It’s been four years since J.J. Abrams helmed Star Trek, a reboot that took the franchise into a bold, more commercially accessible direction. It was a fun, whip-smart adventure that managed to feel fresh and familiar in equal measure. Now, he and his modern crew of the starship Enterprise return with Star Trek Into Darkness, a movie with a lot to live up to both at the box office and in the minds of fans.
The film opens with a daring rescue and ends with a massive chase in the wake of an equally massive cataclysm. In between that, viewers are given more of what worked so well in the last movie, but few surprises. Kirk and Spock don’t understand each other. Pike has faith in Kirk. Scotty is constantly befuddled. Bones says, “dammit, man.” It’s all familiar, but these are characters we’ve seen for 47 years, and the actors’ take on them – especially Simon Pegg‘s Scotty and Karl Urban‘s Bones – work exceptionally well here. Zachary Quinto‘s Spock deserves some propers too, most notably during the film’s climax.
To cut to the quick, Star Trek Into Darkness embodies everything a big summer movie should be. It’s huge, sprawling and majestic, full of the kind of gigantic set pieces and alien environments that make the film and the Enterprise’s mission bigger than life. It’s a visual spectacle as Industrial Light And Magic outdo themselves in making so much of the virtual architecture and settings look and feel tangible. What’s more, it’s a movie that doesn’t waste a frame. Abrams and company spin the film up to break-neck speed and never let up, the last 45 minutes don’t let up.
Enough can’t be said about Benedict Cumberbatch. His character is appropriately menacing, cold and calculating. Like Tom Hardy in last year’s The Dark Knight Rises, Cumberbatch’s delivery will likely be the source of parody. But in context, his lines are said with the appropriate amount of venom and rage. His character’s plans and motivations are somewhat hazy, but he keeps the audience’s attention with the intensity of his performance alone.
Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t perfect, however. It’s biggest problem is the size of its cast. Because the film’s pace is so rapid, some of the characters end up being reduced to caricatures. Particularly Bruce Greenwood‘s Captain Pike and Peter Weller‘s Admiral Marcus. The plot unnecessarily complicates itself early and at least one decision is clearly telegraphed as a bad idea, and something out of character for even someone as reckless as James T. Kirk.
But even a rushed first act isn’t enough to derail the movie once it gets rolling. Abrams, his cast and the wizards at ILM have made a movie that lacks the political intrique of its fore-bearers, but is infinitely more accessible and entertaining. If you liked their first effort, you will not be disappointed.