Star Trek: Into Darkness: spoiler-free review

They say that the even-numbered Star Trek films are the best ones; think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home. Into Darkness, the second movie in the rebooted series, is no exception. It’s an epic adventure: a tale of revenge, cruelty and double-cross, which leads to the loss of thousands of lives.

As you would expect, the special effects are first class. The alien worlds are cleverly realised, both the ones from within and without the solar system. The set designers have clearly been inspired by the Hubble space telescope to make deep space seem more realistic than ever before.

There has also been a lot of effort put into cranking up the effects of the original series. The best of all is the Enterprise when it goes into warp drive: the power of the engines makes you brace in your seat as the ship blasts off into the unknown.

Now that we have reached the second film in the series, the actors are starting to escape the shadow of the original cast. Zoe Saldana as Uhura and Simon Pegg as Scotty especially are  making the roles their own. In this film, Chris Pine is also much more convincing as James T. Kirk. It would be nice to see him given even more freedom in his performance because he could be just as ironic and witty as William Shatner, given half a chance. As a guest star, Benedict Cumberbatch is superb, dominating every scene in which he appears. Cumberbatch does a fine job of keeping up the family tradition of playing Sci-Fi villains (his mother Wanda Ventham played the Fendahl in the 1977 Doctor Who serial, Image of the Fendahl).

Part of the reason why the cast do so well is that they are given such a witty script. The writers have clearly caught the humour of the original series and they use the characters in surprising ways to get the occasional laughs.

Talking of the script, don’t think that if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the whole film. As you watch Into Darkness, you’ll see how cleverly the trailer was constructed. It masks a great deal of the plot and wrong-foots the expectant viewer in several ways.

There are just two quibbles with the movie. The first is minor, but it does seem ridiculous that a story based around high-tech machinery, weapons and starships should solve a lot of its crises with a punch or a kick. This is fun cinematically, but nonsense from the point of view of real science.

Secondly, Into Darkness is missing something from the original Star Trek. Series creator Gene Rodenberry had a vision that science-fiction should teach people something about our world now and in the future. The stories should always have a message, encompassing big themes like racism or environmental degradation. There aren’t any of these big themes in Into Darkness, which loses a lot of the depth that comes from Star Trek at its best. If the movie reboot continues in this way, it runs the risk of becoming just another generic Sc-Fi run around.

Into Darkness is a very enjoyable movie. It was especially nice to see a future London realised by the designers and to get a glimpse of other aspects of the Star Trek universe. Director J.J Abrams also did a neat job of dropping in visual and story elements that are reminiscent of Star Trek adventures past, both on TV and film. This adds an extra level of fun for serious fans without overcomplicating things for the general viewer. It’s definitely worth a trip to the cinema to watch Star Trek: Into Darkness on the big screen.

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10 responses to “Star Trek: Into Darkness: spoiler-free review

  1. After a slightly cheesy/standard hollywood opening I rather liked the first film, and I’d be very happy to see the franchise continue. It felt to me it understood the original series much better than the other series did funnily enough, though as you say it does lack that moral message element.

    Then again, Star Trek was a courageous show in many ways, first interracial kiss. A modern equivalent would be a devout and observant muslim officer or an openly gay couple who weren’t also incredibly fashionable and fun and supportive of a central straight character, stuff that challenges the prejudices of our age in other words. Without Roddenberry though (which in many ways gives the franchise a lot more freedom, since he insisted on it being a utopia which I think seriously harmed next gen) I don’t see that happening.

    Anyway, definitely looking forward to this one.

    • Hi Max! “Courageous” is the word because that’s what separates Star Trek from the other run of the mill SF shows. It was always very daring. You don’t notice the missing analogies when you watch the film though because it’s a very entertaining ride. However, it didn’t make me think in the way that the old 60s serials did.
      On the relationships front, in this movie, Kirk does get hitched up with a couple of aliens with tails. That’s got to be pretty groundbreaking!

  2. Estic totalment d’acord amb el teu comentari de la pel·lícula. Realment jo també vaig passar una molt bona estona. Vaig trobar molt original, però conseqüent, que tan Kirk com el Sr Spock solucionessin de manera similar la salvació de la nau. Sembla que tenim històries per a rato amb les noves aportacions de JJ Abrams. “Llarga i vida prospera”

  3. greetings, I watched this in 3D and got sick on ice cream during the trailers…I enjoyed it, for me it didn’t quite feel like a classic Star Trek film although it was a great action film and although it was fairly predictable it never got dull. The underwear shot was completely pointless as well…although it was a clever device for getting even more advertising.

    • I hadn’t realised it was out in 3D too. That explains some some of the shots because there were moments when things came hurtling out of the screen at you for no particular reason. I never watch films in 3D myself. It brings back memories of shoddy cardboard specs and Jaws 3D.
      That underwear shot is completely gratuitous, and even one of the writers said so here.

      • This was my first 3D film and it really didn’t add a lot to the experience, a few bits hit the screen and you get a sense of depth when people are talking with the over the shoulder shot but that was about it. I expected more…it all just seemed a bit of a gimmick. Those cardboard glasses were great, especially when home made, lol.

        The underwear shot begs the question, why didn’t anyone say anything or question it at the time. I hate to hark back to Star Wars, the new ones that is but Lucas seemed to have a lot of yes men around him and those films were shocking. I hope this is a blip and that film three is great and then we get to see some cheesy 80’s whales in the inevitable fourth!

      • I miss those whales. I also like the bit in Star Trek IV when Scotty sits down at an 80s computer and starts talking to it. When he realises it isn’t voice activated, he then picks up the mouse and talks into that. Classic.

  4. I don’t admit it very often, but I watched the original Startrek series on its first time around. I like the way the new films are giving us a pre-look into bits remembered by the old grey memory cells. 🙂

    • Yeah, I love that too! I saw the original series on British TV but a good 15 years after the first broadcast. The problem was we always got the same episodes going round and round again. The one with the flying pancakes was always on for some reason I remember…

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