A big budget, special effects action bonanza, J.J. Abrams’s 2009 reboot of “Star Trek” accomplished what no other “Trek” film has done before. A massive success, it was a game changer for the series, transporting “Star Trek” from something only for fanboys into the mainstream. Suddenly it was cool to like “Star Trek.” By eschewing the philosophical, character-driven aspects of the franchise in favor of something more in the vein of “Star Wars,” Abrams, then a professed nonfan of “Trek,” showed how exciting the adventures of James T. Kirk and Spock can be, even if half the film is covered with lens flares. Now, Abrams & Co. are back with “Star Trek Into Darkness,” probably the most thrilling entry yet in the storied franchise.
“Into Darkness” has about as bare bones a plot a “Trek” film has ever had. Genetically enhanced terrorist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) wages a one man war against the Federation, and Kirk (Chris Pine) volunteers to bring him to justice. What makes the film so delicious is the complexity with which that plot is executed, with surprising twists, characters with ulterior motives and Kirk, devastated over an attack the resulted in the death of his mentor Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), too blinded by rage to figure out who’s playing him and who isn’t.
“Into Darkness” takes place some time after the events of the previous film, and it shows. Everything has a very lived-in feel to it, especially the banter between Pine and Zachary Quinto, who reprises the role of Spock. The pair’s relationship has evolved from animosity to friendship and, dare I say it, even love. This makes the appearance of Harrison even more thrilling, as he acts as a lightning rod, tearing the crew of the Enterprise apart. Cumberbatch, best known for his work on the outstanding BBC series “Sherlock,” lowers his gravelly, British voice an octave or two, giving Harrison a vicious growl, like the man is annoyed at having to even tolerate the presence of what he considers to be lesser life forms.
The last “Star Trek,” as good as it was, seemed afraid to dip its toes into the water with “Trek” lore. “Into Darkness,” however, dives in head first. While every bit as action packed as the previous film, “Into Darkness” is brimming with confidence, embracing the fact that yes, this is an actual “Star Trek” film. The modern day allegory is there (this time an examination of 9/11 and the our response to it), as well as the friendly friction between Kirk and Spock over the Vulcan’s inability to understand human behavior, despite being half-human himself. It’s literally the best of both worlds. Yes, the “Star Wars” elements are still present, and better than ever, but this is a pure “Trek” film through and through, something Abrams was too afraid to go near in the last film.
“Star Trek” rewrote the rulebook for reboots by creating an entirely new timeline, where what happened before won’t necessarily happen again. “Into Darkness” has a lot of fun playing in this new sand box, and in melding old “Star Trek” sensibilities with this new world, “Into Darkness” is the best that popcorn filmmaking has to offer. It’s easily the best film in the series since “The Wrath of Khan,” and arguably the best in the entire franchise. “Into Darkness” is an event not to be missed.