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12. Into Darkness

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Star Trek 12: Into Darkness

written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, & Damon Lindelof
directed by J.J. Abrams
feature film, 132 minutes

If you threw Star Treks 2, 6, and 9 into a blender, poured the mixture out onto a barbecue skillet, and let J.J. Abrams thoroughly burn it, you'd get this film. I didn't expect to like very much about this film apart from its cast, and I expected I'd have to patiently endure a frenetic opening while remaining open to the larger narrative to grab me, which I did, but I must admit I did begin to like this one during the middle portions, where the mystery and atmosphere of the film gave it some strength, and the political & philosophical concepts up for debate had some merit. Then the last third turns into a very SHAMELESS re-run of previous Star Trek stories, the writers proved themselves to be hacks (again), and I simply did not care about the outcome of the action anymore. It became tiresome, and I nearly fell asleep. Interestingly, there's enough good new material here to make an original, highly entertaining film. WHY did they shoot it down with re-runs and predictably boring action?

Action is a sore point throughout - the pace is so fast and the scenes so poorly lit. I often found myself waiting for dialogue scenes afterward just to find out what had happened and to try to re-engage emotionally with the story. At least the opening sequence turned out to be worthwhile once it slowed down. Here, we muddle into a Prime Directive dilemma which is not without some merit. Early on, Spock takes an absolutely RIDICULOUS position on it though. Since he's stopping a volcano and saving a civilization, he's already violating the directive in a big way.... but a heroic and acceptable one. So why do we need to add the dishonesty of hiding the Enterprise's presence, plus the idiocy of sacrifice? If you're going to violate the Prime Directive for heroics, add honesty to your good qualities, and take pride in it, especially since that means you can save your own carcass in the process. Lesson for Spock.

Of course, this later has repercussions in Bruce Greenwood's best scenes of the film as Captain Pike. Now Spock is the honest one, while Kirk is dodging full disclosure of the truth. Truth rules. Full marks for heroics might just include pursuing a challenge to the Prime Directive itself up through Starfleet's chain of command, and Kirk basically compromises his integrity by not charging full steam ahead with this. Lesson for Kirk.

Of course, the writers are probably only interested in this Prime Directive stuff to show how much Kirk is a habitual rule-breaker, and it's all just material that's true to the original franchise. Do we dare hope that they could go anywhere new with the ideas?

Is there any chance that this incident might topple the Prime Directive in Starfleet, and pave a new path for the rest of the franchise? I ask this question to highlight a problem with looping around and going through Star Trek's history all over again, a move which started with Scott Bakula's series "Enterprise". Yes, this film is true to what Star Trek had done with the Prime Directive before. But it's lost its capacity to make me believe that these are people that will work to better themselves. Instead, they're struggling to go where the 1960's characters have been before. This is charted territory. It's not really exploring anything new.

This same idea crops up again as we get a cameo from Leonard Nimoy as the other more familiar version of Spock. He says he has vowed not to divulge future information fearing how it might change things.... but things are already so different, do any of us care about maintaining what's left of the status quo? Do we want the re-runs to be any more identical? Just cut loose and do what's right, for heaven's sake. Personally, I don't hold any grudge against Nimoy for cashing in on these current films with cameo appearances, but in this instance I think the story would've been tighter and slightly better without consulting its re-run status and trying to elevate the stakes unsuccessfully. I'd have deleted this scene at script level.... but then, at script level, I'd have removed all the re-run concepts and the core of the story would have been very different.

I came into this film looking forward to seeing Noel Clarke, who had been my favourite actor in season 27 of Doctor Who as the character of Mickey, and who had become even more excellent in that show the following year. He shows up early in this film, and was quickly a welcome and sympathetic figure. But he doesn't really have much of a chance to shine here, nor does he get a lot to do, and will ultimately not be favourably remembered for his role here, I think. Clarke is capable of much better, and deserved a larger and better part in the film.

