The 400-Word Review: Star Trek Into Darkness
By Sean Collier
May 19, 2013

Who exactly was the Star Trek Academy fashion designer, anyway?

There are a number of moments in J.J. Abrams’ second trip aboard the Enterprise, Star Trek Into Darkness that are tailor-made for big reactions from the trekkies. A character will spit out a line in subtle (or, often, blatant) reference to a series trope, missing character or forthcoming plot point; the camera will linger, allowing a moment for mega-fans to cheer.

Why lead with that detail? Because its about the only complaint I can muster. Star Trek Into Darkness is excellent.

While we’re ostensibly following the development of James Kirk (Chris Pine) at the helm of the Enterprise, the true protagonist of Abrams’ films is Zachary Quinto’s Spock. His struggle to understand and experience emotional attachment drives not only the heart of the film, but its story as well; while Into Darkness dutifully follows the series’ plot, it’s really a single-serving tale about friendship and empathy.

If that sounds fluffy, make no mistake; the flick is thrilling, too. Dramatic fight scenes with baddies of various species, intergalactic chase scenes, small-scale mayhem aboard the ship; all are rendered convincingly, raising the stakes high enough that you’re never certain of the outcome. Maybe it’s because we know Abrams is trading Kirk and Spock in for some Jedis in short order, but a real sense of finality hangs over the film; though we know it would be sacrilege, Into Darkness convinces us that any one of its heroes might not make it out alive. (And if you think that sentence implies an outcome one way or another, you might be surprised.)

Some may quibble with political messages that appear throughout the film’s first half; though they’re clear and germane metaphors for current events, they’re fully appropriate. It’s a film with politics, not politics masquerading as a film.

And while some threats may feel easily dispatched, the breeziness of the whole thing comes in exchange for a refreshing change: Into Darkness is relatively short, and it has a real ending. Again, the fact that no future projects are currently scheduled changes things from, say, the Avengers sprawl; without a mad rush to open doors potential continuations, Into Darkness can afford to be conclusive and even easygoing (for a blockbuster, anyway.)

That makes a tentpole that feels neither bloated nor unsatisfying. Into Darkness sets a high bar for the rest of the 2013 summer slate; I doubt anything will be able to match it.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at