After watching Star Trek: Beyond (most generic subtitle ever), I have to admit that while I won’t defend Star Trek: Into Darkness as a good movie, I did enjoy it. I would say the opposite of Beyond. It was well-crafted in a simple and straightforward kind of way, but I felt kind of meh towards it. If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review, I recommend heading over to Keith DeCandido’s review otherwise, read on.
The world building was fantastic. The first ten minutes are blissfully free of action. Instead we tour the ship, Yorktown, and the comings and goings of everyday life out in space. Kirk’s voiceover nicely (if rather bluntly) sets up his arc and while I never for a second believed he was really going to agree to be an admiral and leave the Enterprise, the idea of losing yourself was an interesting one. I don’t think enough was done with it (as is true of almost all of the character arcs), but it was at least hit often enough to keep him afloat and moving forward.
My two cents on the Sulu debate is that it was the right choice to make him gay. It was nice to see a main character as LGBT, rather than a side character who doesn’t really matter. I also liked that it wasn’t a big deal, nor was it something anyone felt the need to comment on. My one qualm was that it was so lightly touched on that it would have been incredibly easy to miss. While I do appreciate the subtlety, the movie’s dialogue and themes are so hard hitting that the subtlety felt out of place.
Leonard Nimoy’s death was also tied in beautifully. It could have easily felt gimmicky and out of place, but his death and its effect on Spock were fabulous. Spock is also considering leaving the Enterprise (of course you are, Spock. We believe you) and while the death is part of what’s spurring him on, it’s also clear that he’s incredibly confused and depressed. His emotions felt genuine, he has a great moment with Bones when he reveals the death, and Bones captures what it’s like for us the audience watching this. It caters to the fans a lot, but it ultimately makes Spock’s character arc make much more sense and much more developed than everyone else’s.
The destruction of the Enterprise was appropriately solemn and it’s given quite a lot of build up. Using it as a confined and desolate place for the characters to run around in later also gave a nice jumble of melancholy, loss of hope, and desire for things to be better.
I liked the idea a lot of the characters getting split up, but ultimately the conversations didn’t do a lot for me. Spock and Bones did work pretty well off each other, with some good banter and some good conflict between Bones’s duty as a doctor and dislike of Spock. I do love how blunt Bones is, but I didn’t feel like much had changed by the end. I think Bones respected Spock a little more, but I never felt there was any great hatred he had to get over, nor do I believe they’ve become closer friends.
Uhura and Sulu were completely underutilized. They have little to no character and are basically just there to get fed plot info through monologues the villain probably wouldn’t ever give. Kalara was a pretty interesting character, especially with the deepening suspicion about her true intentions and it’s pretty disappointing that she was so randomly killed off. I think it would have been better to keep her around and continue developing her rather than throwing in new bad guys, like Manas.
In terms of world building I also love, love, love the acknowledgment that not everyone speaks English. The translator is a cool technology and it was awesome getting to hear Kalara’s language and then hear it translated (rather than going the babble fish method). In continuation of that theme, the technology was pretty cool in this movie. They picked a few things and then developed them and used them in interesting ways. Specifically, the image refractors and the swarm warships. Although there is so much technobabble, so much technobabble. And while the death-by-music climax of destroying the swarm was pretty silly, the choice of music (and its callback value) was awesome.
I struggled for a while with the twist, wherein the villain (who, by the way, was completely bland and was mostly only redeemable for being horrifyingly evil) is revealed to be a former star fleet officer. On the one hand it worked so well because it made sense. The movie hits the idea of unity really hard and he’s a great example of unity breaking down. It’s also the people you are unified with who are the most dangerous to your unity, so the idea worked. But it also came really late in the movie. And I think that was ultimately the problem. I think the threat to Yorktown should have been cut out entirely (because honestly, who cares? We barely know anything about this city. Why should we the audience feel any personal connection with this place?) and the reveal should have come earlier. Then more time could have been spent on the characters wandering around in their split groups and more time could have been spent on developing the twist.
Despite the weak character arcs and unsubtle dialogue, there was some good banter and the ideas were clearly defined and carried neatly from beginning to end. Yet despite feeling like it was a well-crafted movie, it didn’t have enough interesting characters or a fun, threatening villain to pull me in.