“Into Darkness” might be the best Star Trek film ever made. That claim invites the wrath of Khan and his fans, but I will risk it. The franchise reboot already fights uphill against They Changed It, Now It Sucks.
The film opens with two vignettes. In media res, snappy dialog explores Trek themes; it’s episodic, a day-in-the-life for the Enterprise. The next scene changes gears entirely as a silent drama unfolds for new characters…episodic again.
Then Kirk’s called out for being Kirk, and the movie explodes. Simple motives become complex. Mentors clash. It’s impossible to tell who the villain is. My nitpicks vanished as the characters engaged me.
I was guessing until the very end. We’re in the hands of expert storytellers: They let us feel ‘in the know’ seconds before The Reveal.
But I was surprised (even shocked) just as often.
“Into Darkness” turns Mood Whiplash into art. There’s hardly time to digest one transformative event before the next tragedy unfolds. Armor Piercing Questions leave cast and audience deliciously clutching for purchase. You don’t know the right course any more than they do.
The characters evolve, yet remain believably iconic. That particular tightrope is why I don’t attempt fanfiction, but Abrams succeeded on the silver screen. Shatner’s Kirk was a surefooted, his reputation established. Our younger Kirk has the same instincts, but no clout, and it matters. When success in Starfleet directly contradicts the conscience of his crew, you wonder which way he’ll leap.
True to form, Kirk Takes Third Options, but even those have consequences.
Fans of the Original Series may miss the methodical, scientific storytelling of trial and error. “Into Darkness” is more about human ethics than understanding new life. It’s not cerebral in the puzzle-solving sense, it’s cerebral the way “The West Wing” was, rapidly moving from topic to topic (quite hypnotic). The heroes are larger than life, but they also make mistakes. I have new respect for Chris Pine; Quinto and Cummerbatch were already favorites.
The action borrows as much from the superhero genre as Star Trek. Fortunately, the plot isn’t just an excuse to blow things up. People fight when they’re out of options. I would prefer advanced choreography to quick cuts and shaky cam, though. That kind of storytelling has also evolved.
The ending will be intensely personal for any Trekkie. Whatever you think of his choices, Abrams was faithful to the spirit of the franchise, and he borrows with pride from your favorite moments. Just like the characters, the plot manages to be both iconic and new.
See this one in theaters. You won’t be disappointed.
And later when you buy it, it’ll fit snugly in your collection. Right across from Wrath of Khan.