Lets get one thing clear: I am not a trekkie. I have screened a couple of the Star Trek films and seen a few of the TV episodes in passing, particularly Wrath of Khan. I have also watched the previous Star Trek directed by J.J. Abrams, which I enjoyed (mostly) though I was told it lacked the philosophical depth and thematic layers most of its predecessors. As such, the non-spoiler part of the review will be strictly from my experience of the film in itself and as a sequel to the 2009 version only, not encompassing the rest of the franchise. However in the spoiler section I will let my sentiments about the earlier films in the franchise 'influence' my opinion.
In one sentence, Star Trek Into Darkness lives up to its name and is superior to its immediate predecessor, giving us fun characters, plenty of action and some food for thought about society. This one does explore darker themes than the original and poses interesting (though not very deep) questions in between all the fighting and often incomprehensible dialogue. It has a memorable villain in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch and some juicy performances coming out of the main characters, especially Zachary Quinto (Spock) and Zoe Zaldana (Uhura).
When you have a film that has an ensemble cast like in this film, it is demonstrably hard to develop every main character, but I do appreciate what little we get, even if it's almost feeling like a sitcom at times.
There are a few gaping holes in the story that distract the critical thinker, and many obvious establishing scenes which screams at you the potential resolution of the story, which disappointingly lightens up the film too quickly and strips it of the poignancy achieved just two scenes ago. But if you're willing to turn you brain down to "just here to enjoy some space adventure" this film is worth the price of admission, but I would say a rewatch is not warranted unless you want to learn all the jargon and intricacies of the Star Trek universe.
7.0 / 10.0
The idea of reviving Khan with a slightly modified backstory was probably the strongest aspect of the film. The first half he was able to fool not only the crew of the USS Enterprise but also us the audience with his John Harrison persona the second half you really couldn't see what he's thinking except for what he shows you. Cumberbatch really respected the original character, and I feel that he pulled off the super-intelligent warrior character as strongly as Ricardo Montalban did back in the 1982, without all the mexican/native american dressup or lovely hair. Some might consider this casting choice whitewashing but it didn't bother me personally as I am not American or a Trekkie. It would have been too obvious who this character was if he resembled the original Khan.
There are a few other easter eggs in the film that may either appeal to or annoy fans of the rest of the franchise, especially with the role reversal of Kirk and Spock as Spock is the one who died in the original, whereas Kirk 'dies' instead. Spock's yelling of Khan's name out of rage and anger is nowhere near as impressive as William Shatner's passing a kidney stone, but I'm smiling for his attempt.
Unfortunately the film's abundance of reference to the rest of the Star Trek world is also what strips it of potentially something more influential. Its unwillingness of the J.J. Abrams to actually kill off either Khan or Kirk in the film rings weak to me, given one of the themes in this film is about self-sacrifice for the greater good. Instead, we get a fake out death with Kirk, and Khan goes back into hibernation. In fact it's been a while since I've seen a franchise movie where they actually kill off one of their main characters. While it's understandable they want to keep their doors open for more sequels, wouldn't it be more interesting if the next film opens with the lementing of a fallen ally?
This is the element they changed from how Wrath of Khan that would've made the film work for me. Indeed they brought him back to life in the next film but nobody knew that at the time, and they were genuinely shocked and affected by the sacrifice Spock made for his crew, leading to the legacy of his philosophy "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few".
So this halfway approach to paying homage and being its own creation stunts the impact it has on the audience from a story telling point, as the only major change they made in this film is arguably the one thing I thought they should have kept, even if it was Kirk in place of Spock.
There are three issues raised and discussed in this film: the role of logic versus instinct, the power of emotions such as anger and compassion, and finally the role of the captain. The last one is perhaps the only one I felt was not addressed properly.
I love how casually the seat of the captain is passed around. First film we saw Pike, Spock, Kirk and Chekov "take the captain's seat". Now we see Hikaru Sulu take the seat for a bit as well. While I understand the chain of command style of starfleet contingency planning, I sense the film is promoting the concept that anyone can be captain, provided they are brave enough to take the seat.
This democratization of authority actually messes up the lesson Pike was trying to teach Kirk at the beginning of the film. What are we supposed to take from this film about leading a crew? Anyone can do it as long as they have to? Only those who are mature and wise should lead? Or those who are willing to put their lives on the line for his crew? I felt that the lesson Kirk learns is just the result of him unlearning his development in the previous film, or that it wasn't an issue he had to begin with. Also the fact that Kirk and Spock, being the most senior officers on the ship, is always doing the things themselves, defeats the whole point of delegation and having a crew.
You know the funny thing too is that, I think Spock should be USS Enterprise's captain. He is logical, but he does have feelings, and after the first film he recognizes it, and has since learned when it is appropriate to feel the emotions. Kirk on the other hand has all the wrong motivations at every step. First he chases after a villain simply as a revenge for Pike, secondly he disobeys his directive because he has compassion for a criminal, and thirdly he sacrifices himself to save the ship even though a ship without a captain is far more severe than a ship without its backup engineer. This type of cinematic cliche makes you wonder whether there is any value in being the leader of a pack when you do everything yourself anyway. All the redshirts ever do is die or look really intense and scared.
One thing Star Trek fans would appreciate about this film over the past is that there are Klingons speaking Klingon, as well as Uhura who gives it a shot as well. While this scene was brief and they get wiped out embarrassingly quickly, we the audience sorely needed to see some more aliens. I guess the only problem with this is that the warping technology has obstructed our ability to geographically pinpoint the Klingon empire. All we know is they are far away from Earth but have no idea in what direction or how far away.
This is important because for all the filmmaker's effort to integrate this film into the original canon, they are showing surprisingly little of the overall universe, and typically the scenarios are all isolated and feels detached from the rest of the universe, and thus the concept and scale of the 'federation' can yet be appreciated.
Perhaps this was the limit to which Abrams was willing to show. Just cameos of notable elements, characters, species and cliches of the original, but no substantial exploration of the world in which we want to immerse ourselves in. It may be out of fear of the reprecussions from trekkies for misrepresenting or deviating from the franchise, it may just be out of calculated decision in marketing, but again a franchise film has been stripped of a 'great' status in exchange for profitability and general acceptance.