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Movie Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness teaches Kirk to respect the chair

Spock, Kirk and Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness

Benedict Cumberbatch steals the show (and a whole lot more than that) as a superhuman terrorist in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek: Into Darkness, also starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana.

In many ways, Into Darkness is a maturing process for the reborn Star Trek franchise. It moves beyond the cute winks at the original series that were everywhere in Star Trek and instead allows this new version of the Enterprise crew to grow in new, organic directions.

And nowhere is that growth more obvious than in the sometime Captain Kirk (Pine), who goes from brash cowboy captain to empathetic, responsible leader through his clash with rogue Starfleet agent John Harrison (Cumberbatch). Kirk ultimately learns to “respect the chair” as mentor Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) says he must, but the process is a painful one.

Kirk and the Enterprise crew are tasked with hunting down and killing superhuman John Harrison after Harrison launches a series of attacks on high profile Federation targets. One of those targets is near and dear to Kirk, but the mission challenges him to look beyond his own revenge and instead look out for the lives of his crew, as a responsible captain should. Rather than running in half-cocked, guns blazing, Kirk must take a more mature approach.

Kirk’s relationship with Spock (Quinto) also matures, as the two are clearly beyond the frienemy dynamic of the first film and more solidly on the same side in Into Darkness. Spock’s cool logic and Kirk’s recklessness still create plenty of friction, but it’s a friction tempered by respect and friendship that both actors manage to capture well.

But Spock and Kirk’s prominence in the film comes at the cost of some of the secondary characters.

Zoe Saldana gets a moment to shine with the Klingons (briefly featured), but John Cho’s Sulu, Karl Urban’s Bones McCoy and Anton Yelchin’s adorable Checkov don’t get a lot of screen time.

Even Uhura doesn’t get a lot of play after her Klingon scene, so it’s left to newcomer Carol (Alice Eve) to bring the sexy – which she does in a brief underwear scene with Kirk.

Star Trek Into Darkness Alice Eve Underwear

“Sexy brought. Can we continue with the movie now?”

Scotty (Simon Pegg) carries much of the comic relief, and he’s fantastic at what he does, but the film’s dark script doesn’t leave much room for lighthearted fun.

Into Darkness definitely goes dark, as Cumberbatch’s Harrison is an absolute capital T Terrorist. The script from Abrams favs Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof plays on a lot of contemporary fears of terrorism, especially in a scene where Harrison plows a massive starship into a skyscraper-heavy cityscape.

John Harrison’s vicious, calculating nature makes Kirk look like a child playing chess, and makes Spock seem like a weepy child by comparison. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is both cerebral and savage, cold in his actions and white hot in his passions. He is, in many ways, a twisted mirror for both Kirk and Spock. And, in every way, he is the best actor in this film.

John Harrison (Khan) played by Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness

Bad guys wear black Starfleet shirts apparently.

Not to be forgotten in this cast are the two elder statesmen in the group, Bruce Greenwood and Peter Weller. Greenwood reprises his role as Kirk’s father figure Christopher Pike, while Weller plays the dirty Federation Admiral Marcus. Greenwood hits much of the same notes he did in the first film, while Weller is capable, if unspectacular. The former Robocop actor has spent much of his late career playing dirty cops on television, and this role isn’t a far cry from his usual.

Visually, Into Darkness looks gorgeous, even if Abrams goes a little overboard with the lens flares. He uses color well, and he’s got a wonderful sense for the spectacle of the Enterprise itself. Twice he shows it rising out of the mist, and twice you’ll fall in love with the ship all over again.

Star Trek Into Darkness Enterprise Crashing

He also makes it hurt to see the Enterprise like this.

Many are looking at Star Trek: Into Darkness as a resume for what Abrams will bring to the hotly anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII, and if this film is any indication, we can expect a spectacular science fiction world that doesn’t forget to breath life into the characters that inhabit it. Into Darkness feels a lot more like Star Wars than Star Trek, as it leans on run-and-gun adventure instead of the intergalactic diplomacy that Trekkies are familiar with.

This is a Star Trek for non-Trekkies.

But that doesn’t mean they completely forget the Star Trek fans, either, because when you walk out of the theater, there’s going to be one word you’ll be dying to scream out.

And boy, is it ever well-deserved.

8 out of 10

  1. May 17, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Nice review Josh. I haven’t seen all the original Star Trek films, so there were a few references I picked up on, but there were parts where judging by the reaction of the audience, some other reference was made that will please Trekkies, even if I missed it. Overall, the fans will be pleased.

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