A Very “Un-Star Trek” Sequel That Satisfies Every Step of the Way
When J.J. Abrahms decided to reboot Star Trek in 2009, nobody was quite sure what to expect. A half century old franchise with legions of die hard fans, the task had to be daunting. The balancing act between fan service and mass appeal is a tough trick to pull off. Let’s face it. Paramount isn’t going to spend $190 million on a movie only the Comic-Con crowd will see. Luckily for fans and studio execs alike, the end result was a nicely balanced success, proving you can appease both sides of the film-going audience. Despite the glowing reviews, there was a small but vocal contingent who felt the new version was too “actiony”. The slow, methodical pace of the original series was replaced with modern day jump cuts and hyperactive battle scenes. Fair warning: if your Star Trek taste is more in line with a Shatner brawl than Sulu kung fu, you will absolutely hate Into Darkness. Everything in this sequel is bigger, faster and more epic than the 2009 debut. In fact, this is the most “Un-Star Trek” iteration I’ve ever seen. But as the by-line says, when you have a film as tightly made and satisfying as this one, I couldn’t care less.
Knowing to not mess with a good thing, the fantastic cast remains intact from the original. Chris Pine still shines as new timeline Kirk, Zachary Quinto’s Spock is the best actor on the ship and Karl Urban’s McCoy impression still rocks. Much like their last outing, the cast feels like a genuine crew, an important component to the overall chemistry. The newcomers also fit right in, including the Enterprise’s new science officer (Alice Eve), the man of many motives, Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) and a mysteriously dangerous antagonist played by Benedict Cumberbatch. With so much of the film’s freshness riding on the villain, Cumberbatch ‘s steely gaze and threatening ambiguity easily eclipses Eric Bana’s role in the previous flick.
The story is deceptively simple. After a terrorist attack rocks the core of Starfleet, Admiral Marcus tasks Kirk and crew to hunt down the perpetrator, John Harrison. Their goal? Locate his hiding place on the Klingon homeworld, fire a massive payload of undetectable photon torpedoes on the planet and high tail it out of there before they start a war. The easy setup paves the way for a web of continually surprising intrigue and double crosses, thanks to a well orchestrated script. Abrams serves it all up in a tightly directed package that manages to serve the characters and our love of inter-stellar space battles in equal measure.
As I mentioned in the opening, the film has a quicker, more modern pace than the original series which may alienate some die hards. Luckily, there’s some good news: it’s never done at the detriment of the characters. Spock and Uhura have relationship squabbles, McCoy is deliciously cantankerous and Scotty (Simon Pegg) still yells at the grubby looking green guy who hangs out with him. The series’ trademark humor is intact and even the rousing score is spot on. My only critical nitpicks lie with some of the performances. Zoe Salanda’s Uhura has some rough moments and Chris Pine is fantastic when a wise acre, not so much when he’s emotional. And while fan service is required for the fanatical, some of it is oddly placed and almost off putting.
It’s easy to be cynical about reboot summer blockbusters and as one of the biggest, Star Trek is not immune. More focused on phasers and torpedoes than space exploration, the new series pushes the franchise in a higher octane direction. Trekkers may cry foul but the facts are undeniable. J.J Abrams’ second tour of duty upon the USS Enterprise is one of the most satisfying adventures I’ve seen all year. With a fine cast, impressive set pieces and some nifty twists and turns, New Star Trek 2 wraps up everything I loved about the first into a well made sequel. While some internet reviewers have chosen to pick apart the plot holes, I’m struck by how little I noticed any of them. Getting swept away is part of the fun of movies, even when my critic hat gets blown into the black abyss. It may not feel like my daddy’s Star Trek but it’s awesome all the same.
Score – 90%