Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

So, as if you didn’t know, I’m a huge Star Trek fan. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I was going to see Star Trek Into Darkness on opening weekend. Since my birthday was the same weekend as the opening, it was like J.J. Abrams himself gave me a present.

It’s really difficult to write a non-spoilery review of the film, but I’m going to try. There will be minor ones, but I won’t reveal any major plot points. Still, if you’re concerned about spoilers, don’t read this review until you’ve seen the film.

Oh, and — go see the film. It’s good.

About a year after the events of Star Trek 11, Star Trek Into Darkness opens on Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy escaping from some natives they were observing. Apparently a massive volcano was going to wipe them out, and the crew decided they should intervene (breaking the Prime Directive in the process) and stop said volcano. Kirk and Bones distracted the natives while Sulu, Spock, and Uhura worked to stop the cataclysmic event.

Since that was just the first ten minutes of the movie, you can guess whether they succeeded or not.

But the film is really about the mythical John Harrison, who people speculated about for months, and how he helps a random Starfleet officer save his daughter in exchange for committing a terrorist act against a building in London. The thing is, Harrison’s attack was just a smokescreen to get all the high-ranking officers in one place so he can take his revenge upon them for crimes yet to be explained.

Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison

The head of Starfleet, Admiral Alexander Marcus, tasks Kirk with a mission to obliterate Harrison and his hiding place. Kirk is pretty pissed off too and is on-board with this, but Spock convinces him that vengeance is not part of the Starfleet code and instead they lead a mission to capture Harrison and return him to Earth for trial.

The thing is, Harrison is hiding on the Klingon homeworld. And as Dr. McCoy will eventually say in Star Trek VI, “they don’t exactly like you.” (Kirk, at this point, does not dislike the Klingons — he doesn’t actually know any.) But when our heroes do apprehend Harrison, they learn the real reason he committed his attacks, and it’s not at all what they — or anyone else — expected.

And that’s literally all the summary I can give you right now.

The rest of the article will be littered with boshfpngrq grkg like this. When you see such nonsense, go to ROT13.com to decipher it, but only if you’ve already seen the movie. Anything obfuscated is a SPOILER.

If you don’t already know the stars of the film, you’re probably living under a rock somewhere. But, just to recap, our heroes are — in alphabetical order:

  • John Cho as Mr. Sulu — Cho plays Sulu as a more serious, less excitable version of Harold from Harold and Kumar.
  • Simon Pegg as Mr. Scott — The accent is spot-on, but he’s much more histrionic than Doohan ever was.
  • Chris Pine as Captain James T. Kirk — Too many close-ups on the eyes, but in this film he seemed, while intelligent, somehow less capable than in the last one.
  • Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock — Gur erny ureb bs gur svyz, but I don’t agree with some of the writers’ choices for the way he acted in certain parts of the movie. For example, why did he choose to mind-meld jvgu Cvxr nf gur ynggre jnf qlvat? Why was he so cebsbhaqyl nssrpgrq ol Xvex’f qrngu?
  • Zoe Saldana as Lt. Uhura — Though the film epic-failed the Bechdel test, at least Uhura wasn’t just “Spock’s girlfriend”.
  • Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy — Probably the most faithful portrayal of a TOS character, and Urban has Kelley’s rhythmic and vocal speech style down almost pat. If Kelley were alive today, he would be proud to see how well Urban does.
  • Anton Yelchin as Mr. Chekov — Clearly the comic relief.

The cast and director of Star Trek Into Darkness.

Do you have any idea how long it took me on Google to find a photo of Aisha Hinds as Navigator Darwin? She was on the bridge pretty much the entire time, from the moment Kirk sends Chekov to Engineering through to the point where the ship rises through the clouds, and yet this is the best screencap I could find.

Added to this cast are the obligatory Trek guest stars. The biggest name by far is Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) as John Harrison. There’s been a ton of speculation about who Cumberbatch would be playing, but I can’t tell you because it would completely spoil the film for you. Having never really seen him in an action role, I was impressed at what he was able to pull off in the combat scenes, and he brings a gravitas that is sometimes missing from Sherlock (who he plays as borderline-Asperger’s most of the time). Also in the cast is Peter Weller (Robocop), who also appeared in Star Trek: Enterprise, as Admiral Marcus, the head of Starfleet. Weller’s chief asset at this point is his voice, which works very well when he’s being all matter-of-fact as he says, essentially, “jryy, V’z tbvat gb xvyy lbh abj.” In a nice nod to his previous role, there’s a model of Archer’s Enterprise on his desk. And, finally, Alice Eve (Men in Black 3) portrays Carol Marcus, the admiral’s daughter (it’s not that much of a spoiler to tell you that). I’m pretty sure she was added as eye candy so we could see someone with a speaking role wear lingerie without it having to be Uhura again. (The lingerie scene, by the way, was pretty forced. The film didn’t need it. At all.) Oh, and, lest we forget — Aisha Hinds (Dollhouse) fills in at the navigator’s console when Chekov has to head down to help in engineering, and even Leonard Nimoy makes a brief appearance.

