast, looking more like someone who should be working in an accounting firm rather than a genetically engineered warlord.
Zachary Quinto (Spock) on the other hand steals the show completely. His skill has noticeably improved, and he manages to lend a beautiful subtlety to the role of Spock that at times rivals even Leonard Nemoy’s performance. There is one moment near the end of the film that falls flat, a scene meant to be an emotional climax that comes off as comedic instead, due to Quinto’s delivery. But, otherwise, it is by far the best performance of the film.
The rest of the ensemble cast give it their best, and while Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy) at times feels flat, that slight faltering is more than made up for by the excellent performances from the rest of the cast. Of particular note are Simon Pegg (Scotty) and Zoe Saldana (Uhura) who manage to bring more life to their roles than the original cast.
There are a few other minor problems. The film reaches five separate end points, scenes where I thought to myself, “Okay, this is it; this is the end of the movie,” and then the plot simply plows ahead. This is followed by what might be the shortest set of scenes designed to wrap up a film I have ever seen. The audience goes from extreme tension to end credits in less than five minutes, and it is a jarring experience. The film also continues to raise the stakes, becoming absurd once it introduces a drug that can resurrect the dead, the details of which it never even attempts to explain.
All that being said, this was still an enjoyable film. It is a cut above the usual processed garbage that Hollywood throws onto the screen and calls a blockbuster these days. Unfortunately, it relies too heavily on plot points from its source material while deviating too far from the themes that accompanied them. This is still acceptable, but if the franchise does not stop remaking the same film over and over, it will grow old fast. In fact, it has already begun to.