By all accounts, it seemed that the alternate universe concept from 2009’s Star Trek was intended to free the franchise’s writers from utmost faithfulness to the original series. Existing in a reality separate from the rich mythology of the preceding films and TV shows, iconic yet revamped characters like Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) could truly boldly go where no wo/man has gone before. The workaround was a brilliant move and indicated fresh adventures to come, yet for whatever reason the minds behind J.J. Abrams’ second Trek film, Into Darkness, bind themselves to familiar material and immensely weaken a film that otherwise delivers on its promise of imaginative filmmaking.
Other than the final 15-20 minutes, however, this strange rehashing is practically non-existent. Rightfully in its place are big time, big money space battles, propelled by juicy performances and smart writing. Beginning with a patented Abrams cold open, the Enterprise’s latest thrilling exploits involve a manhunt for one of Starfleet’s own, a renegade terrorist by the name of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). The quest brings the crew in contact with the expected run of tight spots and close calls, rendered all the more exceptional for the ship-wide likability of these beloved characters. Recapturing the chemistry that made Star Trek a pleasure, this unity grows increasingly important as Kirk & Co. face challenges for which their academy training did not prepare them, and which are better experienced with minimal foreknowledge.
Still, as with the majority of summer tentpoles, a great deal of Into Darkness’ story is spelled out via speeches and debriefing as opposed to more subtle means. Necessary evil or not, the success of such info dumping depends on the performer doing the talking and results vary wildly. Lengthy expositions from Starfleet Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) gum up the works with his hammy, grand delivery, yet precisely the opposite occurs when the grandstanding falls to Harrison. The film’s villain likewise does a great deal of gab, but his character’s jaw-dropping combat skills, ambiguous nature, and Cumberbatch’s ability to spin the words for maximum effect makes his lines far more electric than they have any business of being.
With Harrison playing so well off of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy (Karl Urban) in new and exciting ways, it’s mystifying when the film suddenly walks some very recognizable Trek territory, a lot of it line for line. Though putting a minor spin on the situation, it doesn’t change the fact that screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and new series collaborator Damon Lindelof (Lost; Prometheus) are essentially enacting a bizarro fanboy fantasy that undermines a great deal of their prior gains. As such, the decision suggests that the parallel universe’s true intention is for certain key moments to be relived but with different people carrying out the same story lines, a twist far more lazy than it is creative. This extended trip down memory lane is so awful that it makes Into Darkness seem lesser than the fine popcorn entertainment that is truly is, though the carelessness scars the reborn franchise nonetheless.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Star Trek Into Darkness is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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I totally disagree. As a Trekkie, and as someone who seldon tolerates film above 90 minutes, I found the pace of the film beyond satisfactory. The monologues did not drag the pace down, the character development was superb and there was just the right balance of traditional ST canon and new material. Only purists, both in film criticsm and Trek canon, will allow their petty whims to diminish this fantastic film.