Star Trek Into Darkness

This review will contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Not too long ago in an office not that far away, Paramount movie executives looked out upon the multiplex galaxy, and saw the wondrous financial returns of big budget franchises that guaranteed history-making box office sales. They saw Batman. They saw Marvel’s stable of heroes. They saw Harry Potter. They saw a rebooted James Bond. And their mouths did water.

The secret of the franchise is name recognition. Paramount rummaged around their closets and all they found was Star Trek.

Sure, Trek had recognition. There’s hardly anyone in America who doesn’t recognize a Star Trek reference. But the trouble with Trek was that it’s glory was long past, and even that glory wasn’t nearly so grand as Star Wars or any of the other big budget franchises. The multiple TV series had creatively dried themselves up, the movies were an exercise in diminishing returns, and it was, for all intents and purposes, dead. But it was the only franchise they had.

Sure, they could cobble together another Trek movie, but the problem was this: Even if they made one that was well-received by the fans, a la Wrath of Khan, there was only so much money they could make, and the ugly truth is that the Trek audience, even if they came out in droves, could not give them the same return a Marvel movie can, or a Batman, or a Harry Potter.

So they decided to roll the dice, find a hot young director/producer, give him the biggest wad of cash they’d ever given to a Trek movie, and reboot the whole damn thing.

J.J. Abrams got the nod. His orders were simple: Give it a young, sexy new cast, and make it MASS APPEAL. It’s summer blockbuster time, gentlemen, and we need those kids in the movie theaters. We need fun, we need space battles, we need fight scenes, we need explosions.

And Abrams delivered. He had to jettison many of the science fiction and story elements that the TV shows had become known for, and he also had to unshackle himself from decades of rotting continuity that even the TV producers had trouble maintaining.

With 2009’s introductory reboot of the way, Abrams now brings us its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness.

I’ve already written about why Star Trek really stopped being Star Trek once it hit the big screen. I take Abrams’ version on its own merits, and all I can say is, WOW.

As a summer blockbuster, Into Darkness is terrific. It’s got a great cast, incredible effects, and a plot that zips along fast enough so you don’t trouble yourself over the gaping plot holes. Or the questionable science and physics.

Chris Pine settles into his version of Captain James T. Kirk here, and I must say I like the arc of his character better this time around. Benedict Cumberbatch shines as the villain, probably the best villain a Trek movie has had in a long time. Quinto again nails it as Spock. Karl Urban’s McCoy is a spot-on impression, but sadly doesn’t get much to do here, nor does John Cho’s Sulu. Checkov and Scotty get to have a little fun, though. Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus is young and sexy and well, sexy. (I didn’t roll my eyes too hard at the gratuitous T&A shot.) And Zoe Saldana continues with the emotional core of her expressive Uhura, and even gets to powwow with some Klingons.

Yep, there be Klingons here!

There is a death scene in the film that I knew was coming, and did not like the idea of one bit. Not because I knew the character couldn’t really die, but because I felt it was an insult to the death scene from Wrath of Khan it was riffing off of. It was the one part of the movie where I stopped enjoying it… but then something happened. Despite all my misgivings, the emotion of the scene got to me. It actually made me choke up — a testament to Pine’s and Quinto’s performance. Okay, Abrams, you win this time.

Complaints? Yeah I’ve got a couple. The aforementioned plot holes, for example. “Harrison’s” evil plan is so convoluted and illogical as to be nonsensical, but again, the plot moves along so fast you don’t have time to care.

But my biggest complaint is this: Abrams took the time to reboot Trek’s universe. I really wish he’d taken the opportunity to move on and tell a brand new story, and he chose not to. He chose instead to reimagine Wrath of Khan. Also, I really could have done without old Spock’s cameo. It was needless and did nothing to move the story along. On the other hand, the old Trekkie in me enjoyed the numerous shout-outs and throwaway lines from other movies and TV episodes.

By the time the credits roll and the familiar Star Trek theme washes over you, you realize your money was well spent and you just had a great ride. And that’s what summer action flicks are all about. I dare say this is J.J. Abrams’ best film yet.

Four and a half stars out of five.  Good work, Mr. Abrams, Mr. Pine, Mr. Quinto, Ms. Saldana and Mr. Cumberbatch. I look forward to the next trek.

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