Movie Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness

(Spoiler Warning – some minor events and character interactions are described below)

Star Trek: Into Darkness

I missed out on a Star Trek prize by one seat.

At the preview screening I attended, hidden under our seats were Malteser packs with stickers on them. My neighbour, after a hunt under his own seat and his partners, found a prize-winning pack.

He won a USS Enterprise ice cube tray, and a Starfleet Academy mug. Getting into the spirit of the event, he replied, “Live long and prosper” to the promotions staff member as he accepted the gift.

Another audience member won a poster signed by the cast of Star Trek: Into Darkness. That prize seems more exciting than the ice cube tray.

The film started, and I was dumbfounded by the visual effects. The previous film had an unpopular lens flare feature. That quibble is mostly amended here, and Star Trek: Into Darkness maintains its marvellous clarity in 3D. Clean, white acrylic or metallic sets dazzle and spring convincingly off the screen in the third dimension.

In Star Trek: Into Darkness, Director J.J. Abrams challenges the idea that a common enemy unites and sustains unity between individuals. Unity instead comes from attempts at collaboration and friendship. Revenge and how characters extract vengeance makes a return from the last film.

It’s great to see such a pivotal and important theme is not simply dropped, but is instead maintained for continuity.

Alice Eve as Carol Wallace, and Chris Pine as Captain James Kirk.

Family versus war emerges as the new,central theme of the film. Small narratives are woven and placed with care inside the larger narrative to support the theme. A family man – played be Noel Clarke, a clever addition to the cast considering his role in Doctor Who – seemingly must chose between either helping his daughter live a life outside of a hospital, or sacrificing himself in a bloody conflict.

Similarly, a warmongering admiral consistently chooses a good fight over the safety of his family. He prefers the company of high-ranking Starfleet officers, and powerful warships and weapons.

Several characters grapple with revenge in this film: Kirk and Spock both experience losses at the hands of new villain John Harrison. Kirk’s loss is jarring, and unexpected. As the title of the film implies, there is darkness here: dark plot twists happen regularly. The amount of light also visibly drops away as the film progresses. Some scenes are filled with a pervasive gloom, which then goes completely by the film’s climax: the final clash with Harrison.

Speaking of Harrison, the star of the film is British actor Benedict Cumberbatch – well known for his fiercely intellectual, but cold hero detective Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series of the same name. He brings his icy cold acting style to the character of John Harrison. His speech, tone of voice, and display of passions, however, bring to life a powerful new character.

To write about the motivations of former Starfleet officer John Harrison would risk spoiling the plot of the film. I thought that the casting choice of was a good decision. Sherlock fans will be happy to see him use his intellect as a weapon similar to the Sherlock Holmes brand. Audiences in general will no doubt be entertained by his fiery and threatening performance as a formidable villain. Star Trek fans should expect a surprise or two.

Harrison and Kirk are more emotionally elaborate than the superficial and melodramatic hero-villain-fight we would ordinarily see on screen. Themes of family, and the care and trust we place in those dear to us, reappear consistently in both of these character’s arcs.

Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison faces off with Captain Kirk.

The conflict of family and war is even presented visually: the white USS Enterprise, an exploration vessel, is dwarfed by the black and gun-metal gray USS Vengeance. Starfleet is sitting at a crossroads, and the question asked is this: do you want to send a message of distrust out into the galaxy, using a cold and bulky warship with more room for weapons than crew, or take part in a voyage of discovery on a clean, brightly lit, and energetic starship staffed with enough officers to forge a community?

The answer is relevant to us not just in an abstract discussion of the effects of war, which are, in this case, that pursuing war and vendetta only leads into darkness. The answer is about how we conduct ourselves in our everyday lives. That’s the power of Star Trek. It is, and always has been, a science fiction franchise that uses space and visions of the future to comment and critique the foibles, behaviours, and enervations of our current society.

We are asked and encouraged to not surround ourselves with weapons, but with the friendships and people we care about.

Nowhere in the film is this theme more clear than the disagreement between Captain Kirk, and Engineer Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott played by Simon Pegg with presence and humour. Special photon torpedoes with the capacity to reach a target at long distances are to be installed on the ship to assist in the John Harrison manhunt. Scotty objects: he cannot check on what volatile fuel these new weapons might be using – the information is classified, and his scanners are blocked. Since he cannot confirm that it won’t affect the temperamental warp core of the ship, and therefore risk the lives of the crew, he will not allow it on board.

Blinded by vengeance, Kirk ignores Scotty’s protests, eventually forcing him off the ship. Kirk effectively selects the torpedoes over his friend and crewmate Scotty.

In regard to the direction of the film, Abrams takes command of his pristine and spotless sets from his last efforts, this time literally turning them on their heads as he plays with space and gravity. Camera movements do confuse in complex fight scenes, however. Attempting to discern the different characters from each other was made difficult by a swift camera that felt too quick to follow.

New locations are suitably exotic and unearthly. The horizons of no less than three new worlds far from Earth appear. It’s terrific to see these places, considering that Abrams once implied the film would be based firmly on Earth.

Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Karl Urban, and Zoe Saldana bring to life the struggle of brilliant people under immense pressure. It would be remiss to not comment on the swagger of John Cho as he takes Hikaru Sulu into new authority. Anton Yelchin, playing Pavel Chekov, has more time on screen, but showcases less technical expertise as his character did in the previous film, which seems an unfortunate omission. Instead, Yelchin seems to run around the enterprise non-stop throughout the film – not the best use of his talents.

Quinto in particular brings his own rhythm to playing Spock, moving and speaking with a timing that is unique, and entertaining to watch has he reacts to the emotionally excessive characters around him. There are moments where he communicates volumes with subtle facial changes, which are an ideal fit for a film that delves into the effects and consequences of emotions. Without a doubt, Star Trek: Into Darkness will impress with its strong themes, sharp characters, skilled actors, and standout visuals.


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