REVIEW: “Star Trek Into Darkness”


One of the most talked about films of the 2013 summer movie season is undoubtedly the J.J. Abrams blockbuster-to-be “Star Trek Into Darkness”. It’s the sequel to the wildly popular 2009 semi-reboot of the beloved sci-fi franchise which won over casual movie fans and Star Trek faithfuls alike. It’s definitely no surprise that we get a sequel. The first film of this new series insured that by raking in just under $400 million. Paramount pictures is certainly expecting to exceed that with this new installment.

I’ve had a pretty rocky relationship with the first film from Abrams (you can find that review HERE). After seeing it for the first time, I left the theater with a lukewarm reaction. A second viewing confirmed some key problems I had with the movie and my overall opinion of it dropped. But in preparation for “Into Darkness” I gave the first film a third and fourth viewing. The issues I had were still there, but my overall experience was more enjoyable and I found myself more and more excited for the sequel. But that excitement came with caution. Would Abrams tone down on the popcorn movie modernizations and give us something that feels like a Star Trek movie? Also, could “Into Darkness” avoid the common sequel traps that we’ve seen over the years? Those were my biggest questions.

Star Trek 3

One of the best things about the first movie was the amazing opening. It was pretty basic tablesetting but it was done so incredibly well and it instantly pulled the audience in. I can’t say the “Into Darkness” opening offers that same pizazz. The movie begins on an the Class M planet of Nibiru. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) are being pursued by indigenous undeveloped natives while Spock (Zachary Quinto) is lowered into an active volcano whose eruption threatens to destroy the planet. It’s a loud and bombastic sequence which comes across as a little clunky. It wasn’t terrible but it didn’t feel like a Star Trek scene and the visuals went from jaw-dropping to glaringly obvious CGI. I instantly began to worry.

Yet while I found the opening a little sluggish, as the movie progressed I noticed the important little nuggets nestled in those opening scenes which ended up playing big parts in the plot. It’s also here where we see that Kirk is still cocky and careless as evident by his numerous rule violations during the Nibiru mission. After breaking the Prime Directive and attempting to lie about it, Kirk loses his captain’s chair on the Enterprise. We also witness a series of violent terroristic events centered around a mysterious member of Starfleet known as John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Kirk finds himself desperate to get in the fight as Starfleet Admiral Marcus ( Peter Weller) begins the hunt to bring Harrison to justice.

“Into Darkness” still has some of the same problems as the first film. The Spock and Uhuru (Zoe Saldana) romance still feels bland and tacked on. Some of the big fight sequences feel like anything but Star Trek. And Abrams again tries to modernize things with some gags that land with a thud and a smattering of pointless profanity. But here’s the big part I’ve been anxious to get to. While these issues are there, the movie really gets its legs after the first act and the story takes off in what I found to be a brilliant direction. Fears relieved, worries extinguished!


Abrams gets back to what makes Star Trek such a beloved property. It’s the characters, their relationships, and their interactions. It’s the Enterprise, not just as a ship but as a vital character to the story. It’s the strategizing and trial-and-error planning. Abrams gives us doses of enthralling drama without the need of big action sequences, something Star Trek is famous for. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of action and it’s truly spectacular especially during the last 20 minutes. There was a head-scratching question or two during the finale and it was a bit jarring to see one character act a certain way, but I was able to backburner that due to the tension-soaked high stakes and the stunning special effects. I was on the edge of my seat and the whole time I was thinking “This is the kind of Star Trek I can latch onto”.

It also helps when you have Cumberbatch playing such an interesting villain. Or is he a villain? He’s such an enigma and we’re trying to figure him out right along with Kirk and his crew. Cumberbatch is fantastic with his surprising physicality and deep, menacing voice. I have to admit, I wasn’t that familiar with his body of work but he certainly grabbed my attention here. I also think Chris Pine gives a better performance this time around. He seems to have a stronger grasp of his character and he’s spared some of the nonsense he had to do in the first film. Quinto is still the embodiment of Spock. Abrams knows the relationship between Kirk and Spock is principal and he gives them plenty of screen time together. It’s smart because the two provide us with some of the movie’s best scenes.

