Star Trek: Into Darkness (While the movie’s producers have determined not to use appropriate punctuation, I am not bound by such an agreement.) is the latest installment in the long-running television and movie franchise. While technically science fiction, Into Darkness (J.J. Abrams, Director) is an action, popcorn film, more in the mold of Star Wars than Blade Runner. There is little character development, a heavy emphasis on special effects (and they are spectacular), and a plot that is largely pedestrian and predictable.
The familiar cast returns, albeit in their new visages, with prominent roles for Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zach Quinto), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), and Scotty (Simon Pegg). This is much like the old films and the tv series, though, like the reboot from 2009, larger roles are given to Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) than what we might expect. Also a holdover from the previous film, there is a continued effort to create a love story between Uhura and Spock. The dynamic, as last time, feels forced. Newcomers to this installment include Benedict Cumberbatch (as Harrison) and Alice Eve (as Dr. Marcus). Unsurprisingly, for those who have followed his career, Cumberbatch makes the largest imprint.
Does the film work? I suppose as a straightforward action film, it is effective and entertaining. I would not rate it at the top of the genre (alongside Die Hard or Terminator 2 or Aliens), but it is serviceable for an escape. The film fails, however, to engage the mind. There is some detritus from the War on Terror, with some glancing references to doing whatever is necessary to win a conflict, but the ideas are generally undeveloped.
Into Darkness‘ most controversial aspect is to recreate most of the dynamics from Stark Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. There are differences, to be sure, but the main outlines of the plot have been lifted almost entirely from the earlier film. This would be tolerable if Abrams & Co. had improved upon, or posed challenges to, the earlier film. They did not. In fact, in most ways, this film comes up short when compared to that one, which is the finest of the Trek films. I think a few ingredients are missing. First, Harrison/Khan is not developed enough to justify his revenge. While he tells his own back story with the appropriate level of menace, this is one case where actions, not words, might have been more effective. We do not get a true sense of Harrison/Khan’s rage until he squeezes the life out of a Starfleet Admiral. This, naturally, is at the tail-end of the film. Recall, also, in the original Wrath of Khan, Kirk himself was responsible for Khan’s exile, while here, the initial injustice was far removed from the Enterprise, Spock, and Kirk. This set of events provided an emotional depth to Khan’s revenge in the previous film, which is lacking here.
Second, I do not think that Spock and Kirk have the same reservoir of good will, and the requisite emotional bond with either one another or the audience that accompanies it, to carry off the climax. While the actors are effective, and the scene is gripping in its own way, Kirk (Shatner) and Spock (Nimoy) in the Wrath of Khan had not only two films, but years as tv characters as a back-story. They had, at that point, spent a career together as Starfleet officers. There was real and assumed depth to the relationship. In this version, however, it is unclear how long the two characters have really known each other in this alternate timeline, so the agony is limited when compared to the Wrath of Khan.
Finally, Harrison/Khan in this go-around is absent poetry. Whether cribbed from Moby Dick (“from Hell’s heart I stab at thee”) or just generally lyrical (“He tasks me! He tasks me and I shall have him!”), Ricardo Montalban’s Khan used words well and effectively. He chewed scenery, to be sure, never missing an opportunity to wring every ounce of villainy out of a situation, but that Khan had a repellant charm. While I have no doubt that Cumberbatch could have risen to such an occasion, the writers failed to provide him with a script to match his considerable abilities.
FINAL GRADE: 2/3 Eggheads