I do want to point out the music in the film. As a soundtrack geek (if you’ve been reading my stuff on Escape Pod, I’m sure you know that I am one), I always listen to the music of a film to see if it’s its own character, or if it’s just audio wallpaper. In this film, it was wallpaper. I didn’t catch a “Harrison’s theme” at all — just the main Trek theme and “Starfleet people doing Starfleet stuff” — until I listened to the soundtrack. Even the ending, jura Xvex naq Fcbpx fcbxr va gur ratvar ebbz, didn’t have a theme to it that I could discern. This, unfortunately, is a trend in soundtracks these days — you can hear similar problems in the Man of Steel soundtrack, although it does all come together in the end. I think it’s time for someone else to take the musical reins of Trek from Michael Giacchino — perhaps Ilan Eshkeri (Stardust) or John Ottman (X-2: X-Men United) would have a good take on it. Just, not Zimmer or Howard, please.

As for the direction, it was about what you’d expect from the Trek reboot. Fewer lens flares, especially in the beginning; lots of snap-zooms, tilted cameras, and close-ups of people’s eyes. The costuming wasn’t anything special — the crew of the enemy ship wore really weird blue-and-purple uniforms, and the Klingons looked like… well… Klingons (for the most part). Nor were there any special effects that were vastly different than the previous film — including that horrible whirling-fireflies transporter effect that looks more cartoonish than anything else.

Mr. Spock is not yawning in this scene, but if I tell you what he’s actually saying, it will spoil the movie. So I won’t.

Now, for all the snarkiness I’ve given it, I did enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness. It was a big, loud, exciting film with decent writing and direction, and if there were too many scenes shot “just because”, at least most of them worked (except the lingerie scene, which I still can’t get over the absolute uselessness of, right up there with Xvex’f guerr-jnl jvgu gur nyvra jbzra). I saw the film in 2-D, and there wasn’t anything ostentatious that I noticed being shot specifically for 3-D other than the spacewalk scene (Kirk’s heads-up display). I do think that, in many ways, the film suffers from the way the times have changed — viewers need things handed to them, and dumbed down for them, and studios are afraid to really take chances when it comes to sci-fi films. In fact, as I watched this movie, I thought “this could’ve been done as Americans vs terrorists and not been sci-fi at all” — but if you think about it that’s a plot that everyone, even non-Trek fans, can understand.

And, for us hardcore Trek fans, there was plenty of fan service, including three moments where I literally either facepalmed or sighed audibly with a combination of derision and disbelief.

If I had to rank the film in the continuum of the reboot universe, I do think it’s better than Star Trek 11 because there wasn’t so much “origin story” (always annoying) and there was enough time to develop the villains. Plus, we had more of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic (though it was mostly Kirk-Spock and Kirk-McCoy, since Spock-Uhura is now a thing). Overall I rank the films like this:

  1. 2 — The Wrath of Khan
  2. 8 — First Contact
  3. 6 — The Undiscovered Country
  4. 12 — Into Darkness
  5. 11 — Star Trek
  6. 4 — The Voyage Home (I seem to enjoy this one less each time I see it, which is weird)
  7. 10 — Nemesis (I liked it, even if most people didn’t)
  8. 3 — The Search for Spock
  9. 7 — Generations
  10. 1 — The Motion Picture
  11. 9 — Insurrection
  12. 5 — The Final Frontier

Star Trek Into Darkness is absolutely worth your time and money to see in the theater. I recommend it. Just, if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t go on Tumblr until you do, because there’s a LOT of gifs from the movie floating around.


Note to Parents: This film contains violence (occasionally graphic, but not bloody), terrorism, premeditated murder, space battles, one adult situation, more swearing than I expected, and one scene of gratuitous near-nudity. It should be fine for anyone who is capable of handling a PG-13 film, which really says something about today’s PG-13 films, doesn’t it? Of course, you should use your own best judgment when it comes to your children.


