Being the sequel to a super fast paced reboot Star Trek Into Darkness wastes no time and throws us right into an Indiana Jones inspired opening. While Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) have to distract the natives Spock (Zachary Quinto) has to stop a volcano from destroying this civilization. The high adrenaline opening culminates into a situation where Kirk violates the prime directive which forbids interference in lesser developed cultures.
His actions save the day but also make the primitive species worship the Enterprise as a symbol of some godly interference.
It is after this action sequence and the comedic payoff that the title card appears and the movie literally descends into darkness with a moody introduction of the mysterious villain John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).
At the core of J.J. Abrams are the characters of the U.S.S. Enterprise. And it would have been easy to ignore some of the more minor characters. But even though the central story is about Spock and Kirk characters like Chekov, Uhura, Bones and even Sulu are not forgotten. A special mention has to go to Simon Pegg’s Scotty who seems to have taken Bones’s role of Kirk’s conscience and trusted friend. Pegg is hilarious and has many moments to shine.
On the antagonistic side Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a great calculating villain. A large part of the movie is spent with the audience unclear about Harrison’s motivations and we are discovering his plans along with Kirk. To the movie’s credit there even was a moment when I was completely unsure which character to trust and how far Harrison’s mindgames went.
Bruce Greenwood again shows his superlikablity as Captain Pike as the father figure of Kirk, Peter Weller has a smaller part as stern Admiral Marcus and Alice Eve joins the Enterprise crew as Carol Marcus.
Aside from a gratuitous underwear shot solely inserted for Youtube purposes Carol Marcus is a surprising addition as she is introduced as a sort of love interest for Kirk. But instead Carol has a smaller part and is thankfully not a character whose purpose it is to kiss Kirk at the end.
A lot of 2009’s Star Trek was about bringing characters back together. It was a retelling of why those characters would serve on the Enterprise. And a lot of times there was a certain plot convenience involved to bring all of them back like the meeting of Kirk and the “original” Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Star Trek Into Darkness still is about the fate of these characters but in a much more believable way. While it is never spelled out the idea of destiny is ever-present in this sequel. This installment sees the progression of Spock and Kirk’s relationship. They started not liking each other and at the end of Star Trek became partners.
Star Trek Into Darkness now tells the story of how partnership becomes friendship and has a very affirming theme that even though this is a different universe and things are not as they used to be that these characters will become friends. Not because the story dictates it but because it is logical – to borrow the words of Mr. Spock.
To boldly return…
Star Trek Into Darkness has been accused of not living up to the premise of Star Trek. Which is to boldly go where no man has gone before. Instead we spend a lot of time on earth. But I didn’t mind that.
To be honest because of budget reasons Earth was never properly fleshed out. It mostly looked like a backyard with a digital painting of a sci-fi city in the background. What we get in this timeline (referred by many as JJ-verse) is a completely believable future city which has much more in common with our present day in terms of nightclubs, bars and so on. Instead of painting a perfect Utopia as Roddenberry envisioned this Earth is still developing with Starfleet and the Enterprise representing the things we can achieve if we follow this vision.
This mentality goes for the entire universe. The JJ-verse is much less of the perfect machine that Star Trek became with The Next Generation. It really feels as if the Enterprise is the first Starship to come close to Klingon space and it also feels less controlled. A ship can be in space and people don’t take notice of it. All of it feels more like the cancelled TV-Show Enterprise which failed to make the universe look new and exciting. Because Enterprise tried to fit into Star Trek history it felt more like a compromise and less like an exciting period of discovery. By ignoring Trek-canon and Trek-technology the universe feels much more unexplored and exciting.
The same goes for the Starfleet mentality. This is not yet The Next Generation – Starfleet, they are just starting to explore the universe.
Are we a military organization now?
While the violation of the prime directive during the opening sequence serves both as a fun opening it pretty much establishes the central question: what is the purpose of this crew? And on a more meta-level the question is about if Star Trek can continue to boldly go where no man has gone before.
To me the 2009 Star Trek stands next to Batman Begins, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Casino Royale as perfect reboot.
- It is a great way for newcomers to get to know all the characters.
- It reinterprets old characters to be exciting and fresh yet still is true to the spirit of them.
- It freed the Star Trek universe from years of convoluted pseudo-science and plot devices.
- It makes you want more.
After this fantastic introduction of these characters I hoped for a second part which would be about the Federation and its values. In my mind I imagined a character corrupting the Federation while the Enterprise remained as the last beacon of hope, representing Roddenberry’s optimism despite all the circumstances.
So the fact that Star Trek Into Darkness pretty much was what I had hoped for added a lot to my enjoyment. And one must not forget that a week ago I had seen Iron Man 3 and was more than disappointed so the Iron Man letdown clearly enhanced everything that worked for me with this Star Trek installment and might have made me gloss over some flaws of the movie.
If Star Wars is just half as exciting…
…then we are in for a rollercoaster ride. J.J. Abrams’s visual sense is felt in every single scene. The design is top notch, Michael Giacchino’s score has a lot of new layers and the setpieces are incredibly. The new warp core is actually the world’s largest laser at the NIF (National Ignition Facility, California) and looks more stunning than any set ever could. Overall this movie has some Titanic-moments where you start to feel how large the U.S.S. Enterprise actually is.
The final act might be a bit predictable and therefore disconnect with some viewers – some Trekkies/ers might even feel offended at some nods – but overall Abrams has created a fantastic follow up to his reboot that together with Star Trek serves as a 4 hour introduction to both the characters and the world of Star Trek. And even if we know the outcome of certain scenes, the characters don’t. Therefore – contrary to Iron Man 3 – the characters believe in the situation and offer us fantastic moments. While Star Trek Into Darkness is not as perfectly paced as Star Trek it compensates because of a charismatic villain, a likeable cast and gorgeous effects.
Now I finally can watch Star Trek without the fear that they somehow will mess up part 2!