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Sequels are a tricky thing. In the best cases, they transcend the original work by adding emotional depth and context, elevating the entire story arc. In the worst cases, they’re a carbon copy of the original with perhaps a bigger “wow” factor. Star Trek Into Darkness, like many sequels, falls into the middle ground. It expands and broadens the scope of the original while duplicating most of the elements that were already in place from the 2009 film.

To follow his first Trek revival, director J.J. Abrams has made a much more visually impressive and exciting action film, and one worthy of the Star Trek franchise. It simply lacks the inspiration that made his first film so special.

After the jump, read the rest of this review and see a video blog with some differing opinions.

The biggest addition to Star Trek Into Darkness is the introduction of a new villain named John Harrison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. In this character screenwriters Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman create a much more engaging, formidable and ambiguous villain than Nero of the ’09 Trek. Into Darkness fires on all cylinders when Harrison is playing both sides of the moral line. We aren’t quite sure where his head is at, and neither is Captain Kirk. This eventually changes but we’ll leave that substantial reveal for the cinema.

A great villain is nothing without great heroes, and the best part of Into Darkness bar none is the expansion use of an incredible cast. Everyone, from stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana, down to more secondary crew members played by Simon Pegg, John Cho and Karl Urban, is really allowed to spread their wings. Instead of just the one or two prerequisite catch phrases, each character’s position is molded and suited to the story at hand, giving them all a few moments in the sun. The standouts are Urban, who has the best lines out of the bunch, and Quinto, who takes Spock on the film’s most complete journey. If you go into the film simply to see these characters again, you’d be happy.

The film’s pace is also quite good, largely in part to the near perfect distribution and variety of large action set pieces and visual effects. Everything looks beautiful (especially in IMAX 3D), and sounds wonderful (composer Michael Giacchino‘s work is solid as usual). Yet there’s always the knowledge we’re watching a franchise film, and truly putting the characters in peril is challenging. Attempts are made, with varying degrees of success, to convincingly threaten the heroes. But therein lies the emotional disconnect between the sequel and the original film. In the first movie we weren’t quite sure where everyone stood. Now that we do, it’s a bit harder to pull the heart strings.

Explaining more of why Star Trek Into Darkness never quite reaches the heights of its predecessor would require giving examples you don’t want to read yet. In broad terms, the surprises (of which there are many) never resonate as much as they’re meant to. At times they work, but they’re not the highlights of the film they should be. Those highlights come in the form of small character moments as portrayed by the fine cast, and the jaw-dropping visual effects sequences.

In the first set of Star Trek movies, the second film exceeded the first in every way imaginable. Star Trek Into Darkness is not Wrath of Khan. It’s more like The Voyage Home; a fun but frivolous sequel. Even if that comparison means nothing to you, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness a ton. The goods are there; unfortunately they don’t have more impact.

/Film rating: 7 out of 10

And here is a video blog featuring Peter and Steve from Collider discussing the movie. They each liked it a bit more than I did.

Early Reaction: Star Trek Into Darkness from /Film on Vimeo.

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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