I just got back from watching Star Trek: Into Darkness, where I learned three things:
- When you have good characters and you stay true to them, you can do almost anything.
- Roddenberry’s universe just does not get old, even in repetition.
- Never, ever, ever, EVER piss off a Vulcan.
I don’t know what I expected as a follow-up to the first reboot film, which I did enjoy. For years, sequels followed a pattern of sucking madly, never quite reaching the pinnacle of the first film. They get rushed out to make a buck; it still happens.
But Terminator 2: Judgment Day set a new bar, that of a carefully crafted, separate movie that continues the first story and yet stands on its own, of taking time to do a follow-up that actually works.
Into Darkness does not disappoint.
I found it predictable in spots. As a longtime Trek fan, I know these characters. I know how they react to things, how they should react. I know their personalities and the way they think. Because of this, I have to turn off a tendency to look ahead and see if I can figure out what’s coming.
At times, I saw things before the characters did, but only just. Audiences are more sophisticated these days. We can see plants a mile away. And if you know a universe well, it’s not hard to guess what might happen next.
Kirk (Chris Pine) is as cocky and headstrong as ever. I like the whole Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) thing, carried over from the first film. It lends a bit of emotional depth to the characters in a new way, and gives Quinto, a delightful actor in any role he does, a chance to really touch on Spock’s half-human side.
The plot starts out running. The setup is super easy to spot, as Kirk gets in deep doo-doo for breaking the good old Prime Directive to save a crew member during an observation-only mission gone wonky (big surprise there). Conveniently, his mentor’s faith in him restores him to first officer on the Enterprise, and when an even more convenient and transparent tragedy occurs, guess who gets another chance?
Soon, the Enterprise crew, minus one hotheaded (and rightly cautious) member, gets embroiled in a secretive, classified mission that of course, Kirk will improvise his way through again. It all seems very straightforward–shoot these mysterious missiles at the scary Starfleet rogue terrorist and rid the world of his menace. Straightforward, that is, until they are headed home with their dangerous target actually aboard instead of dead. But since when did Kirk EVER follow any rules?
Which brings me to Benedict Cumberbatch.
Director J.J. Abrams and the marketers have been busting their asses to keep Into Darkness’s villain a secret. I have been busting my ass to avoid any spoilers. It was worth the effort—my face nearly cracked in the dark from my huge grin. And I am NOT going to tell you who it is; you have to go see it for yourself.
Cumberbatch seems in imminent danger of being typecast as a complete sociopath. His acerbic portrayal of a modernized BBC Holmes in Sherlock pissed me off royally at first, but by the time I made it to the damn cliffhanger at the end of Series 2, he had wormed his antisocial way into my heart. As awful as his Into Darkness character is, there comes a moment when you drop your guard, where a tiny mote of sympathy tries to misdirect you.
All the best villains are great for one reason: they care about something. They have motivation more complex than just a desire to create chaos. Even if we don’t find out what is actually driving them, we sense that there is something underneath. That is why Heath Ledger’s Joker was so amazing instead of just a directionless asshole.
Cumberbatch’s [still not gonna tell you] cares about a thing. Cares so much, in fact, that he will do literally anything to get what he wants. He’s a master of manipulation, but Kirk, even with the world’s easiest buttons to push, isn’t stupid. His decisions aren’t always terrific, but they get the job done, and that’s why we love his crazy butt.
The last third of the movie is all action, but because we aren’t quite sure where loyalties lie, a nice tension flows through it. Overall, it has good emotional range and stays true to the Star Trek universe despite the updates. Much has been made of its dark, 9/11 influence, but you can ignore that and still enjoy it.
My only nitpicks are relatively minor: the predictable plot turns, and a woefully brief scene with Klingons (who look FANTASTIC), perhaps a plant for a future film. And I really don’t think Uhura needs any help to be awesome, do you? I really would like to see Abrams do more with Star Trek’s female characters. Finally, a bit where science officer Carol Wallace (Alice Eve) gets to be the token underwear model seems forced and obvious.
Things I enjoyed:
- Special effects. Fantastic, as expected, but because the story rocked, they didn’t overshadow anything.
- You’ll need an extra snack bar napkin for a climactic scene with Kirk and Spock.
- Cumberbatch. Did I mention how fabulous he was? I think I might actually love this guy. I’m dying for more Sherlock, although his and Martin Freeman’s burgeoning popularity and BBC’s insistence on quality episodes might make that wait quite long.
- All the lovely little bits sprinkled throughout that could lead to more stories. Klingons, crew stuff, and [nope, still not gonna tell you] at the end.
Go see Star Trek: Into Darkness before it leaves theaters. You’ll be glad you did.