The rebooted Star Trek franchise continues to defy all conventional wisdom. “Star Trek” not only reset the continuity of the franchise, but it still found way to maintain ties to the wealth of material from the original chronology. This is something that shouldn’t have been possible, and if it was done should have been highly convoluted. Yet that film pulled it off. And now the sequel has done something similar. “Star Trek Into Darkness” revisits familiar themes and conflicts that will be instantly recognizable to longtime fans, yet puts enough of a spin on them to be fresh and approachable for newcomers. It’s a Star Trek film that spends very little time beyond the immediate solar system and yet still feels grand in scale. Much like the previous film, on paper this should completely fail but it not only succeeds, it soars.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” is set an indeterminate amount of time after the events of the previous film. Captain Kirk, played by Chris Pine, has been in command of the USS Enterprise for enough time to accrue a reputation for ignoring the rules. Following an incident on a volcanic planet Kirk is facing an inquiry into his actions that could see his command revoked. At the same time a mysterious former Starfleet officer named John Harrison, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, initiates a devastating attack against Starfleet. When Harrison flees the planet Kirk convinces Starfleet to let him go after the fugitive terrorist and bring him down. However Harrison is more prepared and deadly than anything Kirk or his crew could guess at.
As was the case in “Star Trek,” the casting is truly impeccable. All of the actors feel like they’re inhabiting and channeling their characters without being caricatures of the original cast. As before most of the focus is on Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock. The two have a great chemistry that is almost sibling rivalry-esque. They both care about each other but their approaches to situations are so fundamentally different that there is no way they aren’t going to butt heads, and hard. All of the other characters get a moment or two to hold the spotlight, which the possible exception of Anton Yelchin as Chekov. There is a period when the youngest officer finds himself in Engineering, and while he plays it all well it feels like its shuffling the character to the side in a way.
When talking about new additions there are a few, and they are well chosen. Peter Weller stands out as a senior Starfleet officer, bringing his innate gravitas to the role. Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus is solid, though in some way superfluous. Longtime fans will recognize her future significance, but here she just feels like Kirk’s latest hook-up. The major stand out however is unquestionably Benedict Cumberbatch. In the last film the villain was one of the weaker points, but that’s not so here. John Harrison is a character of both menace and pathos. As the reasons for his vendetta are revealed it’s impossible to not have a certain amount of sympathy. However even as audience empathize with his story there will never be any question of how deadly and dangerous he is.
Even though director J.J. Abrams and his writing team have turned this into a much more action oriented franchise than it was previously it still maintains the heart and spirit of the original. Even though this is a revenge story with big action set pieces it never lets you forget that Star Trek is about exploration. There isn’t a ton of that happening in this story, but talking about exploring space is what gets the crew excited and that is carried through the film. That said the film is perhaps a tad too action oriented for its own good. While most of the action beats are necessary for the story, a few of them go on a bit longer than is needed. Thankfully they serve the story, rather than the story being an excuse to go from action scene to action scene.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” builds perfectly on the film that came before it, as well as the wealth of backstory in the original series. Though everything has been rebooted the nods and tie-backs to the original continuity will be welcome and often exciting for fans. Although the connections between this and earlier adventures may lead to some fans figuring out where things are going earlier than intended. Still, everything feels like it’s moving forward with purpose while still being a very good stand-alone story. It will be very exciting to see where this franchise goes in the future, because its already managed to improve on the stellar first film with this installment.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5