Star Trek Into Darkness is a bit of a weird title. It comes across as a Wheel of Fortune ‘before and after’ puzzle. But, if we stretch the metaphor beyond breaking, that Wheel joke expresses the transitory nature of the story for the film.
You see, Kirk has been given permanent control of the Enterprise following his actions against the future Romulans in Abrams’ first Trek film. But he’s not the Kirk we know yet. He has not began his mission of exploration. Darkness has the unusual propensity to be the sequel to a sequel to the original franchise’s continuity that also functioned as an almost prequel. I sure can’t think of another franchise like it. It’s not like Mayday Parker showed up in the last Raimi Spider-Man and then went back in time to kickstart the Garfield flicks. That’s part of what made Trek XI so intriguing and what provides the frustration I felt for Trek XII.
Don’t get me wrong; I really had a great time with Darkness. Even if I did not like it as well as the previous film, it is still definitely in the upper tier of the franchise’s installments. The main issue is that they don’t seem to be taking the opportunity to be as original as they could be, perhaps because of the expectations that go along with the name. While the previous film absolutely had ways that it was reminiscent of other Trek entries, they found ways to make them different enough to feel fresh. Darkness, on the other hand, plays its homage so on the nose as to be distracting.
Trying to avoid spoilers for a film like this is priority, of course, and it can be tough to do when so much inference can be made due to rumor and innuendo, especially when it comes to an Abrams film. Abrams is so cryptic and secretive when it comes to even the most basic plot of his films that he could hold a birthday party and his invitations would read, “There is something going on somewhere on a specific date and time. THERE WILL NOT BE CAKE.” This makes it very difficult to discuss specifics of many of his films without making people scream at you. This despite people literally going over every frame of the trailer trying to expose some nuance and glance something that would give away the story and any new characters that may appear. The thing is, Abrams also makes really, really good movies. Mission: Impossible III managed to resurrect a franchise that Tom Cruise had destroyed with his massive ego. Star Trek, which played in my particular theater right before Darkness as a double feature, is fantastic entertainment, especially on the big screen. Super 8 was my personal favorite movie of 2011. That’s how he gets away with it. And Star Trek Into Darkness is another notch in the “win” column, despite some glaring things that, while well done, made me roll my eyes a little bit. Like most of his films, it is a rollicking movie with lots of humor, great action sequences and an important character dynamic at its core.
In this case, the story is built around the budding relationship between Spock and Kirk. Since Kirk has had it made clear that he and Spock are intended to be the best bros since Paul Rudd and Jason Segel in I Love You, Man, he’s definitely making an effort to reach out to him. But since their friendship was jump-started as opposed to beginning organically, it has had many bumps and snags along the way. Kirk’s swagger and attempts to preserve life, even when it violates the prime directive (one of his more endearing characteristics held over from the TV series) and Spock’s rigidness collide, even when they are getting along. The way that the events of the previous film instruct their interplay is one of the biggest highlights of the film, as well as further integration of Karl Urban, whose McCoy remains absolutely spot-on without ever seeming like a caricature. Something he pulls off better than any other member of the cast, all of which thankfully return and will hopefully be coming back for many more incarnations.
New to the cast is Alice Eve, who was notable in Men in Black III, and she is possibly more fetching than in any of her other film roles. Her part is one of the ways in which the series is taking things in a new direction, one that could yield some positive results. The ever-dependable Peter Weller, as a senior member of Starfleet, adds some gravitas to the cast. Also coming aboard is Benedict Cumberbatch, fantastic as always, though his casting is admittedly questionable. His role is the one that has been speculated about the most and I wouldn’t dare bring up how he fits into the plot. What I will say is, if you’re a fan of his from his previous work such as Sherlock, you should come away happy with his work.
It’s not often that I love and am frustrated by a movie at the same time, but this is one of them. I’m trying to decide who it was made for; the parallels and abundant references are obviously only things that a Trek fan would get, but the story feels like it would perhaps play out better for a newbie that just came on board with the previous film.
(Three and a half out of five stars)