Star Trek Into Darkness opens on a volcanic planet inhabited by a dense red forest and a primitive people who are pale and blink upwards. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Dr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), and the rest of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s crew are there simply to observe and collect information, without making their presence known to a civilization that has barely invented the wheel. Things go south and Kirk decides to show themselves in order to save Spock’s life. For this breach of protocol, Kirk is stripped of the Enterprise and advised to return to the academy, but Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) allows him to stay on as his First Officer aboard the starship. These opening scenes establish the tension with Spock that Kirk and Lt. Uhura share, and Zachary Quinto portrays Spock’s internal conflict between human and Vulcan very well.
Soon after the Enterprise’s return to Starfleet’s San Francisco base, news arrives from London about the bombing of a Starfleet archive by a former agent named John Harrison. The news of a terrorist from within Starfleet hits close to home for Kirk, and after Harrison attacks a meeting of the elite leaders of Starfleet, he requests permission to go after him personally. Admiral Marcus grants Kirk permission to chase Harrison down in his hide out across the galaxy to a remote corner of the Klingon homeland Kronos. Marcus warns of the danger this mission involves, as a full-out war with the Klingon Empire is only a spark away, and he forces Kirk to take 72 torpedo missiles aboard the Enterprise.
J.J. Abrams directs the film with plenty of visual style, including the tilted angles and intentional lens flares. The U.S.S. Enterprise as well as the futuristic cities look almost real thanks to wonderful CGI, and the final frontier and all of its many diverse planets are also added in beautifully. However, this doesn’t take away from the wonderful human interactions in the film. Kirk’s sometimes over-emotional gut drives his motives, while Spock is the constantly logical counterpart. Supporting characters like Bones (Karl Urban), the doctor, or Scottie (Simon Pegg), the engineer, are likeable and bring a comedic twist to this sci-fi adventure.
Despite all of this praise, Star Trek Into Darkness is certainly not perfect. In order to cover so much ground, the layers of the plot are stripped a bit thin, and we don’t come to understand the characters as much as we may like to. Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic as John Harrison, but we aren’t given much background to his character apart from his basic motivation, and I felt that a deeper expansion of this villain would have certainly been beneficial. However, Star Trek Into Darkness is still a great sequel, with successful performances, strong visual effects, a smart enough plot to drive character and story, and with a couple of laughs thrown in.