Like most quality science fiction, classic Star Trek often covered contemporary philosophical and political issues in compelling fashion. What raised Trek to pop culture icon status was its optimistic, albeit humanistic, vision and sense of fun. Despite its title, Star Trek into Darkness largely gets the optimistic and fun part right, not so much that philosophi-something stuff.
When a rogue Starfleet agent (Benedict Cumberbatch) launches a devastating terror attack on 23rd century London and flees Earth, Starfleet sends a young, brash Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), his emotionally stunted, half-Vulcan first officer Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), and the rest of the crew of the Starship Enterprise out to hunt him down. Various complications ensue, with enough exciting action and explosions to cover up—almost—gaping plot holes large enough to fly the Enterprise through.
By contrast, the development of Kirk and Spock’s friendship is easily the most well-executed and emotionally satisfying part of the film. (Yes, I used the words “Spock” and “emotionally satisfying” in the same sentence.) Pine and Quinto do an exceptional job navigating these two drastically different personalities as they learn how to express, in words and deeds, their sincere regard for each other.
Cumberbatch also shines in too-limited screen time as the mysterious Starfleet agent, particularly when dropping lines such as “I will walk over your cold, dead, corpses” like icy daggers.
For all of the threatening circumstances the Enterprise crew find themselves facing, the film tries hard not to take itself too seriously, offering up comic relief whenever it’s warranted, usually by Simon Pegg’s Scotty, and too often when it’s not. When the film takes a more serious tone, it too often falls flat or is hampered by borrowing lines and, in one particular case, almost an entire scene from previous Trek incarnations, thus bordering on unintentional self-parody.
The visual effects are appropriately stunning, as is the approximately 30 minutes of IMAX footage on display.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, along with some sexual situations, Star Trek into Darkness offers summer moviegoers sci-fi cotton candy: an exciting sugar rush, but ultimately insubstantial and unsatisfying.