When reviving a franchise in this day and age, studios seem to have two different concerns that they often attempt to address. They want the film to be embraced by the pre-existing fanbase, but also need it to be approachable and engaging enough to attract unfamiliar moviegoers to the material. The former provides credibility, and the latter allows profitability. What is the result when both these central principles are adhered to? A story that is, based on my own opinion and those of Trekkie fans I spoke with, “sanitized” but effective.
Star Trek Into Darkness continues the reboot launched by J.J. Abrams in 2009, one that continues taking the “final frontier” into new, unsettling directions. It centers around a time when Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew, in the midst of facing personal and professional crises aboard the USS Enterprise, return to Earth to find a force that is terrorising Star Fleet. When this personally affects Kirk, his crew is assigned to lead a multi-galaxy manhunt for the fugitive (Benedict Cumberbatch), in order to bring him to justice. But as they work to apprehend the criminal, venturing into war-zone conditions, they soon find themselves propelled into a situation that repeatedly clashes logic with emotion – a battle of the psyches with everything at stake.
In this more action-packed, brutal version of the acclaimed franchise, it is indeed fortunate that one element is successfully maintained: the compelling characters. With inferior writers or actors, many of the character-driven conflicts might ring hollow or as a retread of older generations.
But here, Pine brings out that blend of cockiness and protectiveness of his crew that seems to embody Kirk. Conversely, we can understand Spock (Zachary Quinto) as he approaches each situation logically, even as he tries to dissociate not allowing emotion from not caring. And even as their chemistry radiates through great (and often humorous) dialogue, it is also ensured that the other officers on the crew are not forgotten. Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov: each of these characters have their unique moments, and they usually stick out effectively.
In turn, their conflict remains personal even as the story maintains its fast pace and intensity, a hugely important factor as the series increasingly treads its own path. We have a compelling villain in James Harrison (Cumberbatch), who somehow balances that line between sympathetic and terrifying – a three-dimensionality that was maybe missing from the antagonist in the 2009 opener.
Fans will also easily note the parallels to prior movies in the franchise, one in particular, and the respect with which it handles these details is both considerate and feels organic to the plot.
Inevitably, everybody will have nitpicks to gripe about and I am no different. For me, the ending did seem a bit rushed and choppy; and the nods to long-standing Trekkies can seem a bit repetitive and forced, especially if they’d been used in the first film already.
But by and large, this “sanitized” series largely comes away clean in the second installment, knowing what it wants to be and continuing to pursue its own self-contained journey.
This film attempts to argue about what it takes to lead, the balance between adhering to rules and not letting anything get in the way of what you truly care about – guidelines versus instinct. In this sense, art seems to imitate real life, with the quality of the reboot continuing to reflect the efforts of the studio fueling it. And for this, fans old and new to the series should be happy at seeing it continue to live long and prosper.