Firstly, when someone tries to tell you that Star Trek should be X instead of Y, they’re simply full of shit. By saying that Abram’s vision of the series “doesn’t get” Star Trek, the argument basically boils down to this: “The new Star Trek is not exactly the same as it was twenty-five years ago, therefore it sucks.” Does anyone ever apply that same logic to remakes in general? No? Then why is it okay to say stuff like that about Star Trek? If anything, breaking out of the mold and going in a different direction should be lauded, not reprimanded. In the case of Into Darkness, it’s true that it takes directly from earlier iterations of Trek, which I have no problem with. But it doesn’t just rehash old material; it takes that material, turns it on its head, and screws with your expectations. That, along with the fantastic character work put in by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock, respectively, elevates the movie far above and beyond the deeply flawed ’09 Star Trek.
The thing that strikes me most about Into Darkness is how it maintains an almost perfect balance between character progression and action while still keeping its sci-fi roots. In terms of characters, I wasn’t particularly impressed with anyone’s acting in the ’09 offering. It seemed to me like most of the cast was limited to doing their best impressions of their original counterparts (save for Karl Urban’s Bones), and that really hampered my enjoyment of their interactions. I didn’t buy the relationship between Spock and Uhura—hell, I didn’t buy Spock at all. But all of that goes away this time around. In particular, Chris Pine does an exceptional job as Kirk. He plays him as a confident person, but one who also understands how hugely flawed he is as a human being. It took an entire movie and then some for Kirk to figure that out, but his journey there is wholly believable thanks to Pine’s nuanced performance. And every so often, I could see a glimpse of The Shat in him. Those moments are fleeting, but they’re definitely present.
Contrary to what some would have you believe, the backdrop of Into Darkness isn’t a throwaway. Yes, it’s not the first movie to showcase post-9/11 socio-political commentary, but that doesn’t necessarily make its inclusion tired or lazy. In the world we’re currently living in, those kinds of sensibilities resonate with people because they’re relevant. I’m not saying you should expect Kirk to have a lengthy monologue about the morality of warfare while everyone else ponders their navels, but as an ever-present part of the atmosphere, it works. The commentary doesn’t even need to go very deep as long as its intentions are clear, and I have no problems with its inclusion here.
On that note, I can fully appreciate it if anyone takes offense to the general idea behind Into Darkness. Messing with canon—especially with a series as beloved as Star Trek—will rub some the wrong way. Although, to be fair, it doesn’t exactly change anything that happened in any of the older shows or movies; it’s an alternate timeline, so the events of both Into Darkness and ’09 Star Trek don’t change what has come before. Still, it makes obvious homages to past events while totally changing everything. Again, fear of spoiling the surprises keeps me from going any further, but if you’re open-minded enough to appreciate different flavors of Star Trek, you won’t be disappointed with how they handle the transition.