About the Author

Josh Roseman (not the trombonist; the other one) lives in Georgia. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Escape Pod, and the Crossed Genres anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land. His voice has been heard around the fiction podosphere as well, including here on Escape Pod. Find him online at roseplusman.com, or on Twitter @listener42.

Comments (9)

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  1. Joon says:

    I did really like Into Darkness overall, particularly the gravitas of Cumberbatch’s character as you mentioned. But, as a female Star Trek fan, the completely useless scenes – particularly the linegerie shot – really pissed me off. Just because these movies are based on the original series doesn’t mean we need to carry over the sexism from that era, too.

    Oh, and I liked Nemesis, too 😛

    • Josh Roseman says:

      I actually think ST12 is in some ways more sexist than TOS because we as a culture have advanced. But, I mean, we’re dealing with people who put in Kirk’s birth in ST11 because then it would appeal to women, amirite? Now, to be fair, we did see men in their underwear in both films as well, and both instances were gratuitous as well (I mean, at least in ST11 it made sense for Uhura to be changing her clothes because her shift was over and she wanted to put on a pair of jeans or something). And this is the same company that created the “decontamination gel massage scenes” in Enterprise because Jolene Blalock was apparently the hottest Vulcan in the universe or whatever, and who forced Jeri Ryan into some really uncomfortable outfits because she’s tall and statuesque.

      • Tom says:

        Ugh. The decon gel was the worst! Come on, Trek – we don’t need half naked alien babes to actually like your shows.

        I can’t believe I just said that.

    • Tom says:

      To be fair, the sexism never left Hollywood. If anything, it’s getting worse, rather than better.

  2. Tom says:

    Okay, first – Xvex’f guerr-jnl jvgu gur nyvra jbzra was not gratuitous. It was spot-on for this nuKirk we’ve got. And I don’t like him at all. Shatner was MUCH better in his role than Pine is here.

    Second, I totally disagree about origin stories: I LOVE origin stories. I remember watching the Christopher Reeve Superman film, and thinking “Gosh, half of this movie is origin story – I LOVE that they took their time with it and didn’t rush it, like they would have on a modern film!”

    That’s the beef I have with modern films. They don’t take their time to show the characters just having a day. It’s always got to be MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! TODAY, GENTLEMEN!

    My biggest beefs with this film were twofold:
    Jul va Fcnturggv Zbafgre’f erq fnhpr vf gur Ragrecevfr haqrejngre?
    Gur “Ragrecevfr Snyyvat” frdhrapr ng gur raq jnf hggreyl naq pbzcyrgryl fghcvq naq JEBAT ba fb znal yriryf.

    • Josh Roseman says:

      Yeah, I don’t think the filmmakers even TRIED to make the movie scientifically plausible. I mean, remember, we’re talking about people who decided the Enterprise was being built on Earth.

  3. Thanks for the review — there are parts of it where I don’t agree with your preferences, but the review is well-written!

    I probably don’t frequent the chat boards often enough to say this, but I’m amazed I haven’t heard more people talk about some of the Deus Ex Machinas that appeared in this movie. Sci-Fi writers, such as the writers of the X-files, used to complain that it gets hard to come up with dramatic storylines and threats to the characters as technology keeps advancing. We have some prime examples in this movie about wondrous technological developments which seemed to be tossed out nonchalantly but could seriously destroy drama and risk in future storylines.

    For one, we’ve now established that Lbhat Fcbpx pna pnyy hc Byq Fcbpx ba gur gryrcubar naq trg gur nafjref, from the back of the textbook, as it were — even though both characters say they don’t want to do this except in emergencies. Well, I can’t imagine a plot threat in future movies that wouldn’t justify this type of “cheating”, or else it wouldn’t be an exciting movie. So in future movies either the characters will do this, or else we the audience will be sitting in the seats wondering why they’re not doing it.

    Secondly, they now have some sort of frehz (znqr sebz Xuna’f oybbq) juvpu pna nccneragyl oevat crbcyr onpx sebz gur qrnq. Znlor gur frehz pna bayl oevat onpx fbzrobql jub jnf xvyyrq ol enqvngvba cbvfbavat, be fbzr bgure fcrpvny pvephzfgnapr, ohg fgvyy, vg frrzf gb oebnqyl ertrarengr qrnq pryyf, fb vg’f _tbg_ gb or hfrshy zber guna whfg bapr. Nal guerng sebz enqvngvba va shgher zbivrf vf abj rivfprengrq orpnhfr gurl unir na nagvqbgr. Fvapr Xuna jnf trargvpnyyl ratvarrerq va gur 21fg praghel, vg frrzf fvyyl gb guvax gung uvf oybbq frehz pbhyqa’g or nanylmrq naq ercebqhprq ol 23eq Praghel zrqvpvar. Fb jul jbhyqa’g na nzchyr bs guvf frehz abj or fgnaqneq rdhvczrag ba nyy Fgnesyrrg havsbezf?

