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Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

NOTE: Due to the high amount of secrecy surrounding the movie, this review is being split into two pages. This first page will offer a largely spoiler-free review for people who have not yet seen Star Trek Into Darkness, and the second page will delve deep into major plot points, including the ending.

Star Trek Into Darkness poster
I don't consider the poster a spoiler
As a follow-up to the hugely successful Star Trek pseudo-reboot of 2009, this latest installment in the storied franchise has a lot of expectations to meet. For one thing, Star Trek set the stage for a much more immense way of looking at Roddenberry's universe but didn't do much more than that, leaving the hard work of cultural relevance and poignancy to future adventures. Secondly, Into Darkness promises--even in the title--to be a grittier and slightly more morally ambiguous tale, which fits the pattern of other successfully rebooted franchises but is usually a big gamble for Star Trek. Finally, for all its polish and surprise, Star Trek has its share of problems, which are mostly forgiveable for a first outing but shouldn't be repeated in a second.

For starters, let me just address my biggest complaint about Star Trek and let you all know that, thankfully, the lens flares are toned way down in Into Darkness. They're still there--the Enterprise bridge still looks like a futuristic Apple store--but they rarely get in the way of the action the way they constantly do in the original. There is also less reliance on handheld cameras and unnecessary close-ups, opting instead for sweeping panoramas and invisible shot/reverse-shot editing. Still, Giacchino's score continues to be way too loud and in your face, though the musical themes are slightly more focused.

In other words, director J.J. Abrams keeps learning and honing his craft, which makes Into Darkness a more mature film than its predecessor. The script is also much smarter, containing few wild leaps of narrative convenience (there's one big one that I will talk about in the spoiler section, but it pales in comparison to the ridiculous coincidences of Star Trek), though of course it wouldn't be Star Trek if there weren't nits to be picked. Indeed, even though this is first and foremost a sci-fi action movie, Into Darkness weaves a very clever web that manages to pull threads together from areas of the Star Trek canon one might not expect.

Kirk and Spock
The relationship between Kirk and Spock is still at the forefront
More importantly, the plot is a very organic extension of events that transpired in the previous film, with everything both in the fictional universe and in the characters seeming to be an inevitable result of the altered timeline. For example, far from being just a throwaway plot device, the destruction of Vulcan continues to prove a major turning point and is referenced multiple times. Spock's character continues to develop in a different--though no less interesting--direction, and Kirk's lack of experience has startling consequences throughout, revealing a side to his character we never really saw in William Shatner. Additionally, the strange romance between Spock and Uhura is explored both for poignancy and comic relief, and Simon Pegg's Scotty is given some surprising depth.

The new characters are mostly successful as well. The terrorist villain, played by Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch, is definitely memorable, with a coldblooded ruthlessness and violent streak that lies dormant for long stretches, making their occasional emergences all the more intense. (There is one moment immediately after he is introduced when he is filling a medicine capsule in which he seems more like Sherlock Holmes than anything else, but after that, you'll forget all about Sherlock, at least for two hours.) Peter Weller--no stranger to Star Trek that deals with terrorism (he plays a violent extremist in a couple episodes of Enterprise)--is cast as an admiral who happens to be Captain Pike's mentor, and I'll talk more about him in the spoilers. Lastly, there's Alice Eve as a new science officer, Carol Wallace, who is unfortunately a bit forgettable and doesn't have the chemistry with Chris Pine's Kirk that the writers were clearly going for.

Carol Wallace
Okay, maybe she's not completely forgettable
As for cultural relevance and poignancy, this outing most definitely tries to go headlong into a modern sociopolitical context and--though the ultimate theme of the story is fairly obvious--it succeeds with flying colors, putting this last and most essential part of the Star Trek formula into the new mix. It goes into murky territory that has only previously been trekked by Deep Space Nine, from which the writers borrow a central plot point. This is a bold and risky move, but at least for this reviewer, it pays off in spades.

There are a few minor twists early on that are fairly cliché and predictable, but the plot makes up for it with some bigger and more surprising twists later on, which encourages multiple rewatches. In fact, the biggest surprise is how much of the plot was successfully kept secret, even in the midst of the pre-release blitz. If you haven't seen the movie yet, haven't been spoiled, and are interested in seeing it, I question why you're here reading this review. Really, the surprises are such a big part of the story that I hope you'll stop reading reviews that might let something slip and go see the movie.

Benedict Cumberbatch
Cumberbatch is awesome
With such an intricate plot and with so many characters, it would be easy to revert back to the earlier Star Trek (hardcore Trekkies refer to it as the "prime universe"), where the epic action sequences that define 2009's Star Trek are the exception to long sequences of exposition and technobabble. Fortunately, Into Darkness does not disappoint in the action department. It's frankly remarkable how many big action scenes are crammed into the film, and how the filmmakers still manage to come up with things we haven't seen before in the forty-seven years of the franchise's existence. The special and visual effects are also up to the task, offering a dazzling, high-quality spectacle that is epically entertaining.

Sufficed to say, Star Trek Into Darkness is a great Star Trek film, and I do not hesitate to write that it improves upon 2009's Star Trek in nearly every way. It is exactly the movie I wanted it to be, even though I may not have known it. My only real gripe is the asinine title. Now, if you've seen it and want my thoughts on the spoilerish aspects of Into Darkness, please proceed to the second page, where I will talk about things that Trekkies no doubt are eager to discuss.

FINAL SCORE:

Star Trek Into Darkness is so awesome and entertaining that it blew my head clean off.


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-e. magill 5/21/2013










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