Let’s talk about Into Darkness. It’s a sequel to a reboot and also has some shades of a remake. Those are all things that seldom bode well for a movie, but, Into Darkness pulls it off magnificently. It simply does everything right. The main thing I want to address is Into Darkness’ existence as a sequel. There’s no getting around that. Amusingly, the main criticism I see in reviews is just that: Into Darkness doesn’t feel as fresh or new as 2009’s Star Trek. I’d like to counter that by saying: hello, it’s a sequel.
Now, a year ago, I wrote a post about what makes a good sequel. In that post I quoted Joss Whedon’s thoughts on how to make a sequel that would top The Avengers: “By not trying to. By being smaller. More personal, more painful… By being the next thing that should happen to these characters, and not just a rehash of what seemed to work the first time.” This is exactly what Into Darkness does.
What was 2009’s Trek about? A vengeful threat from the future seeks to destroy Earth and it’s up to the crew of the Enterprise to band together to stop him. The stakes are massive (destruction of Earth) and it allows our characters to come into their own and form the crew their supposed to be. It firmly establishes the new universe, re-introduces the characters, and sets it up for their next adventure. Why don’t we make a chain of stars explode and rip apart several planets now?
Into Darkness’ stakes are less direct. The whole of Earth isn’t quite currently at risk, but we do know the sweeping consequences if they fail their mission. Rather, the villain John Harrison and his actions cause tension and conflict among the Enterprise’s crew (particularly Kirk and Spock) and forces them into a corner, forces them to face the thing they fear most. Kirk is faced with the most difficult no-win challenge of his life. Spock is forced to face a scenario absent of a logical solution. These characters are forced to their breaking point, situations which, as Kirk says, “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do”. What’s so important about this scenario? Well, as Kirk goes on to say: “I only know what I can do.” This desperation marks much of the film. Where once we had our protagonists scrambling around trying to save the world, Into Darkness sees them trying to save each other and, at their core, themselves. It’s personal, it’s painful, and it’s precisely where the story needed to go.
2009’s Star Trek saw the assembly of the crew, Into Darkness forces them into a stronger, more unified whole. We need to see the Enterprise’s trial by fire for them to become the crew from The Original Series. This is their moment to become who they are.
Another thing that Into Darkness succeeds at is its reconciliation of the ‘first’ film and any future films with the classics. This movie, more than the prior, looks at Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic view of the future and translates its core tensions to work in a modern setting. It’s worth noting that in modern science fiction interplanetary organizations tend to be militaristic: Halo’s UNSC for example, far from the exploratory nature of Starfleet. The idea of pure exploration isn’t as cool anymore, is it? Into Darkness, more so than its predecessor, takes apart our own expectations and Starfleet itself, rebuilding it and proving that, yes, Roddenberry was right. Into Darkness is Roddenberry’s vision rebuilt.
Into Darkness is a phenomenal film. It follows up 2009’s movie by not trying to go bigger, but instead to go deeper. It draws on ideas from prior movies and episodes to create a new adventure that really gets into the heart of the characters. It dares to push them to their breaking point and forces them to find a way out. This is what sequels should do. The end result is a fantastic film that effortlessly blends old ideas in a new world.
Go see this movie.