J.J. Abrams has created a Star Trek movie that is a lightsaber away from being a Star Wars movie. It has me conflicted in that I like it very much, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to. I enjoyed watching it while simultaneously being disappointed. The cast is brilliant all around and the addition of Benedict Cumberbatch will always be welcome. The frenetic action is well paced and the set pieces move along smoothly. The plot holds up if you don’t think about it for longer than it’s onscreen. Into Darkness has many things going for it, but the biggest drawback is its insistence on playing it safe.
Into Darkness begins with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) leading the crew of the USS Enterprise on a mission in typical buddy cop fashion. As a result of Kirk’s impetuousness and willingness to break the rules mixed with Spock’s logic and adherence of said rules Kirk has lost the command of his ship. An attack is made against the Federation by John Harrison (Cumberbatch) and in a stunning display of good luck Kirk regains command of his ship with an order to follow Harrison to the Klingon homeworld and eliminate him. Stunning displays of good luck follow Kirk around as if they were his superpower. Thus ends the actual plot of Into Darkness. The movie is essentially a very long chase/revenge film with sci-fi elements.
It is here that I must confess that Star Trek has never been my series. I was always a Star Wars fan. My Trek viewing was hit and miss throughout. I’ve seen various episodes of the original series and The Next Generation. I’ve never seen any of the later series. I saw some of the movies. I weirdly recall liking the one about whales when I was a child. I have not, however, seen The Wrath of Khan to which Into Darkness is unabashedly homaging (remaking?). I understand there to be many elements of that film that are mirrored in this one, but I am not the target audience for those references. I can only take this film at face value, but I fully understand that there may be a deeper level of satisfaction for someone that gets the references throughout.
J.J. Abrams continues to inspire wonders with his visual flair. His vision is impeccable. This Star Trek universe feels lived in and every action set piece feels both grandiose and realistic. Visually the film is stunning. The plot is where things start to go wrong. Character’s decisions make very little sense and bad decisions not only go unpunished but sometimes rewarded. The actual plot arc is paper thin as it truly is a straightforward chase film. The disappointment for me came from the lack of anything truly original. While I may not have been a huge Trek fan throughout the years I have always appreciated the originality of the series. It broke new ground and explored strange ideas. Abrams’ version is a paint-by-numbers summer blockbuster affair. The moment the story is introduced you know how it will end. It was a fun ride to take, but ultimately forgettable.