“Star Trek Into Darkness” does its calisthenics vigorously within its playground. After the decent start with “Star Trek”(2009), J.J. Abrams goes all the way again with crashes and bangs, and it is certainly thrilling to watch, but it remains within its familiar playground with a very little sense of awe and wonder. While the movie seems to be not ready for boldly going into the undiscovered territory outside its playground, it does show the attitudes and the potentials to do that while mostly concentrating on its busy full-blown actions, and we come to expect more as entertained enough in the end.
The movie starts its story several years after the first big adventure of Captain James T. Kirk(Chris Pine) and his friends/colleagues depicted in “Star Trek”(2009). The opening scene features a massive active volcano threatening not only the planet in which it is located but also a primal civilization near the volcano, and Kirk and his friends’ latest mission is preventing the approaching eruption and preserving the local civilization without being noticed by them. This can be executed well without any troubles, but our reckless young hero gets himself into trouble again, so we see him and Dr. McCoy(Karl Urban) running hurriedly from the chasing natives as if they were in a new Indiana Jones movie on high caffeine mode.
Meanwhile, our ever-logical Vulcan Mr. Spock(Zachary Quinto) is dutifully carrying out the dangerous mission deep inside the hot volcano while being assisted by Uhura(Zoe Saldana) and Sulu(John Cho). Even though the probability of his death is pretty high amidst the tumultuous magma which may engulf him sooner or later, he goes down to the bottom of the volcano with no hesitation, and he is even ready to die if that is necessary for accomplishing the mission. You’ve got to admire his unbending logic and following logical commitment.
The mission is eventually accomplished, and all of the Enterprise crew manage to get out the planet safely, but Kirk violates the primitive directive for the eleventh hour rescue of Spock. Mainly due to Spock’s inflexible sense of principles, he is immediately demoted to the first officer, and he is pretty pissed about being ‘betrayed’ by Spock, but there is not much time for reconciliation because they are soon hurled into a big threat thrown upon Starfleet. A rogue Starfleet officer John Harrison(Benedict Cumberbatch) has declared a personal war against Starfleet with the shocking terror incident in London, and this ruthless guy promptly strikes his targets with a sudden ambush on the emergency meeting at the Starfleet headquarter in San Francisco.
For catching Harrison and then bringing him to justice, Kirk, who instantly regains his former position after a personal loss, and his Enterprise crew go after Harrison, who is found to be hiding in a planet in the Klingon Empire region. Of course, as already suggested in the trailer, Harrison is not a simple villain easy to handle, so Kirk and his friends find themselves entering another perilous test of their strength and intelligence as facing Harrison and what is behind his scheme.
The director J.J. Abrams fills his film with lots of excitement through the constant serving of massive action sequences, and the movie never feels boring thanks to that. The camera movement and editing are a little too hyperkinetic to appreciate the actions on the screen, and I had some urge during my viewing to shout “lens flare!” instead of “fruit cart!”, but the pace is quick and brisk, and I managed to overlook many contrivances in its imperfect story line which Spock would surely disapprove of because he would find them illogical(for example, how can a big space action near the Earth be undetected by the Starfleet headquarter until the people in San Francisco finally see what is crashing through the sky toward them?).
While the movie is too busy with its action at times, it has some fun with its playground it previously deconstructed and then reconstructed. If you are familiar with the previous Star Trek films including “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”(1982) and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”(1991), you will be amused by the homages and references sprinkled throughout the story, and the movie even has a scene directly derived from one of the most emotionally devastating moments in the Star Trek series.
But, in my opinion, the movie is still like a young kid merely having a boisterous fun in his comfort zone while not so sure about what he can do for himself outside. There are several bold moves in the story along with some thought-provoking aspects associated with 9/11 and subsequent problems in our world, but the movie still has its foot moored in the previous Star Trek series as it keeps making homages and references, and, above all, it has not yet gotten its own sense of awe and wonder as space drama.
Nevertheless, it has all the right stuffs to get that quality someday, and the actors show us again they are perfectly cast for their respective roles. Chris Pine is fine as a younger and more reckless version of Captain Kirk; he sometimes looks like an arrogant jerk as unwise as Captain Zapp Brannigan in TV animation series “Futurama”, but at least we can sense that Kirk comes to learn hard lessons through his adventure. As watching him becoming a little more principled in the final scene, I could not help but think of one of the famous lines from “Citizen Kane”(1941): “Only you’re going to need more than one lesson. And you’re going to get more than one lesson.”
Spock was one of the best things in the previous Star Trek films, and Zachary Quinto ably stands on his own place while giving a solid performance as an outsider between humans and Vulcans. Quinto masterfully conveys the inner emotions firmly suppressed behind his cool alien facade, and it is rather a shame that the movie is too busy to delve deeper into his personal feelings on what happened to his home planet in the previous film. When Older Spock(Leonard Nimoy) briefly appeared at one point in the film, I recalled how miserable it must have been for him to get his entire history wiped out while there is no one to share his loss with, but that aspect has not been fully explored in the series yet.
Other cast members are exemplary as the parts of the team. Zoe Saldana is attractive and feisty as a young lady who courageously tries to deal with one of the most hostile races in the universe, and John Cho gets his own moment when he rises to the occasion as a temporary captain of Enterprise. Anton Yelchin and Simon Pegg flexibly move around both comic and dramatic moments, and Karl Urban is excellent with his gruff charm and sarcastic lines which would please DeForest Kelly. Benedict Cumberbatch, who could have played a Vulcan as convincingly as Quinto with his sharp looks, is an effective villain fueled by good reasons, and there are also adequate supporting performances from Peter Weller, Bruce Greenwood, and Alice Eve, whose character may return as a love interest for Kirk in the next sequel.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” is a competent blockbuster film fairly successful in satisfying both Star Trek fans and average audiences. It wants to go boldly, but it is still preparing itself through its busy calisthenics with actions, and it does not reach to the height of the best Star Trek films in spite of its overall success. The final showdown involving a precarious fistfight around the skyscrapers of San Francisco feels relatively anti-climactic compared to other action scenes, and the screenplay resolves several situations too easily as it keeps hopping for another action to serve. It almost throws a big emotional punch around the finale, but it eventually takes an easy way out, and, while that choice does not damage that crucial dramatic scene considerably, you may feel a little bit cheated.
Despite its shortcomings, it goes without saying that the movie is one of the better entertainments for this summer, and you will not need 3D glasses to see that. Excited by Michael Giacchino’s vibrant score exuberantly played over the fancy end credit, I came to wish for better things to be shown during the new mission of Enterprise, and, despite some grumbles, I admitted to myself that I had a good time with the movie. All moorings are cleared, and now it is really the time for this series to go boldly to somewhere outside.