by Bob Garver
May 20, 2013. It is commonly accepted that of the original “Star Trek” movie series, 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is about ten times better than 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. Applying the same logic to J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the franchise, “Star Trek Into Darkness” should be ten times better than 2009’s “Star Trek”. Now I really liked the 2009 “Star Trek”. I wasn’t doing star ratings at the time, but I would have given it three and a half, maybe four stars. Let’s be conservative and say three and a half. This means “Star Trek Into Darkness” should get thirty-five stars out of a possible five. That isn’t really my expectation, but the pressure is on the new film to outdo its predecessor, even if that predecessor is far more beloved than its 1979 equivalent.
The film once again stars Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, reckless captain of the Starship Enterprise. Pine’s an agreeable enough leading man, but he doesn’t bring the gravitas to the role that William Shatner did. Kirk’s best friend and biggest annoyance is his ultra-logical First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto, much better cast in the role originated and retained by Leonard Nimoy). Other familiar characters include grouchy doctor McCoy (Karl Urban), steadfast third officer Sulu (John Cho), compassionate love interest Uhura (Zoe Saldana), rookie navigator Chekov (the perpetually pubescent Anton Yelchin), and comic relief tech-er Scottie (Simon Pegg). At least I think I’m supposed to call the tech guy a tech-er and not a tech-ie.
Following a deserved demotion and begrudged re-promotion, Kirk volunteers the crew for a mission to stop a terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). They’re sent by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to neutralize Harrison with military weapons on a hostile Klingon planet. By the way, if you think “John Harrison” is too vanilla a name for a “Star Trek” villain, don’t worry, he doesn’t stay “John Harrison” for long. The plot features multiple betrayals, and more betrayals on top of those betrayals. I’m pretty sure some characters kept betraying the same characters over and over again.
In a film with so much betrayal, it’s remarkable that so many of the film’s best scenes are ones of loyalty. It should go without saying that in this action-adventure film, many of the characters risk (or give?) their lives for the greater good. But more specifically I’m referring to scenes where characters show their respect for each other. Kirk and Spock are especially effective in these scenes, sharply in contrast to other scenes where they’re at each other’s throats. Even if Kirk isn’t suited to be a starship captain, he’s more than suited to be a team leader in general. The people serving under his command all share a professional chemistry that makes me want to come aboard the Enterprise again and again.
I hope I get the chance to come aboard again soon because I want to see a film that improves upon “Star Trek Into Darkness”. The action and special effects are high-quality, but they’re about what I’ve come to expect from summer blockbusters. Many of the secondary characters (Sulu and Uhura come to mind) are given very little to do and are clearly only in the movie because their absence would be conspicuous to fans. Perhaps most distractingly, the film keeps trying to compare itself to “Wrath of Khan” when it should be trying to compare itself to the 2009 “Star Trek” to keep up the interest we had in the characters. It’s still a good movie with intriguing characters and relationships, in fact it’s the best film of the summer blockbuster season so far. It just suffers in comparison to the superior original, and it doesn’t help that there are two films that qualify as the superior original.
Three Stars out of Five. “Star Trek Into Darkness” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence. Its running time is 132 minutes.