Star Trek Into Darkness: Non Spoiler Review

[NOTE THIS ASSUMES YOU HAVE SEEN 2009’s STAR TREK]

So I’ve seen Star Trek Into Darkness, can’t reveal how or why. But wanted to share some thoughts. There are no spoilers here. This review assumes you have not even seen any trailers or posters. Read ahead with confidence I won’t give away anything. This is my thoughts and feelings about the finished product.

The writing crew of JJ Abrams rebooted Star Trek universe have a hard row to hoe. On the one hand, they rebooted the Star Trek universe pretty completely.

The destruction of the USS Kelvin by Nero 35 years before the 1960’s original timeline in the 2009 film sparked a renewed war with the Romulans (that’s where the fleet is when Vulcan is destroyed, leaving Captain Pike with a mere 8 ship armada and Star Fleet cadets to respond to Vulcan’s distress call). Starfleet ships are now larger and heavily armed, hence the new Enterprise being much larger than the original 1701 from the 60’s TV show. The Klingons lost a significant amount of their own fleet when Nero broke out of Rura Penthe and reclaimed the Narada. James Kirk joins Starfleet much later than in the original show’s timeline, and during a time of crisis is given a Captainship due to performance under battle. (Those that claim a Federation Captain would never be promoted from cadet should study the career of General George Armstrong Custer, promoted to General at the age of 23 during the American Civil War and whose performance in the face of crisis earned him a spot as one of the commanders witnessing the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. Granted, he didn’t end well, but I think we have more faith in James Kirk. Point being, in times of war, yeah stuff like that happens. No spoilers, but Star Trek Into Darkness addresses that complaint somewhat.)

JJ Abrams’ Star Trek universe is in a time of dark conflict. Where the original show’s 5 year exploration mission took place in a time of tense but stable cold war, this new universe might forego five year exploratory science missions because it takes place in an unstable cold war.

Everything I have said so far is canon either explained in the original film or the prequel comic written by the film’s authors. If you didn’t know any of the above, Star Trek Into Darkness doesn’t reveal it, it builds on it.

On the other hand the writers have to deal with Star Trek fans and their accumulated knowledge of decades of Trekdom and canon and their “get off my lawn” expectations thereof. I admit to being in that camp before seeing the film.

When the second Star Trek motion picture was released in 1982 it had approximately two decades of storyline and character development to draw from. Kirk was in his late 40’s. His history with Spock and his crew spanned 20 years. There were 79 hour long episodes and a previous motion picture to draw from. There was a lot of there there. 82 hours to be exact vs…2 for this new universe.

Abrams’ second Star Trek film is very much like the second episode in the first season of an entirely new Star Trek. Not only has the universe been redefined, but the characters are still raw, still like gears grinding together until they mesh more fluidly. This is a baby universe compared to original Trek filmdom.

And it’s awesome. I loved every minute of it. Mainly because I viewed it as a second episode in a completely new series. I went in realizing this is what 1960’s Star Trek fans must have felt like when Star Trek: The Next Generation came out. Some turned it off forever and (thankfully) the vast majority loved it.

Like its predecessor this Star Trek film is not without its flaws. There’s two points in the film where it simply goes a bridge too far in planting its own flag while paying homage to the original timeline. If you love Star Trek in all its forms you will know both moments when you see them.

But in the words of George Takei, “oh my”.  What a ride. This is perhaps the most fun I have had at a movie since The Avengers.

The tagline for the teaser posters for Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier was “This is why movie theaters should have seatbelts.” I think we all remember how that turned out. This movie, that would be a perfect tagline.

Star Trek Into Darkness feels *exactly* like what an original series episode would be like if they just had today’s technology. It’s funny, sad, smartly written, endearing, and even when it tries too hard you want to hug it for even bothering to try at all. There’s one or two moments of actual straight-out-of-the-1960’s show campiness. And when I say that you might crinkle your brow and go “That’s not a good thing”, I will tell you when you see the moments you will laugh like the entire audience did when I saw it. It’s pitch perfect.

This is Trek alive. Don’t get me wrong, I love the big ideas and the deep thinks that TNG and DS9 could bring. But this Trek is hot blooded. The score by the returning Abrams favorite Michael Giacchino is at times stirring and (when it needs to be) heartbreaking.

This is Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek writ large, Horatio Hornblower to the Stars. The film tackles post 9/11 ideas, it questions the concept of loyalty, it applies the very practical point of an enemy of your enemy having to be your friend. It looks great, there’s a fun visual pun on lens flares, and the opening sequence could be an episode all its own.

If you love Star Trek, I mean if you really really love Star Trek, walk into this as if you had the chance to write an episode of the first season of the 1960’s show knowing what you know now about the social messages you want to send.

And if you’re my age, and grew up with Star Trek The Motion Picture, Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, etc and TNG as your formative Star Trek experiences, I will be shocked if you don’t tear up at least once at how seriously Abrams and crew take their subject matter. I had to say to myself at least once, “God dammit don’t cry.”

Dear JJ Abrams, let’s stop making movies and get me a Star Trek TV show (I’ll settle for 12 episode seasons) ASAP. I love this crew, I love these actors. I love the ship. Take it to the next level.

One very very minor spoiler, well not a spoiler just something to look out for. There’s a Doohan on board the Enterprise. And when I saw him I grinned from ear to ear. Oh and also pay close attention to the ship at the end.

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