I also enjoyed seeing Karl Urban’s role expanded. He’s still there for comic relief but his character is actually treated with more respect this time. I also thought John Cho was given better material here and he nailed it. And I enjoyed seeing Bruce Greenwood return as Christopher Pike. Simon Pegg’s Scotty was also given a bigger role but for me it was a ‘take it or leave it’ performance. Alice Eve is another newcomer whose character is mainly there to serve a key plot point and to allow Abrams to show a woman in her underwear. Other than that she was pretty disposable.


“Into Darkness” is an improvement over the first film and it sets a very interesting landscape for the films to come. There are clever and pleasing little tips of the hat to the old series scattered all through the movie. Whether it’s a specific sound only Trek fans would recognize or a particular fluffy little creature that we briefly see, I caught myself smiling at all the cool stuff I recognized. But there’s a lot more here than just nostalgia. Unlike so many sequels, this movie goes in a sharply original direction while at the same time tinkering with certain classic story arcs. This not only makes for a convincing alternate reality within the film, but it provides some top-notch science fiction entertainment.

“Into Darkness” is ‘Star Trek for the masses’ and it still hasn’t completely cured all its ailments, but it was a huge step forward in my book. I’ve talked about the solid performances, the amazing special effects, and the classic Star Trek flavor. But I could go further. I could talk about the strong score, the brilliant cinematography, the tighter script, and the near perfect editing. This film gets it right on so many levels. 15 minutes into this movie I was thinking I was in for a long, grinding ride. 15 minutes after the movie I was dying to see it again. I just love it when a movie catches me by surprise and then blows me away. Such was the case here.


54 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Star Trek Into Darkness”

  1. When you said it was jarring to see a character act a certain way toward the end, was it Spock? Just a yes or no is fine…don’t want to spoil anything.

    Speaking of, you did a great job of going over lots of stuff without giving away specifics.

    I’m still at the point where I pretty much wholly dislike the ’09 Trek, but almost none of it translated into the new one. There is still some really bad science that rears its head at the beginning, but like you said, once you get past the opening, it’s smooth sailing.

    Also agree on Chris Pine. He really, really impressed me this time around. I actually want to see him take the reigns of a new show now. Think of what that cast could do with 7 years on tv! The people screaming for more traditional Trek would probably get their fill, too.

    For the record, I’m both a TOS and TNG guy. More so TNG, but lately I’ve been really diving into KIrk’s exploits more. His judgment is just as good as Picard’s, but he’s willing to take more chances.

    • To answer your question…Yes!

      Thanks for the comments! I’m a huge fan of TNG. I’m currently going through DS9. I never finished the series and I’m enjoying it as well!

      • Yea, DS9 is the one series I don’t have a lot of exposure to. I’ve seen a lot of random episodes, but that’s about it. Voyager is a piece of shit except for the doctor, and Enterprise was hit and miss. A lot of it was awesome, but that whole over-arching time travel plot was pretty awful. And the last episode was a joke. My friend is going to give me the animated series, which I’ve never seen before. I’m pretty stoked for that.

  2. Well, you’ve read my take and seen my rating, so you know we’re on the same page with this one. I’ll definitely try to see it again, probably going to use my husband as an excuse since he wasn’t in the party when we saw it in 3D. This time I’ll watch it in 2D.

    • This thing really surprised me Jessica. I really wasn’t expecting to be as enthusiastic about it as I am. I chose to skip the 3D. I had heard really mixed reactions to it. When that’s the case I always go 2D. It still looked tremendous!

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  4. Everyone is so hard on the 2009 Film and I just wonder would it have mattered the story line or who directed, if anyone would of actually been happy with it? Especially since Paramount went back to the Original crew.

    • I don’t know, just about everyone I know really liked the 2009 movie. I think the jarring liberties gave me a few fits and the Hollywoodizing (my word) of the material bothered me. BUT the movie has really grown on me.

    • Thanks man. It’s a really big surprise for me. I hoped I would like it better than the first film but I absolutely didn’t expect to like it this much.

  5. Great review Keith, glad to see you liked this one more than the last one. I totally agree that it was a little odd to see a certain someone acting the way they did. I don’t even know that much about Star Trek and I was a little taken aback. I was a little underwhelmed by the ending to be honest, but it didn’t ruin the film for me at all. Oh and the whole magic blood thing felt like a huge deus ex machina, but again, I’m nitpicking a little.

