When we last left the Enterprise crew, Earth had been saved from a rogue Romulan out for revenge while Kirk (Chris Pine) and co. fell into step with their pre-destined roles. Now, after an indeterminate amount of time and with a number of missions under their belts, the still novice crew is charged with the capture of purported domestic terrorist, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who declares a one man war against Starfleet and finds refuge beyond the limits of the of the Klingon neutral zone. Decisions made by an emotionally compromised Kirk, and the actions taken by the rest of the crew, will ultimately bring into question Kirk’s ability to steer a Starship, as well as the very values of Starfleet itself, in a sequel that doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness for which it strives.
“These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise…”
While J.J’s 2009 debut into the Star Trek universe was commanded by a need to modernize and reintroduce characters who had been firmly enshrined in pop culture lore, “Star Trek into Darkness” attempts to explore many of the themes and philosophies that first defined the Star Trek series, while still maintaining the steady level of action and humour that propelled his first Trek into success. From the film’s opening scene, in which we see Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto) arguing over Starfleet’s Prime Directive and “the needs of the many,” an ongoing commentary on the dangers of militarization drives many of the film’s twists. The blurring of moral lines works well to start the film off on a compelling note that promises higher stakes and greater depth than the 2009 launch ever offered.
The great personal loss incurred by Kirk in the film’s first act sets him as the main vehicle for bringing these themes of war to the forefront as he’s forced to grapple with the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality that has driven him to this point. The film’s moral darkness and additional emotional weight infuses Chris Pine’s return to the Captain’s chair with the sense that he is portraying a Starship captain as opposed to a wayward farm boy. While he still retains much of the youth and inexperience that separates him from his Original Series counterpart, he also undergoes consistent development that shows him putting more trust in his crew and a marked slowing of his trigger finger.
Mirroring Kirk’s own development is that undergone by the rest of the Enterprise crew. Although each is given much less screen time than one could have hoped, the few scenes allotted specifically to them round out the narrative and maintain the ensemble cast feeling established by the first film. While some, such as Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Scotty (Simon Pegg), return to the same roles they had four years ago, others, such as Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), display a sense of strength and familiarity with their characters that allows them to fully engage with the twisting dynamics of the Enterprise crew without ever being reduced to acting only as moral compasses for Kirk.
Always know where your tribble is
And yet, despite its strong start and a talented cast on hand, it’s in the film’s third act that it all simply falls apart. Without giving too much away, as the film draws closer to its climax, original storytelling is tossed aside in favour of making one big Original Series reference that completely diverts the plot and undermines the entire film.
Until this point, the secrecy that surrounded John Harrison’s true identity almost seemed warranted. Cumberbatch single-handedly steals every scene he’s in and presents a multi-layered villain who could have easily created a memorable experience for movie goers and Trek fans alike. Yet, when it’s finally revealed who he is, the storytelling seems content to grow lazy and ride on the recognition that Cumberbatch’s character would obviously evoke. Worse yet, aside from a few similarities in back story, he just doesn’t feel like the character he’s meant to portray. It’s as though they thought they could slap the name on him and leave it to Cumberbatch to do the rest.
What’s most disappointing about the film’s finale is that the decision to recreate a well known scene becomes expected, anti-climatic, and stripped of all the emotion that the original held as the damages are quickly fixed in under ten minutes. With all the time given over to strengthening Kirk’s development and attempting to raise the stakes, the fact that they just throw all of that effort aside and pursue an ending that serves no other purpose than to blindly glorify its source material is awful to watch. By the end, everything has been quickly resolved and there are no consequences for any of the actions taken. While both Pine and Quinto give their all to save the film’s final scenes, Spock’s yelling of one particular catchphrase turns the event into a scene of parody from which the film is never allowed to recover.
With a completely new alternate universe to be explored, it’s disappointing that J.J would choose to revisit an already well explored storyline. Even though the film certainly boasts some stunning visuals, really cool fight scenes, Klingons, and a score, courtesy of Michael Giacchino, that perfectly sets the tone for each scene, on top of what was shaping up to be a pretty well crafted plot for the first two thirds, the inability to wrap all of these strands into a coherent ending has left me feeling dissatisfied.