Movie Review: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

Published by Shah Shahid on

Director J. J. Abrams proved the impossible when he was able to retell the STAR TREK story for a new generation in 2009, and was hugely successful doing so. However, his success with the follow up to that in 2013 left a lot to be desired. Here is my Movie Review of STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS…

Blank Page Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

One of the biggest reasons why STAR TREK (2009) worked was due to a backdoor in the plot, cleverly utilized by writers Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, that ceased all comparisons of the new franchise to it’s predecessor. This allowed the makers to tell compelling new stories, adapt the characters and universe without the pressure of years of canon stories, not to mention the (eventually inevitable) backlash from the fans. This concept seems to have been completely abandoned for STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS though, as the main story features concepts that have already been explored, without any further expansion. Here are a few of the reasons that STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS failed in my eyes.

Mirror Mirror

Strek Trek Into Darkness 2013 with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberpatch, Peter Sellers, Zoe Saldena directed by J.J. Abrams Movie Review

this seems familiar…

After an adrenaline filled opening sequence of the established Enterprise crew in action, a terrorist attack reveals a new antagonist that Kirk and his crew have to fight against. The build up leads to changes in the status quo that set the stage for the movie. Eerily, these reflect almost the exact same sequence of events from the first movie.

Kirk is shown as a badass with the Kobayashi Maru test, then by saving Spock from the volcano in the sequel. He breaks rules in both instances. Gets into trouble. Gets expelled from/sent back to the academy as a result of those actions. Through circumstances, Kirk becomes 1st Officer of the Enterprise under Captain Pike. Pike gets attacked. Kirk takes over the Enterprise and goes after the bad guy on his own.

Strek Trek Into Darkness 2013 with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberpatch, Peter Sellers, Zoe Saldena directed by J.J. Abrams Movie Review

not to mention this…

Over all, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is able to capitalize and build on the action adventure aspects from the first movie. The explosions are bigger. The space battles are slicker. But ultimately, the intensity of the story, and its impact on the characters, falls flat.

Nostalgia Over Originality

The entire appeal of having a main antagonist revealed to be Khan, a character from the 2nd STAR TREK movie and considered the greatest villain in franchise history, is only recognizable to original STAR TREK audiences. The supposed bad guy, Khan is humanized as a misunderstood character only seeking retribution, and he’s even presented almost as a Red Herring to the bigger villain, revealed in another twist, Admiral Marcus, played brilliantly by Peter Sellers (ROBOCOP). However, after spending a better part of the movie being nothing but cordial and respectable, in the last few minutes, Khan betrays the heroes and becomes a brutally violent villain simply because… he is supposed to be so. (?)

Strek Trek Into Darkness 2013 with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberpatch, Peter Sellers, Zoe Saldena directed by J.J. Abrams Movie Review

as wicked as he is… it’s a waste.

The driving force for Khan’s actions in this story, seem to be based on a reliance of his characterization from the previous film. He’s a villain, because he’s supposed to be a villain. When he could have easily been an anti-hero whose conflict with Kirk happens as a result of a moral disagreement regarding their approaches of dealing  Marcus for his abuse of Khan and his brethren and betrayal of Federation ethics. The intimidation factor of an antagonist has significantly less impact on newer audiences, when it’s reliant on knowledge of the character from a previous franchise, decades ago. It defeats the purpose of a reboot. Without this prior knowledge, Khan seems like a random tough guy that serves the story no purpose. His presence has no impact on the characters or the story, other than being a brutal wild card, whereas Admiral Marcus’ significance has ramifications through the story. Even the chemistry between Kirk & Khan is bland. After being unable to take revenge on the man who killed Pike, Kirk teams up with him in scenes that looked like they were supposed to be funny, but weren’t.

Nero from the 2009 film was an original character from a recognizable species in the franchise. A new back-story, a new conflict against an original backdrop that was created to challenge the existing group of characters we all knew, while being deviant enough to appeal to a new generation. …INTO DARKNESS squanders the opportunity to create brand new stories, completely free of canon and the burdens of continuity by expanding the ‘Trek’ Universe in ways that was previously unimaginable.