  6. Great review Keith!! Unlike you I quite enjoyed the first movie (despite being discombobulated by some scenes, ahah), but I still think this one is better. Yay on Karl Urban’s role being expanded a bit, but man that Benedict is indeed fantastic!! I LOVE his deep voice and I like that his character is such an enigma.

    • Thanks so much Ruth. I’m just thrilled with how this film turned out. I was a little concerned but boy it met the challenge of this grumbling blogger. 😉

      Benedict is something else. He’s menacing and the mystery surrounding him was so well done. Also I found myself literally squirming with excitement during the last 30 minutes. I certainly didn’t expect that going in!

      • “squirming with excitement” Ahah, well that’s always a good sign 😀 I have to admit I enjoyed every bit of Benedict’s theatrical performance. Yes so it’s a bit over the top but who cares, he was pretty smashing in it and made everyone else seems so boring, ahah. I still love Karl as McCoy but sad to say even HE was upstaged by Sherlock 😀

      • You’re right, his performance is over the top but I loved it too. I absolutely think its intentional and I believe it works perfectly with the character. He’s trying to be cryptic but also intimidating. It works.

        Do you remember that one scene where he is sitting on a table after being captured. He’s sitting so upright and proper. That fits perfectly with his performance as a whole. Unusual, enigmatic, and a kick-butt threat!

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  8. One of the problems is that you are starting over with a new audience. While there is still a substantial fan base, you have to broaden that to accommodate casual viewers. The TV series got smaller and smaller in terms of audience and it’ has been years since this was a fresh property. If you had a background series that you could go to for the science and morality plays, you would not notice how hyped up the movies are. We payed $18 a ticket for the 3D IMAX and while I’d have been OK with a more traditional telling, the audience for Summer Movies has changed and the bang for your buck has to go “BANG”.
    I thought the villain did most of his acting with his voice, and given the upcoming Hobbit film, I’m relieved at the job he did. I did not love it as much as the 2009 edition, but I am going back for a second trip tomorrow and I know it will not be my last.

    • I just got back from my second viewing and it pretty much solidified my 4.5 rating for me. I really liked it and for me its still a stronger picture than the original. I think the characters are a little more even this time around and it gives a little more to new fans and old fans.

      I agree 100% about the new audiences today. It seems like it’s all about the bang now I love some good action and flashy effects but sometimes it has an adverse effect.

  9. Great review! I enjoyed this a bunch, too! It is not perfect–neither was the first one and I liked that one, too–but, that does not deter from the fun factor. (Just finished my review…)

    I love these characters and this universe and any amount of time I can spend with them is a good time. 😀 And this cast is perfect! Glad to hear you liked Mr. Cumberbatch–I have been trying to get the whole world 😉 to watch the BBC’s series Sherlock–it’s brilliant!–and was not disappointed by his performance (duh! :D) I also really like the focus on the Kirk/Spock relationship and that is where this film shines the brightest.

    I am excited about the next installments–without Abrams and hopefully without the limits of staying true to certain aspects of the franchise. I can only hope it will give us some new adventures!

    Until next time…later! 😀

    • Thanks as always for the great comments! You said it! I love the characters too. And I love the way you put it. Anytime we can spend with them is great.

      Cumberbatch was ever menacing and incredibly devious. Just watched this for a second time and he still delivers a great character. I also like that we finally get a mature Kirk. I’m kinda hoping some of the silliness is behind us. He really grew up in this film and I love the way Abrams makes him do that.

  10. I liked the opening scene! Thought it was a kind of a fun pre title sequence, nothing wrong with that!

    You nailed the rest of it for sure though. “Some of the big fight sequences feel like anything but Star Trek.” is totally true. Its also true that Alice Eve was on board just to get into her skiviies LOL. But at the end of the day I got caught up in it too and thought it was a fun summer movie. 😀 Nice review Keith!

    • Thanks man, like I said I don’t think the beginning is bad but it was a little clunky to me. But that changed as the movie progressed because there were significant plot nuggets in those opening few moments. Watched it again last night and enjoyed it just as much. This is a good one.

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  13. I wasn’t as in enthralled w/ the film as you, but I get where you are coming from. Good review w/ good points.

    I’m actually looking forward to when Abrams relinquishes the reigns to someone else. I think it will be good for the franchise; like what happened w/ the Potter films.

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