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Blu-ray Review: ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

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I say this at the outset81jgxCEy2PL._SL1500_ because I don’t want any confusion later – expect spoilers below.

Star Trek Into Darkness, the second film in the rebooted franchise, isn’t a perfect work and to discuss many of the shortcomings require revealing some of the film’s secrets.  Unlike some people, I actually think it’s a pretty good movie, not as good as the first effort in J.J. Abrams reboot, but still pretty good.

You are going to read elsewhere that Into Darkness has been rated the worst Star Trek film of all time.  That is utter hogwash.  It is a sentiment I have to assume is borne out of anger at the parallels drawn between Into Darkness and Wrath of Khan.  Further, I imagine it is a sentiment from people who haven’t seen Star Trek: Insurrection or Star Trek: Nemesis in the recent past.  They have probably also skipped Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and maybe even Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek Into Darkness isn’t the best look into the universe, but it is light years and light years away from being the worst.

I think, with very little question, many people would say that the best movie in the original set of film’s is Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan.  The first film,  Star Trek: The Motion Picture, is a little stilted and drawn out, lacking some of the punch and pith of the television series.  Wrath of Khan doesn’t lack for anything, it is a truly emotional journey that also manages to be full of action and excitement.

Star Trek Into Darkness then, before it was ever made or seen, had a lot to live up to.  Not only had J.J. Abrams brilliantly brought the series back to life in 2009, but making Into Darkness he had to not only build upon his great beginning but match the excellence of Wrath of KhanKhan, after the disappointment that is The Motion Picture, had far less it needed to accomplish which may be one of the reasons it works so well.

So many of the weaknesses of Into Darkness are the parts where the movie overtly references Khan (spoilers coming!  spoilers coming!).  In the build-up for the movie, people working on the film had told everyone that Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the villain, was not going to be Khan, that they weren’t going to go that route.  That is, as is quickly apparent in the film, a lie.   Cumberbatch is Khan and pushing that storyline is foolish.  Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof are, in their screenplay, able to explain how Khan is now such a threat in the reconfigured universe with ease, that part is fine.  What is not fine is the mirroring of the Wrath of Khan and the “Space Seed” episode of the original series,  particularly the film’s ending.   It is one thing to have Spock die at the end of Wrath of Khan and not get brought back, but when there are multiple instances in this new film with people/things coming back from the dead/nearly dead, “killing” a character as a part of the Into Darkness climax feels hollow before it even occurs.

Thematically, that is one of the main issues with the movie, but it isn’t the only place where the problems lie with Into Darkness.  There is definitely an effort here to go bigger and bolder than they did in the 2009 reboot, and the action sequences tend to go too long and there are just one or two too many.  In fact, the entire climactic battle between Spock and Khan feels entirely unnecessary.

And there, you have the bad parts of the movie, the stuff that doesn’t work.  You know what does work?  Everything else, both in terms of characters and the way in which things start off.  There is a portion of the film which attempts to look at our own post-9/11 society and some of the moves we’ve made and even if it isn’t the best or most subtle of associations, it is a discussion that still works.

In terms of acting, Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (McCoy), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), and Bruce Greenwood (Pike) are all great.  Watching each one feels as though the actor involved honestly considered the original representation of the character and then tweaked their version so as to appropriately update them for a franchise being made more than 40 years after the original series aired.  These are fun people to watch who really draw the audience in.

I question some of the moments with Alice Eve’s character, but she really falls into the above discussion of the produces being too tempted to mirror Wrath of Khan.  Plus the scene of her in a state of partial undress may get tongues wagging but is exceptionally out of place.

Setting Eve aside (and the problems with her character are in no way her fault as an actress), the current interpretations of the classic Star Trek characters are ones of which I truly want to see more, particularly with Scotty, Sulu, and McCoy.  I am exceptionally hopefully for a third film in the series, one which minimizes the action-oriented set pieces and focuses far more heavily on character.   That being said, all the set pieces and effects are brilliant, they just have a tendency to go over the top.

One of the other places this release succeeds is with its visuals.  Okay, yes, J.J. Abrams has a thing for lens flare, but the movie looks absolutely stunning here on Blu-ray.  While I saw it in IMAX 3D in the theater, nothing whatsoever is lost in a 2D version – in fact, it may be better.  The colors, particularly the reds and oranges in the opening scenes, are outstanding and the level of detail great as well.  The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track succeeds in equal measure, offering up whiz-bang effects, plenty of bass, and a great degree of directionality.  There may be too much action in the film, but the Blu-ray ensures that you’re centered right there in the middle of it.

This particular edition of the release contains a Blu-ray copy as well as DVD and digital versions of the film.  There are several special features as well, including one that explains the reasons for keeping Khan’s identity a secret during production and how the character came about  I am not entirely sure that the reasoning is good, but it does follow some degree of logic.  It is also, as with other featurettes here, a little too EPK-esque.

Give everyone out there a few years and another Star Trek film, and Into Darkness will manage to wiggle its way somewhere towards the middle of everyone’s ratings.  There are certainly issues with the movie, but it more enjoyable than not, a true rollercoaster ride, and the presentations of the characters more than worthwhile.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.