Star Trek Into Darkness at 10: 3 things to like about it

(Left to right) Zachary Quinto is Spock, Benedict Cumberbatch is John Harrison and Chris Pine is Kirk in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.
(Left to right) Zachary Quinto is Spock, Benedict Cumberbatch is John Harrison and Chris Pine is Kirk in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. /

Star Trek Into Darkness debuted in the U.S. on May 16, 2013.

The email from the official Star Trek site in my inbox caught me off guard on two fronts. First: Star Trek Into Darkness was already celebrating its tenth anniversary? It hardly seems possible, but sure enough. Although the film hit some international markets sooner, its U.S. release date was May 16, 2013. I sure do wish time would stop flying by at warp speed.

Second: The franchise powers that be think there’s enough fan goodwill for Into Darkness to justify its own special anniversary collection of merch. If memory serves, Star Trek (2009), the inaugural chapter in Star Trek’s Kelvin timeline, didn’t receive such an honor, despite being arguably the better movie, let alone the highest grossing Star Trek movie of them all.

But Into Darkness isn’t far behind. And Paramount probably wouldn’t go to the trouble of slapping a poorly disguised version of Star Trek’s 55th anniversary logo on a bunch of t-shirts, sweatshirts, and drinkware if it didn’t think someone loves this film enough to celebrate its tenth birthday.

Star Trek Into Darkness is near the bottom of my Star Trek movie rankings. I hate the haphazard way it hacks up Khan Noonien Singh’s storyline to yield a confused remix of “Space Seed” and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. As things stand, the movie’s best-remembered connection to Star Trek II seems to be the sight of Carol Marcus (albeit Alice Eve’s version) stripping to her skivvies.

Into Darkness doubles down on the idea of Section 31. Of all the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine elements the Kelvin Timeline films could take, they took the one most at odds with Star Trek’s guiding ethos, and it has since become an apparently indispensable part of the larger Star Trek mythos. Yes, I am going to watch Academy Award-winner Michelle Yeoh in her forthcoming Section 31 movie—but I’d rather see her in a Captain Phillipa Georgiou and U.S.S. Shenzhou movie.

Into Darkness culminates in Spock—Star Trek’s paragon of reason and logic—pummeling Khan in the face. And I feel like weeping every time I remember this film includes Leonard Nimoy’s final performance as Spock. His talky, exposition-heavy cameo feels shoehorned in, and undercuts the beautiful use to which the character was put four years earlier, bridging the two timelines.

Yet here we are, at the tenth anniversary of Star Trek Into Darkness. Ten years later, what do I like about this movie?

Star Trek Into Darkness boasts an epic, highly enjoyable opening sequence.

The first nine-and-a-half minutes of Star Trek Into Darkness are an episode of the original series on steroids.

The mission to save the strange new world of Nibiru from extinction by freezing an actively erupting volcano is an amped-up descendant of world-saving missions like the one in “The Paradise Syndrome,” complete with heated arguments about the Prime Directive and a daring, last-minute rescues and escapes. The emergence of a new religion among the natives based on their glimpse of the Enterprise is cultural contamination that brings to mind Dr. McCoy’s desire, in “Bread and Circuses,” to beam down and declare himself the Archangel Gabriel. Scotty’s complaint about hiding a starship at the bottom of the ocean tracks with his frequent laments about what his “poor bairns” can and can’t take. And the friendship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy shines through it all.

Star Trek Into Darkness features great work by Bruce Greenwood as Pike.

After convincing Jim Kirk to join Starfleet early in the 2009 film, Bruce Greenwood’s Pike was largely out of action, being tortured by Nero. It’s in this second film that Greenwood truly impresses.

He doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time in Into Darkness either, but gets to run a wider gamut of emotions. He gives Spock and especially Kirk a thorough dressing-down after the Nibiru mission, and you can feel his justified outrage at their exploits. But in his next scene, he’s gently reaffirming his belief in Kirk, being the father figure Kirk never had.

Greenwood brought gravitas and sensitivity to the role of Chris Pike, and it’s too bad, barring any sci-fi shenanigans, we won’t see his version of the character again.

Star Trek Into Darkness gives us a super-confident, super-capable Uhura.

Yes, we heard in Star Trek (2009) that Zoe Saldana’s Uhura can speak all three Romulan dialects. But in Into Darkness, we get to see her put herself on the line to speak Klingon to some very intimidating Klingons indeed.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country put Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura in the ridiculous position of thumbing through old dictionaries to piece together broken Klingon sentences. I can only imagine Nichols would have preferred Uhura be seen as the confident and capable communicator she gets to be in Into Darkness.

But in addition to the three strengths I have highlighted here, the film has some dazzling visual effects, a sweeping and stirring score from composer Michael Giacchino, and has undeniably made its mark on the wider franchise. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds takes its cues for the characters of Pike and Uhura in large part from this film, and the fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery even began with its own take on the fun, frantic “away mission gone wrong” scenario.

I still have plenty of bones to pick (no pun intended, Dr. McCoy) with Star Trek Into Darkness. And while I won’t be spending any hard-earned quatloos on Into Darkness merchandise, I still raise a half-full glass to it as it turns a decade old.

Next. Star Trek: Into Darkness is better than Star Trek: Beyond. dark