"I. Am. Better."
That's the conversation Benedict Cumberbatch's villain has with Chris Pine's Kirk in the trailers for this new J.J. Abrams Trek outing Star Trek: Into Darkness. And, you know what? This movie could have easily had the exact same conversation with the first Star Trek reboot.
Yes, it is, indeed, better. At everything.
As the title suggests, Into Darkness is darker (duh!) but it's also bigger and more fun. Which is not to say it's perfect, no Star Trek movie is, but it sets out to be a superior sequel and achieves just that. This time around, more emphasis is placed on the film's villain and, considering how forgettable Eric Bana's bitter future Romulan was in the first movie, this is certainly a good move. Especially since Benedict Cumberbatch's John Harrisson is such a good villain, the Sherlock actor stealing the show in almost every scene he's in. Reminiscent of Javier Bardem's chilling turn in Skyfall, he's another one of those villains who seem to have planned the entire movie from the start and anticipated what every single character would do in every situation. This never works 100%. Hell, even The Joker's plan in The Dark Knight was a bit shaky in places, but overall, that villain's creepy and badass enough to keep his story gripping and worthwhile throughout.
The plot of the movie itself sees Kirk once again get in trouble due to his reckless behaviour as Captain of the Enterprise but after several terrorist attacks courtesy of the mysterious John Harrison, it soon turns into a weird revenge mission where Kirk is sent out by RoboCop himself (Peter Weller in a very welcome comeback role) to not only find but torpedo Harrison's ass into oblivion. Of course, there's more to this mission than meets the eye and Kirk and co. start piecing everything together little by little as they encounter some classic enemies and uncover Harrison's overall plan. It takes a little bit of time for the Enterprise to get going but the film opens on a thrilling action scene (particularly enjoyable in 3D) and the build-up to the starship's mission is never boring. After that, director J.J. Abrams juggles some of the most thrilling and impressive sequences in Star Trek movie history, a particular one involves an in-warp space battle that's tons of fun. Actually, the whole second half is pretty much one kickass action scene after another, then the movie pauses briefly near the end before hitting you with a couple more.
The cast does very well, especially Chris Pine, who once again nails his character completely and manages to be strong, childish, heroic and charming all at the same time. Without blatantly imitating good old Bill Shatner. Zachary Quinto is slightly less convincing as Spock but his performance feels more fitting this time around and he his given many more "Spock moments" to sink his teeth into. An attempt is made at developing that controversial Spock/Uhura affair and although it's nice to see it explored a bit more, it is given up on pretty quickly and in the end it still feels about as useless as it did the first time around. Karl Urban and Simon Pegg get increasingly cartoonish as McCoy and Scotty respectively and they come off as a bit hit-and-miss (more hit than miss, though), some jokes/lines working really well, others not so much. As for John Cho's Sulu, he is given ONE cool moment but still feels about as charismatic as his shoes do, he would certainly need to bring out some of that suave Takei charm we're used to in future films, I think. All in all, it's a strong cast and they do a good job, each character gets their chance to shine once again.
Visually the film is beautiful: every action sequence, every shot is handled with care and eclipses the original's already very slick look by miles. Yes, the infamous lens flares remain but they are toned down and not distracting at all this time. Plot-wise, the film does have its share of minor inconsistencies and mini plot holes which do add up but depending on how much you're enjoying the movie otherwise, it shouldn't annoy you too much. The ending, I would say, is slightly rushed and underwhelming but with a second act/early third act this strong, it didn't really bother me personally. Trekkies familiar with some of the old Star Trek movies will see a lot of it coming a mile away, making the film somewhat predictable but it's more about the thrill-ride than it is about the details: broad-strokes work as long as they're done well, which I think they are here. It's one of those movies you can nitpick to death if you want to (see The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus) but if you just want to sit there and enjoy a very entertaining, amazing-looking Star Trek flick for what it is, then chances are Into Darkness will make your day.
Overall, far better than its predecessor, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a huge spectacle and a loving homage that should please fans and the uninitiated alike, though the latter will certainly not "get" several key references to past Trek lore. Just go see it with a Trekkie. Hell, just become a Trekkie then go see it!
An epic, crazy-entertaining visual treat.