BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
Part of the genius of J.J. Abrams is his understanding of family. Science fiction and its fandom are often built around the idea of belonging, of being part of something bigger and more important than just the individual. The web of characters, their relationships, and, more importantly, the relationships fans develop with them, is key to the success of these stories. Abrams’ grasp of this concept is integral in his storytelling, particularly when tackling stories we think we know.
Star Trek Into Darkness, like the reboot four years ago, plays within the Star Trek universe, often stretching or altering it while still remaining true to the core of what has come before. After an action packed opening, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself demoted to First Officer of the Enterprise, causing him to question his friendship with Spock (Zachary Quinto) and his skill as a leader. The demotion is short-lived when a mysterious antagonist, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), incites violence against Star Fleet, and forcing Kirk to travel with his crew into enemy territory. The film’s title refers to the moral issues that follow—what to do when the right decision is shrouded in shadow.
Where the first film worked to develop origin stories for Kirk and Spock, this second outing focuses on their developing friendship. This bromance is the hub around which the rest of the series is built. Much of the film hinges on the scenes between Pine and Quinto; they do not disappoint. Their performances manage to reference not just the original characters, but the original actors (William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy) without falling into the trap of caricature. Pine might be more restrained and Quinto a touch more witty with his Vulcan-emotionaless state. The return of Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, and a particularly delightful Simon Pegg adds to the crew-as-family fabric. Exploring the crew’s various relationships and dynamics, and how they hold up under pressure, is what takes this film from simply Science Fiction into greatness.
As the villain, Cumberbatch is chilling in his role, his voice alone providing a presence that is both menacing and oddly earnest. More commentary on his performance and role unfortunately must be left in darkness to avoid spoiling some of the film’s most thrilling twists. For those who haven’t consumed Star Trek as part of their pop culture diet, the film is an enjoyable outing with stunning visuals (a forest of red trees!) and fantastic action sequences balanced with thoughtful storytelling. Fans of the franchise, if they can accept some of the tweaks to the universe, will find the film transcending referenential as Abrams plays with symmetry and the reframing of central threads of the Star Trek tapestry. It’s a journey into the unknown that is worth the risks for its thrilling payoffs.