The mandate of the USS Enterprise has always been “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” This motto was taken to new heights when J.J. Abrams helmed the 2009 reboot of the franchise. Four years later Abrams is back with the second, and most curious, chapter in the revived series. What is peculiar about Star Trek Into Darkness is how surprisingly strong its ties are to the lore of the Star Trek universe. This is especially shocking considering the great lengths that J.J. Abrams went to in 2009 to establish that the rebooted Star Trek existed in its own timeline, thus removing the shackles of fan expectations and the story confinements such expectations bring.
Abrams seems to have lost sight of this when crafting his new tale which should both please and infuriate devoted Trek fans equally. While a key revelation in Star Trek Into Darkness will bring squeals of delight to some fans, Abrams’ handling of the ramifications of the reveal ultimately ruins the latter half of the film. Most reboots nowadays look for creative ways to retell familiar stories. A perfect example of this is Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, in which he both introduced new characters and provided a new take on existing ones. A person can easily watch Nolan’s interpretation of certain characters, say The Joker and Catwoman for example, and appreciate them in a completely different way than they admire Tim Burton’s take on those same characters. Abrams reimagining of a particular story arc, on the other hand, seems hesitant to truly separate itself from the past.
He not only recalls several moments, granted with his own special twist, but goes out of his way to link the film to the past. In one scene in particular, the film openly questions how a similar problem was handled by the alternate version of the crew. However, like a pretty girl standing beside Miss America, its close proximity to the past overshadows all the things that Star Trek Into Darkness does right. The most notable being its commentary on the United States government’s role in terrorism.
The plot of the film involves Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) being stripped of his title after he ignores the prime directive and places he crew in serious danger in the process. Kirk’s disregard for the rules begins to drive a wedge between his friendship with First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto). However, Kirk’s demotion is short-lived as he is reinstated to track down a terrorist, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has waged war against Starfleet and killed Kirk’s mentor. Though the reason for Harrison’s attack on Starfleet remains a mystery, it is clear that his motivation is personal.
Cumberbatch is exceptionally good in the role of Harrison. He is believable as a man who is lethal enough to engage a Klingon patrol team on his own but is still capable of showing glimpses of humanity. Always thinking two steps ahead, he proves to be a perfect foil for Kirk and Spock. Cumberbatch’s character is a far more interesting addition to the series than fellow newcomer Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus. A talented actress, Eve is given next to nothing to do in the film. Aside from conveniently being around for two key moments, there is little about Carol Marcus that we truly know or care about.
In fact most of the characters are thinly developed this time around. Abrams seems to bank on the fact that most of the people viewing the film will not only have seen the 2009 Star Trek film, but will also be well versed in the previous films. Star Trek Into Darkness even reworks an iconic scene, from an earlier film, known for its emotional punch. Unfortunately, like most of the things in this film, Abrams rarely slows down to make the moment linger with audiences. What was once a powerful statement on the sacrifices that strengthen bonds amongst friends, is reduced to a flimsy moment of nostalgia with no real consequences.
Ultimately the lack of true consequences is what is the most annoying aspect of Star Trek Into Darkness. Aside from the generic “red shirts” that get wounded every time USS Enterprise is attacked, the stakes never feel as dire as Abrams wants them to be. Since the film leans heavily on its forefathers, the tension and originality is sucked out of the picture like air through the Enterprise’s breached hull. For all its visual beauty and solid action sequences, Star Trek Into Darkness is nothing more than a hollow shell of its predecessors.