Star Trek: Into Darkness

©2013, Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.

(Left to right) Zachary Quinto is Spock and Chris Pine is Kirk in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

The review for “Shark Sandwich” was merely a two word review which simply read “Shit Sandwich”. – Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner, This Is Spinal Tap)

In my 2009 assessment of J.J. Abrams reboot of the Star Trek franchise, I focused most of my commentary on principals Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, who as James Kirk and Spock carried the film despite its lazy plot. Laziness abounds, however, in this sequel and novice actors cannot save it.

The plot concerns a mysterious (read: banal) villain named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Fans of the original Trek series will note that John Harrison was a crew member incapacitated by Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) in the episode “Space Seed”. This is likely to be the first and second largest kick to the gut for Star Trek fans. Yes, (major spoilers ahead) the rumors are true. Mr. Cumberbatch is actually Khan in this “alternate timeline”. So not only did Mr. Abrams whitewash Khan, an Indo-Aryan übermensch played by a Mexican, but he also whitewashed a completely peripheral crewman named Harrison, played by a Filipino.  If Mr. Abrams was so hell bent on haphazardly recycling the best of Star Trek’s movie villains, why did it never occur to him to use his own Lost actor, Naveen Andrews, an Indian-Englishman?  Or how about reserving the talented Pakistani-American Faran Tahir for the role instead of wasting him in the preceding film as the USS Kelvin’s captain?  Mr. Tahir, some will remember, is a credentialed villain-player, as the terrorist in Iron Man.  Slapping a bad wig on Faran’s head, calling him Mogambo and naming the film Star Trek: Mr. India would have worked better.

If the character recycling isn’t bad enough, the film is riddled with borrowed nostalgia.  It begins on the planet Nibiru (“moons of Nibia” my Trekker readers?) with Kirk and Spock flagrantly violating the Prime Directive of non-interference—a running joke that never gets old, but here you feel like director Abrams is explaining the joke as he’s telling it.  The chase sequence, complete with tribe of humanoids who blink up instead of down, is loaded with sharp color contrast probably to wow viewers in the 3D exhibitions but it’s still just a blatant reference to the opening escape sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The movie is loaded with cringeworthy nods: Kirk’s relentless womanizing, McCoy’s labyrinthine metaphors, “family” jokes between Kirk and Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), “KHAAAAAAAN!”.  It doesn’t strike me as any kind of effort in storytelling so much as it is J.J. Abrams’ latest roller coaster ride.  You know it’s a bad sign when the success of a film rests on screenings postponed until the evening before release and they go to great lengths, even flat-out lies (nothing new for writers Damon Lindelof and Roberto Orci who insisted that the castaways from Lost weren’t dead), to conceal a character’s identity—if you knew, you probably wouldn’t go.  And then there’s the title, “Into Darkness”?  Between the cast and the ship’s lens flare-flooded bridge, the film couldn’t be any whiter.  The original Trek had a sense of nuance.  When the chips (and warp engines) were down, and Kirk was desperate, he fumbled his words on a dimly lit bridge.  When Spock sacrificed himself, we didn’t get a long fucking soliloquy nor did it take Spock eight minutes to get to the antimatter chamber.  Then there’s the phone call to Vulcan, which sets up the most audience-insulting expository cameo in recent cinema history—telling instead of showing us why Khan is dangerous.

The filmmakers’ most egregious conceit, however, rests in Kirk’s moral platitudes about a Starfleet Admiral (Peter Weller) who, like better Admirals before him (Star Trek VI anyone?), wants to go to war with the Klingons.  It’s no secret that series creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future lie in stark contrast to the dystopian visions of writers like Ray Bradbury (a double-insult that Spock at one point in the film is re-assigned to the USS Bradbury).  While Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remains one of the most popular films, director Nicholas Meyer’s Horatio-Hornblower-in-Space plot defied Roddenberry’s ideals.  When Mr. Meyer returned for the sendoff of Shatner, Nimoy and company in the sixth installment, Gene Roddenberry was on his deathbed and had very little say in the matter.  True, those films contained in one minute of screen time more humanity than all of J.J. Abrams’ intellectually-bankrupt action extravaganzas combined.  However, for all Kirk’s blathering about Starfleet’s exploratory mission, Mr. Abrams gives us action ad nauseam and relies solely on borrowed nostalgia for manufactured semblances of humanity.  Despite Mr. Quinto’s and Mr. Pine’s best efforts to imbue gravitas, the filmmakers betray their hypocrisy every time it dares to tell you that Starfleet’s mission is nobler than war.