Strek Trek Into Darkness 2013 with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberpatch, Peter Sellers, Zoe Saldena directed by J.J. Abrams Movie Review

“so… we’re going places where man HAS gone before…? 😐 “

Instead we are given a main conflict, which is only personal to the villain, in which the heroes have little stake, except for seeking vengeance for Captain Pike’s death, a similar element that existed in the first film as well. The Nero threat was that much more intimidating given that his actions connected directly into Kirk’s traumatic past and origins. No such emotionally driven stakes are at play here with Khan or even Admiral Marcus.

Fizzling Chemistry

…INTO THE DARKNESS features such minimal interaction between the main cast that it’s disappointing given that the 1st film was the template by which other ensemble cast films could learn from regarding the balance and significance given to each character, however small. Whereas the sequel has those characters relegated to a few lines of dialogue on their own, or caricatures of their former selves.

Strek Trek Into Darkness 2013 with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberpatch, Peter Sellers, Zoe Saldena directed by J.J. Abrams Movie Review

he just runs… every time he’s on screen… 😐

Chekov played by Anton Yelchin has barely 3 scenes, most by himself. John Cho’s Sulu get’s one memorable scene, (of dialogue only) again on his own. Karl Urban as Bones is hilarious, however, he becomes a one liner-spouting cartoon. Zachary Quinto, who stole the show as Spock the first time around has little to do in this one, and his character has no significance to the story. Even Chris Pine as Kirk seemed to have phoned in his inconsistently shaky performance.

A Better Star Trek Movie

A sequel to the innovative STAR TREK (2009) would have been better served with the complete exclusion of the Khan character or any other leftovers of the previous franchise. Similar to The Mandarin in IRON MAN 3, Khan could’ve served as a Red Herring to set up a more cerebral villain that could’ve better challenged our heroes in more intensely emotional ways, rather than a climax involving a fist fight and death by mechanical repair.

A potential conflict with the Klingons was the perfect backdrop for a more politically charged story, with war looming on the horizon, being orchestrated from within Starfleet potentially by Admiral Marcus. Imagine a first strike involving fleets of Klingon Birds of Prey & Federation Starships in an orgasmic and epic Space battle. Maybe even introduce a Klingon who helps Kirk and crew, only to be branded a traitor to his people, a label that is passed down to his future… ‘Generations’.

Strek Trek Into Darkness 2013 with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberpatch, Peter Sellers, Zoe Saldena directed by J.J. Abrams Movie Review

why weren’t these guys used more?!

While the first film gave us a personal and destructive threat, the second film could’ve chosen to deal something that threatens the downfall of the United Federation of Planets, as we know it, bringing in more familiar races from the franchise. This could’ve provided the homage to Gene Roddenberry’s original vision to newer audiences of the Trek Universe being a hopeful futuristic era that we may someday be able to achieve, free of discrimination, poverty and the manmade threats against our survival that exist now. Something that some complained was being moved away from in the new Franchise.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS was a fun filled, action packed film. However, the previous success of breaking away from the decades worth of established continuity in one of the best Science Fiction shows in history, is voided when the sequel goes right back into the source material for ideas. A fresh and innovative approach to STAR TREK was completely undermined by using ideas that have already been done, and failing to utilize them in a way that goes beyond being reminiscences of the original franchise.

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Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad


Niejan · December 29, 2013 at 7:24 PM

Excellent write up Shah. Thanks for the mention. You are absolutely right in your point the writers undermined a fresh and innovative approach to the film just like the first one by Abrams. The only thing I really enjoyed about Into Darkness was Cumberbatch’s intriguing portrayal of Khan.

    Shah Shahid · January 2, 2014 at 8:45 PM

    Hey Niejan. No worries, your write up made an excellent case for the point I was trying to make regarding the 1st film. I loved Cumberpatch, just felt his role and performance was wasted in the end by reducing him to a 2 dimensional psychopath.

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