Simon Pegg, also a veteran of Who's 27th year, nearly steals the entire show as Scotty. Here he is the largest and best source of the film's comic relief, but also gets much of the best philosophical and atmospheric material as well. Karl Urban is still very good as Dr. McCoy, but I think Pegg's Scotty has surpassed him in terms of being my favourite regular in this adventure.

The film's cast of characters contain a lot of in-jokes and obscure references for the die-hard trekker. Fans have often speculated that Dr. Janet Wallace from the original series season two episode "The Deadly Years" might just as well have been Dr. Carol Marcus from "Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan", since Kirk's relationships with both women seemed to have such a similar history. "Into Darkness" now cleverly merges the two identities and puts it into the franchise's new canon. No doubt this goes over the heads of the average movie-going audience member, but might just be one of the few moments of detail that keeps the faithful somewhat satisfied.

As I say, the middle of the film had me hooked. The mystery had built up nicely, and had some surprise twists and turns in it. The action and locations had been suitably varied. And we began to get atmosphere... where the lighting I often complain about combined with a steady pace, and worked effectively to build a sense of exploring the unknown and discovering secrets. I began to suspect I might actually like this film at this point.

But, the answers to the questions all spelt re-run loud, clear, and without shame. I'm really tired of seeing films that plunder or copy "The Wrath of Khan", and it's happened both with increasing frequency and depth in Star Trek films, and elsewhere (X-Men 2 and 3 anyone?). The action steers more and more towards the predictable. This film probably should have ended as the last of the big plot secrets came out, since we definitely had had enough action by then, and it could have gone out with a satisfying bang at that point. But action sequence after action sequence still comes flying at us, broken up only by having to watch the actors pointlessly recite line after line from "The Wrath of Khan". I wish I could have thrown this whole fiasco back at the writers and director at this point and told them how much I no longer cared. We trekkers already have Wrath of Khan in our DVD collections, and when we want to see it again, we'll watch that timeless version.

After enduring about 5 or 6 endings, each feeling less definitive and interesting than the one before, the film settles down a bit, signalling that it will finally bow out. A moral is tacked onto the end, which feels out of place mostly because the writers themselves seem to believe they need to present the opposite to the audience ad nauseum to entertain us. Walk your talk, and maybe we'll believe your morals.

Directorially, J.J. Abrams has done pretty much the same thing as he did with the last film, with no real discernable improvement. The astronomical light pollution rules again. Lens flare is everywhere leaving the figures in silhouette ... meaning you can't tell who is who during many of the action scenes, much less get invested in what they're doing. The Enterprise is obviously a beer factory again, unable to contain its atmosphere during a hull breach. The camera angles are restless and seasick. The threat of falling off of a ledge is again overused. And so our re-run content comes in a less competent style. Not impressive. Please tell me we won't get all of this again in the next Star Trek film. I miss Jonathan Frakes!!

Well, it's one week after the film's opening. Saturday afternoon matinee. The theater has a grand total of... six people, including me. Attendance seems a little weak. I haven't seen a sci-fi film do this poorly in this theater since the Travis Walton alien abduction story was adapted into the cinema flop "Fire in the Sky". Is the Star Trek franchise due for another re-think?

My advice: You can keep this starship's cast, but the franchise needs new writers and a new director. We need creative people who are not just needlessly remaking all the old material into an action frenzy with sledgehammer emotional tactics. I'd love to see this cast play primarily emotional scenes, in stories that aren't so over-the-top, with plots that aren't so much more about the politics of the guest characters. Even more ideally, let's not even be in this time-period. Let's get back to the future, and move forward with the history that comes after "Nemesis", the future that's still unknown. Until we do, the concept of a society that works to better itself has fallen far too far behind the audience.

Star Trek 12 is available in various incarnations on DVD and Blu-Ray,
although special features vary wildly and a complete package remains elusive.

Standard DVD Edition


DVD Canada


Blu-Ray Edition

Blu-ray U.S.

Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.

Blu-Ray 3D Edition

Blu-ray 3D U.S.

BR 3D Canada

Blu-ray 3D U.K.

Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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