Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
“Beyond the darkness, lies greatness.”
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana
Synopsis: After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction.
When a Star Trek movie begins with an Indiana Jones-style action spectacle combined with an end-of-the-world scenario, it’s pretty clear that its makers have no real intention of appealing to those who still revere the original 1960s TV series. We might be watching Kirk and Spock in that James Bond style intro, but what J J Abrams and Into Darkness’s three screenwriters are pitching us is a generic SF/action movie designed to appeal to as wide a demographic as possible rather than to a narrow core of fans. Does it matter? Well, yeah, it probably does if you’re one of those hardcore fans of Gene Roddenberry’s original TV series, but if you’re an SF fan with only a passing familiarity with the origins of one of the most enduring franchises in SF history, then you’re probably going to be mildly impressed.
After that ‘high-octane’ opening, in which we see Kirk (Chris Pine — Smokin’ Aces) defying the Starfleet Academy’s prime directive that its personnel must not be seen or heard by primitive but developing planets when he saves Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) life, Kirk is hauled before his mentor Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) who informs him he has been relieved of his post as Captain of the USS Enterprise. However, when Pike assumes control of the Enterprise he appoints Kirk as his First Officer.
When a bomb attack destroys the Academy’s archives in London, high-ranking Academy officers convene for an emergency meeting which is itself the subject of an airborne assault by rogue agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). When Pike dies in the assault, Kirk pleads with Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller — The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Screamers) to be permitted to captain the Enterprise on its covert mission to kill Harrison, whose location has been traced to the planet of Kronos, deep in Klingon territory. Marcus gives his permission, but later, as they approach Kronos, Spock successfully argues that Academy protocol insists that Harrison should be captured and returned to Earth for trial. However, when Harrison unexpectedly surrenders, it becomes apparent that the situation isn’t quite as clear cut as it at first seemed.
Although Star Trek: Into Darkness makes repeated reference to incidents from the old TV series, their inclusion tends to muddy the chronological timeline. Mention is made of Harry Mudd, a space-faring entrepreneur who appeared in the first season of the TV series, but in the series the crew’s encounter with Mudd took place during the USS Enterprise’s five year mission to… etc, etc, the launch of which forms the conclusion of this movie. Similarly, the movie features a tribble, one of the furry creatures the crew first encountered in the second season of their mission. Of course, it’s not uncommon for filmmakers to insert these references for the pleasure of fans, but a little consistency wouldn’t go amiss, otherwise it just comes across as lazy screenwriting.
Physically, Chris Pine suits the roles of Captain Kirk, but he struggles to convince when the script calls upon him to emote. It’s also a little disconcerting to see the admittedly buccaneering, but disciplined, Kirk portrayed as something of a womanising Jack-the-lad, enjoying an interspecies threesome with sexy aliens with tails. As you’d expect, Spock’s character is entirely more consistent with the TV version, but nevertheless Zachary Quinto does well to inject some pathos into his character. All of the other familiar characters from the crew return, with most relegated to small supporting roles although Simon Pegg (The Parole Officer, The World’s End) as Scotty plays an integral part; conversely, Bones, played with suspect sincerity by Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Dredd) is given nothing to do other than complain about everything.
Although Star Trek: Into Darkness’s plot reunites the crew with a familiar foe, its storyline could easily be applied to any other franchise set in a future in which space travel is the norm. The effects, of course, are spectacular, and the movie does make some attempt to develop the characters and relationship of its two male leads, but an incredibly cliched ending weakens an entry already barely deserving of the status of (just) above average.