Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) [non-spoilers]

This review of Star Trek Into Darkness is intended for non-Trekkies, so no spoilers or intricate references to the original Star Trek series will follow.

J. J. Abrams is the right choice for Star Wars. He’s already made two Star Wars films, they are just labeled as Star Trek movies. With Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams ups the personal stakes and brings in a more formidable villain in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison. The film may lack the freshness of the 2009 film, but it’s still a superior summer entertainment.

In Star Trek Into Darkness, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the crew of the Enterprise are tasked with hunting down John Harrison after he delivers a devastating attack on Starfleet Headquarters. Kirk takes on the ethically questionable mission as a sort of vendetta against Harrison after suffering a personal loss in the attack, and along the way, tangles with Klingons, rogue Starfleet officers, and his own moral compass. The whole thing plays out as a big 9/11 allegory, with a newly militarized Starfleet as the U.S. military, Harrison as Bin Laden, and Kirk as the American people stuck in the middle.

Star Trek often reflects the fears and hopes of the time it’s made in. The original series was born out of the civil rights era, and it envisioned a future utopia where race relations and human strife were things of the past. This earthly harmony opened up the opportunity for exploring the universe. Since everyone nowadays seems to think the world has gotten darker since the 60s–with 9/11, the War on Terror and all–Star Trek Into Darkness reflects a contemporary world of terrorists, drone strikes, and shadowy military operations. Along with this summer movie season's Oblivion, and to a lesser extent, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness can be taken as a warning against preemptive strikes and trusting machines to do our fighting for us. The darkness of the title refers to our own willingness to fight fire with fire, adopt the tactics of the enemies we purport to hate. In the film Kirk is tempted to embrace the darkness within himself to beat his enemy—become the monster he seeks to destroy. Echoes of Dick Cheney abound.

Again, the writing plays fast and loose with elements of the original series and films. Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t a film made for Trekkies. Abrams has said repeatedly that he wanted to make these new Star Trek films films for non-Star Trek fans, and that he even found the old series kind of boring. If this sounds less-than-appealing to Trekkies, it’s good news for other filmgoers, as detailed fanboy knowledge isn’t required to enjoy the film.

For all the darkness of the film, Star Trek Into Darkness is a continuation of the fun of the 2009 film. The humour is still there. Simon Pegg’s Scotty is a highlight, given an expanded role this time and plenty of room to let his comedy talent shine. Karl Urban’s Bones is kind of sidelined, but his one-liners are hilarious. Watching these actors interact with each other in these iconic roles is the real joy of the film. And this may be the fastest paced film of all time. At 132 minutes, it blasts by—you might even say at warp speed.

Star Trek Into Darkness is full of spectacle, humour, and charm. It’s not perfect storytelling, but people will be hard-pressed to find a more exciting sci-fi film in cinemas these days.

8 out of 10

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, USA)

Directed by J. J. Abrams; written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof; starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Alice Eve, Peter Weller, Bruce Greenwood, and Benedict Cumberbatch.