The crew of the Starfleet spacefaring vessel Enterprise are engaged on a mission on an alien planet, but they have to bear in mind the so-called Prime Directive which states they should not alter the course of any more primitive race's history. This has proven difficult as they try to preserve one tribe from the threat of the huge volcano which is about to erupt and eradicate them all, and the Captain, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), is on the ground having blown his cover and being chased along with his medical officer Doctor McCoy (Karl Urban) by said aliens. As if that were not enough, his chief science officer Mr Spock (Zachary Quinto) is trying to prevent the devastation...
The point to that being not only is it important to look after your friends - against his "logical" wishes, Spock was saved when the mission went wrong - but also that wherever you go in this universe, you leave footprints. The last we see of the tribe is their creation of a cargo cult based around the sighting in broad daylight of the Enterprise, and that theme, that even if you seek to do good by intervention you will be changing things, and not always for the better, was one lurking behind every action that our Starfleet heroes took part in. Yes, it was yet another blockbuster to reference the tragedies of September the 11th, 2001, but this did not seek catharsis as many of those others did.
In director and producer J.J. Abrams' first reboot of the Star Trek franchise, he sought to manufacture a fun rollercoaster ride which for better or worse underlined the message that might was right, basically whoever was capable of gaining the upper hand through spectacular violence won. That was, no matter what the fans thought about noble ideals, more true to the original television series than many would care to admit, where it seemed Captain Kirk was never satisfied with a plotline unless he could end it with a fistfight, but action was part and parcel of your average sixties adventure show, and that was far from absent from the movies too, as was the source's blithe sexism, with lip service paid to futuristic equality. In this sequel, however, there was a substantial degree more thoughtfulness.
When a terrorist attack hits London, Starfleet are entrusted with bringing the felon to justice, a mysterious but resourceful man known as John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, fulfilling his destiny as the English-accented baddie in a Hollywood blockbuster). This criminal escapes to the Klingon homeworld, which already spells trouble when Earth and that warlike race are already heading towards a conflict, but nevertheless the Enterprise is assigned to set off and eliminate Harrison, Apocalypse Now "Terminate with extreme prejudice" style. Kirk, having seen one of the terrorist's attacks strike close to home, is all ready to get blood on his hands, but Spock and his engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg, his own accent reaching critical levels) are voices of mediation, suggesting they should not be simple assassins for the powers that be.
Thus the franchise's tension between those who wish to go exploring and those who wish to go exploding was writ large, which could have made for a drily intellectual exercise punctuated with mass destruction, but what made Into Darkness more entertaining than that was it was unashamed to go for the cheese. There were sequences in this that were purest hammy adventure as out heroes set their jaws and plunged into the fray, while the more cerebral ruminations were woven into the fabric of a movie which never forgot it was meant to amuse on a grand scale. What Abrams and his team had done was rewrite Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan for a less reactionary approach, yet keeping the operatic emotions necessary to sustain the tale of a bunch of people in spaceships throwing punches and firing energy beams at one another. Therefore you could take it all as a showy blockbuster, or if you wished to delve deeper, you could engage with the political thought of what to do if your nation (or planet) is trapped by its ideals by heading into... well, into darkness. Music by Michael Giacchino.