    Also, I totally agree and +100 to “Tom”s second encrypted comment about gur Ragrecevfr snyyvat sebz beovg. There’s a nice article somewhere, I think it might be on “Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics”, where they point out that decaying orbits used to be a common dramatic climax in TOS, but they virtually disappeared from TNG and the later series. That’s because, in-between TOS and TNG, actual NASA rocket scientists advised the studio that in real life, if you start from a stable orbit and your engines malfunction or quit on you, it normally takes many months or even years before you actually fall into the atmosphere. Some of the oldest Soviet-era satellites ever put into space by mankind are still floating up there today, 50 years after they completely exhausted any maneuvering fuel they may have had.

    So in a related beef, it always bothers me about Star Trek episodes and films when gur Ragrecevfr nyjnlf frrzf gb or yvgrenyyl gur bayl fuvc gung pna erfcbaq gb n guerng arne gur Rnegu vgfrys. Bar jbhyq guvax gur fxvrf arne Rnegu jbhyq or ohfgyvat jvgu genssvp naq qrsrafrf gb gur cbvag bs orvat genssvp-wnzzrq.

    And by the way, howcome there isn’t some kind of Starfleet equivalent of the “Coast Guard” to rescue ships that pna’g znvagnva gurve beovgf, naq cerirag gurz sebz snyyvat ba cbchyngrq pvgvrf nf unccraf va guvf zbivr? Nyy guvf fcnpr grpuabybtl naq abobql rire fbyirq gur ceboyrz bs ubj gb qrsraq gur Rnegu sebz, fnl, nfgrebvq naq pbzrg pbyyvfvbaf — n qrsrafr juvpu pbhyq rnfvyl unir ceriragrq gur ivyynva’f fuvc sebz penfuvat bagb Fna Senapvfpb?

    While JJ Abrams certainly brings action and excitement to the franchise, it often seems to be at the expense of scientific or real-life plausibility.

    • Josh Roseman says:

      I really enjoyed your comment.

      I want to second your point about the Starfleet “Coast Guard”. I mean, every time we see Star Trek stuff (of any era) going on in Earth orbit, except for the part of ST11 with the spacedock and the multiple ships, there’s one or two spacefaring vessels, MAXIMUM. Earth is the capital of the Federation; shouldn’t ships be coming and going all the time? The only time I’ve seen, like, a whole field of starships in orbit was that one episode of Voyager where Seven goes back in time to Utopia Planitia.

      Also, speaking of deus ex machinae… how about Scotty’s transwarp beaming trick that Old Spock taught him in ST11? So much for ever needing a starship again.

      • That’s _EXACTLY_ what I mean about the Coast Guard! You see it in so many episodes. Usually the Enterprise approaches an Earth that has no more than one or two spaceships around it, no lights on the night side, no evidence of human habitation. Quite frankly, if you Google anything about “space junk”, you will rapidly see that even _TODAY_ our near-Earth orbital space resembles the one in “Wall-E” more than the pristine views in Star Trek.

        One could _conjecture_ that Scotty’s transwarp beaming trick has a limited range or something like that — relatively speaking, (compared to the rest of the Federation, Earth and Vulcan are near each other), so the events of ST11 all happened in Earth’s “near neighborhood”. Maybe you can’t transport all the way out to the outer arms of Orion or something like that, so exploratory spaceships are still necessary. Nevertheless, it would mean beaming from planet to planet, which would revolutionize personal travel even for Starfleet people.
        The fans shouldn’t be the ones who have to scrabble for conjecture about why X development doesn’t upend the whole plot; the screenwriters ought to keep things within reasonable limits and not drop these casual Deus Ex Machinae (and then never refer to them or their implications ever again).
        I give a little bit of credit to the ST12 screenplay, because they mentioned briefly in passing that two warp ships tracking each other and having combat was not possible until Scotty/Old Spock introduced the transwarp beaming trick in the previous movie. (You could have missed it, it was just muttered under somebody’s breath in ST12). At least that was an _effort_ to show that new technologies have consequences. However, I only watched a handful of Bakula’s “Enterprise” series, so I don’t know for sure. I find it hard to believe the “Enterprise” series went on for X number of years and two warp ships never fought each other at warp.
        Feh. I guess series continuity is the hobgoblin of small minds, or something like that…