This is a film that I have been looking forward to for 4 years. Ever since the first JJ Abrams Star Trek was released in 2009 I was really looking forward to the sequel and I'm a bit surprised that it took this long for the sequel. After watching it, I can see why it took 4 years, they wanted to make this sequel as good as possible and it works. Star Trek Into Darkness is a blast. Now this review will be spoiler free as I don't want to give away the film unlike some other websites (looking at you iMDB) so rest assured, the major plot points in this film will be unspoiled.
First of all, the film looks incredible. The visual design of the film, coupled with JJ Abrams direction is incredibly realized and there are some really beautiful looking moments in the film. This is also coupled with a few little touches that make the world Abrams is creating more real, most notably the little dust trails that are now present when the Enterprise goes into warp. This is combined with the incredibly done action scenes to make the film really fun to watch while it is going on. Now I went to see this film in IMAX 3D, whilst I don't think the 3D is all that good, IMAX is the way that the visuals in the film need to be seen in order to see the incredible quality of the film's design.
The plot of the film meanwhile deals with some of the major themes that were a bit lacking in the first of the new series. The main drive of the film is for Kirk to learn humility in his actions and the extent to which he will go to protect the people he cares about. This provides a great character arc for Kirk throughout the film and has a great payoff at the end. The bigger theme for me though is how the film deals with terrorism and how a peacekeeping organisation will just fall apart in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack, transforming from a peacekeeping force to a war-mongering force. This, along with some stuff later on in the film, do draw parallels with the lead-up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the extent to which the US government went to in order to start a war in those areas and it really works for the overall feel of the film and how Star Trek deals with major political themes.
The real reason this film works though is the cast. Chris Pine does a good job as Kirk, bringing in the cockiness of the character with real heart later on in the film. Zoe Saldana does a great job as Uhura, Karl Urban is just as fun as he was in the first film as Bones, Simon Pegg gets a lot more involved in the action and has some great comic relief moments as Scotty and John Cho gets his chance to shine as Sulu. Noel Clarke and Bruce Greenwood give very powerful performances for the limited amount of screentime that they have whilst Alice Eve and Peter Weller work brilliantly with the cast as Carol Wallace and Admiral Marcus, with Eve having great chemistry with Pine and Urban whilst Weller does his best gruff general with him having some brilliant moments later on.
The real standouts though are Zachary Quinto and Benedict Cumberbatch. Quinto steals every scene he is in as Spock, he's really funny, gets some good badass moments and really nails the whole character of Spock and how he works with Kirk in everything from his voice to his mannerisms to his actions. Cumberbatch meanwhile is incredibly threatening as John Harrison, you really get a feel for this character from his presence alone, you know that he is a threat just from the way he hold himself. Plus, his brilliant voice is perfectly suited to play a baddie and he nails the fight scenes for the character. Both Quinto and Cumberbatch also provide some really powerful character moments in the middle of the film through some brilliantly executed monologues and this really gets you invested in these characters. If there is one weak link in the cast though, it is Anton Yelchin as Checkov, not that he's bad, just that he isn't given very much to do as Checkov, which actually harms the film overall in comparison with the first film as in the first film, every character on the Enterprise had their time to shine and this wasn't the case with Checkov.
Speaking of things that are wasted, (and this may be considered a spoiler so you may want to scroll down to my final thoughts) the Klingons, the most iconic baddies from the original series are included in the film but are only in 1 scene and after that, despite it constantly being threatened that there will be more Klingons, it never happens. It feels like they wanted to use the Klingons more but just didn't have the time.
Overall though, this film is a really fun time. The incredible design of the film, the brilliant acting, particularly from Quinto and Cumberbatch, and the well done plot help the film overcome some of the wasted elements. I don't think it is as good as the first film in this new series but with Abrams at the helm, he certainly makes the film a joy to sit through on every possible level and I cannot wait to see what he does with Star Wars. If it's anywhere close to how brilliant he directed this film, then we know the Star Wars films are in safe hands.
My Rating: 4.5/5
P.S. Keep a look out for a shot in the film that was directed by Edgar Wright instead of JJ Abrams. I didn't notice it but I think on repeat viewings I will be able to find that shot.