There’s a line early in the film when Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) confronts the Klingons (another nod, in a sense, because every Trek fan knows how Nick Meyer stupidly insisted on a cultural joke that made Uhura look like an imbecile at translating Klingon).  She tells one of the Klingon soldiers that Khan/Harrison has no honor.  Neither does Mr. Abrams, whose most asinine parting shot is to dedicate the film to victims of the World Trade Center attacks right after co-opting our most disturbing memories in an action sequence, intended purely for emotional effect—a large spaceship plowing into a bunch of skyscrapers.

J.J. Abrams seems to want so badly to be another Spielberg—a manipulative tugger of heartstrings who began with good intentions, wanting to entertain everybody. However, Mr. Abrams falls monumentally short in his ability to tell a story that stands on its own merits. For all the novelty of a mirror universe redux, the preceding movie’s plot and villain were unconvincing. Here Abrams pulls the ultimate conceit basically saying he doesn’t care what fans liked about Trek, he wants to make teenage action nonsense. Isn’t pilfering an established franchise to further one’s blockbuster ambitions rendered superfluous if you willingly alienate the core audience you were trying to score for free? He might as well have made Fast and Furious 7: In Space, No One Can Hear You Drift.


Star Trek: Into Darkness • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 • Running Time: 132 minutes • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.

Dolby and the double-D symbol are registered trademarks of Dolby Laboratories.


  • steve James

    Thank God. Somebody saw the same movie I did.
    This thing was uniquely insulting. To Star Trek, to the audience, to physics, and to ‘Wrath of Khan’ in particular. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the shoulders it is standing on, and behaves there like an incontinent pigeon.

  • Disappointed Trek Fan

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. I imagine it will be very offensive to true Trek fans that Abrams had the gall to “re-imagine” one of the most memorable Trek scenes … Spock’s sacrifice for the “needs of the many.” It doesn’t matter that this is an alternate Trek universe, you DO NOT mess with seminal Trek lore and history. At least this Kirk did not mock the original scene by repeating Spock’s “needs of the many” quote. Very disappointing overall.

  • Anthony

    Based on this review I can only imagine that you wouldn’t waste your time watching this movie again. That makes me happy, you don’t deserve it.

  • Burt

    Pretty true, many points in the review. I felt insulted during the radioactive chamber scene. And yet… ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ had its moments. People in my audience were audibly crying when Kirk wept over his mentor. And several of the Enterprise CGI shots; just glorious. This Trek is still far better than… no Trek.

  • Amber


    Thank you for writing an honest review of STID. I left the theatre last night legitimately offended. It was like Abrams had taken a 13-year-old’s fanfiction about Star Trek and made a movie about it. That was a complete joke of a film and completely disrespects some of the most awesome things about the Star Trek fandom.

    But unfortunately, popular culture really are idiots and most of the reviews for STID are excellent. Even if a viewer had never watched a Star Trek film or episode prior to the ’09 reboot, STID was poorly written and stupid an offense level.

    EX: A cold fusion bomb that works by making things cold…. Really? Really? That’s not science fiction, that’s just ignorant of even the most basic science.

    I just really don’t understand how so many people actually thought that was a good movie. The reviews are so confusing!

  • JP Farnsworth

    Did you actually see this movie or just write a hate review based on the coming attractions?

    • No, I’m totally making up the fact that J.J. Abrams used the numbers from LOST as important coordinates for a predictably less-than-stellar surprise…

  • T2

    It’s a movie!!! Meant for entertaining……and making money at the same time. If Abrams made the usual boring a$$ Trek film like in the 80’s (Yes Part 2 was excellent), only the Trek nerds would watch it, and it wouldn’t make nearly as much money as what Abrams is doing. This is exactly the type of movie that people who aren’t a Trek fan want to see……action, comedy, drama all into one! They don’t care about the Trek rules, mythology, etc. They just want to be entertained.

    • JustinB

      Spoken like a true Star Wars fan!

      • I’m a Trek fan. I can’t stand George Lucas. The one film he did right was written by Larry Kasdan, Directed by Irvin Kershner and produced by Gary Kurtz… i.e. he wasn’t involved. Want to buy my 1979 pristine copy of the Star Fleet Technical Manual?

  • Gordon Kirkpatrick

    Safaya’s review is generally on target. Here’s my concern: Several times we are left on the cliff’s edge, and then suddenly time has elapsed and all is well. We are left to fill in some very large blanks. This movie felt like four hours of film cut into a two hour movie. JJ would be better served by dropping a few explosions and adding some explanatory footage.

  • KJ

    Did your mommy not love you enough or something?