J.J. Abrams 2009 Star Trek reboot was faithful to the franchise to a fault. It was hobbled by its trans-dimensional attempts to justify its existence in the overall Star Trek lore. Leonard Nimoy’s appearance as the original Spock was surprising, but the effort it took to explain left the film relatively plot-less otherwise. A strong cast of characters and overwhelming visuals kept it entertaining, but it could have been a lot better.
Enter the sequel, Into Darkness. The fear here was that the film would perhaps go too far in the other direction, tossing out Star Trek’s heavier sci-fi elements in favor of an action-packed extravaganza. But while the film is indeed an action-packed extravaganza, it’s also far more faithful to Star Trek. Rather than fumbling with the franchises weaker elements, it embraces the stronger themes, funneling those themes through a kinetic, action-packed plot.
The film opens with Kirk, Spock, and crew attempting to save an alien species from an active volcano. The problem, as any trekkie will tell you, is that interfering with the natural ways of indigenous life violates the Prime Directive. The Federation explores and studies, but they don’t interfere. Right from the start, Into Darkness explores one of Star Trek’s most interesting concepts through an action-packed sequence full of running, chasing, action, and explosions. It’s smart summer popcorn fare, and it maintains that speed and depth from beginning to end.
Into Darkness assuages doubt at every turn. Did you think that perhaps the plot would be too straight-forward? The trailer for this sequel, as exciting as it is, probably has most fans fooled. There’s very little this film doesn’t have: action, drama, twists, turns, variety, strong themes, Robocop. It’s all here and it all feels like a Star Trek film should. I dare any fan with desires for this film to come out and say that it didn’t deliver.
Dialogue is as witty as ever. Zachary Quinto reprises his role as the new, young Spock and again his lack of emotions and overabundance of logic brings about some of the films best dialogue and moral quandaries. The way his personality plays off of Chris Pine’s energetic and snarky Kirk is fun, funny, and thoughtful. Again, the characters are as strong as they were in the original, but the plot and themes have caught up to make a much, much stronger film.
There is only one thing about Into Darkness I take issue with, and it’s perhaps a little nit-picky. If a film can be too high-energy, I think this one might take the cake. Almost every sequence, from explosive battles to moments of quiet contemplation have the same heart-pounding soundtrack and quick editing. The result is that excitement becomes the norm, and I found myself no more thrilled during the action than the talking. Maybe that’s the point, but when the entire film is dialed to 11, there’s no room to dial it any higher. Yes, summer movies are supposed to be endlessly exciting, but lets not get burnt out on it, okay Mr. Abrams? Leave some room for everyone else.
That’s the best criticism I can muster–okay, there’s a few silly bits in the villain’s back story, but otherwise Star Trek Into Darkness is immensely satisfying. More than anything, it adapts what’s great about Star Trek, rather than the more convoluted bits that require a ton of explanation. It presents interesting morality and challenging conundrums and blends it all into an explosive stew. It’s all a summer movie can be and more.