Star Trek Into Darkness actually does everything right, regardless of how you feel about the franchise. It’s action-packed; it’s fast-paced; it’s even actually surprisingly thoughtful, raising the question of whether we hunt terrorists damn the torpedoes or whether we stop and think about the moral consequences of our actions. Do we go to our enemies guns blazing and give no quarter, or do we refuse to accept war as an inevitability?
And then everybody loses their damn minds. Spoilers to follow.
Let’s start with the good. This is not a remake of The Wrath of Khan and in fact largely avoids using it. Unfortunately, where it does, it’s massively clunky, and it leads to the worst part of the movie. But until then, it’s a lot of fun, better than the first one, even.
OK, so there’s a lot of Star Wars here. Kirk even flies what amounts to a Millenium Falcon at one point. The opening is clumsy and tone-deaf to an alarming degree. It’s not a perfect movie by a long shot.
But then the ship rights itself. Abrams, having a good cast and being a TV guy, handles the moments of quiet drama better than the enormous action sequences, but the enormous action sequences are fun and solidly done. The movie does a good job being its own story and it actually makes superb use of Khan as a character, helped considerably by Benedict Cumberbatch knowing when to show restraint and when to eat scenery like it’s candy. Once the editing smooths out it’s actually a zippy ride.
The movie even manages to crib the ending of a better one for a genuinely affecting finale, if one blatantly compromised by a Tribble, until somebody yells KHAAAAAAAN!
And then it all goes to hell.
Seriously, when the person ordained to die punches out, just leave. Walk out of the theater and don’t look back. Because what follows after that is a wholly unnecessary third act that you will find yourself staring at the screen, wondering just what the hell everybody involved was thinking. Essentially, a new and kinda crappy movie just starts out of nowhere. We’ve had galaxy spanning action, fight scenes, stuff blowing up left and right, our heroes saving the day at great cost… so of course what this movie needs is a ship crashing into San Francisco Bay and then a foot chase through a bunch of busy streets before our characters hop onto a bunch of moving platforms for a fistfight. Clearly! Because we’re watching Starsky and Hutch 2099: The Video Game: The Movie, not an action movie set in space!
It’s not only ridiculous, it could literally be completely removed from the film with no ill effect. It’s like eating a well-cooked and seasoned steak and suddenly chomping into a massive wad of gristle. The best guess I have is that they wanted to keep Khan as an antagonist for future entries, which, great, I’m all for it, but he couldn’t just get to an escape pod or something?!
That said, the good of the first two acts does heavily, heavily outweigh the complete disaster that is the last one. Star Trek Into Darkness is arguably a movie that caters to the wider audience without losing what made the franchise great… at least for most of it.