Sequel to the 2009 Academy Award-winning spin-off of the classic 1960s sci-fi adventure series. Captain Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are called back to Earth after a devastating force from within their organisation leaves the planet in chaos and Starfleet in pieces. Determined to settle the score, Kirk embarks on a manhunt with the rest of his crew including Spock, Scotty and Chekov to find the party responsible before their whole world is laid to waste.
While I would never claim to be the Trekiest of Trekkies, I've been a die-hard fan of the franchise since my parents dumped me off at a theater to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982 so they could get a few hours away from me. For better or worse, I have been pretty happy with 'Star Trek' over the years, mostly because even when they came out with some disappointing movies (see Star Trek V and Star Trek: Nemesis), they still involved stories that were at least trying to tell something fresh and attempting to remain loyal to principles and canon of 'Star Trek'. I even enjoyed the 2009 Star Trek quite a bit. Even though it was an attempt to reboot the entire universe, it was also smart enough to tie in the events with everything that happened before. It was new and fresh, but it was still very much 'Star Trek'.
Not so with 'Star Trek Into Darkness', a movie that actually starts out very smartly, then manages to sink everything we know and love about 'Star Trek' in its second half. Oh, it's entertaining to be sure, but it makes so many logical (pardon my Vulcan sensibilities) mistakes, that I actually went on a rant about all its problems right here on our 'The Bonus View' blog just a few years ago. Don't worry, I won't get quite that crazy again – I've learned to accept many of those issues I had and just try to enjoy the movie for what it is – but I confess I'm still a little frustrated. Because 'Into Darkness' could have been a very good 'Star Trek' movie if the filmmakers weren't so obsessed with one thing. And that 'thing' is a guy named Khan.
It's no longer a secret that Benedict Cumberbatch plays one of 'Star Trek's most iconic roles in 'Into Darkness'; heck, Paramount even gives it away on the back box cover of this release, even though that reveal isn't made until halfway through the actual film. The problem is that Cumberbatch doesn't even need to play Khan here. He's first introduced as a terrorist named John Harrison, and the fact that he's Khan Noonien Singh actually plays no significant part in the movie other than that his blood contains 'magical' healing powers – an ability that, frankly, could be given to any bad guy. So when Benedict's character sneers at Kirk and Spock and proclaims "I am Khan!" at the movie's midpoint, it's nothing more than an attempt at fan service. Kirk and Spock have no idea who this guy is, nor do they seem to really care much – the film never really delves into Khan's past, reveals his importance in Earth's history (but not important enough that anyone on the Enterprise has ever heard of him), or any of the other facts/personality traits that made the Ricardo Montalban version of the character so beloved among Trekkies.
Actually, I'd love to see someone make a fan edit of 'Into Darkness' where all the Khan mentions are cut out and see how the film plays. I'm guessing it actually might play a little better. It would still have a number of plot holes (the most frustrating being how transporters work in this movie) and that horrible climax where the storytellers think they're being clever by repeating (with a slight twist) the conclusion of The Wrath of Khan and instead just come off as lazy screenwriters, but at least it wouldn't diminish one of 'Trek's best-known villains. Remember how cool Darth Vader was before the Star Wars prequels came along and ruined him? 'Into Darkness' sort of does the same thing to Khan.
But for all the things wrong with 'Into Darkness', it's far from a complete disaster. It's competently made by Director J.J. Abrams (who, in his defense, has confessed in the past to never being much of a 'Star Trek' die-hard), features some great visual eye candy and set pieces, and is more-or-less very well acted (I still have some problems with Peter Weller's slightly over-the-top Admiral Marcus and the way that Cumberbatch enunciates most of his dialogue). So that leaves the big question to be answered: Is it worth picking up on Ultra HD? I think it is. The 4K format is driven by its ability to enhance the visual quality of a movie, and that added boost is definitely a bonus here, particularly when it comes to the IMAX-shot scenes. Even then, I can't endorse 'Into Darkness' as strongly as 2009's Star Trek in 4K Ultra HD, but I'm still giving it a recommendation.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Star Trek Into Darkness' sets its phasers for 4K with this Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD release. The discs are housed inside a black Elite keepcase, with the 4K Ultra HD and first Blu-ray disc (which contains the film) on a plastic hub, while the second Blu-ray is on the inside right. A sole insert contains a code for either an UltraViolet or iTunes digital copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork that matches that of the keepcase slides overtop.
There are no front-loaded trailers on any of the three discs. The main menus for the Ultra HD disc and the Blu-ray movie disc are identical: a montage of footage from the film with menu selections across the bottom of the screen. The second Blu-ray (with the majority of the bonus features) has a similar menu design, except it has a montage of behind-the-scenes footage from the movie shoot.
All the discs in this release are region-free.
Even though the IMAX footage was originally shot in 65mm and scanned at an 11K resolution, everything here comes from a 2K digital intermediate, which was then upgraded to 4K. While visual results of the 35mm part of the movie match the quality of the 2009 Star Trek 4K release (in other words, very good), the real 'wow' factor here comes in the IMAX footage – it looks fantastic, despite being downgraded to 2K then upgraded back to 4K. Since the first portion of the movie has been shot with IMAX cameras, viewers won't need to wait long to see what I'm talking about. The rich reds of the foliage of the opening scene look even richer and deeper in 4K, with some real depth and 'pop' to the image. Every time the movie switched back to it's standard 2.40:1/35mm format, I couldn't wait for the jump back to the full-screen/IMAX scenes. It made me look forward to the day that Hollywood finally shoots one of these big budget films entirely in IMAX (which, last I heard, was happening with the next 'Avengers' film).
Parts of 'Into Darkness' are, well, dark - such as the scenes that take place aboard the Dreadnought-class starship in the second-half of the movie. The 4K boost here definitely helps those moments, as blacks are deeper and details are noticeably better than the 1080p version of the movie. In fact, details are pretty great throughout, and the fact that Director J.J. Abrams seems to pull back a bit on his lens flare obsession in this movie (although the Enterprise bridge scenes are still packed with them) is helpful.
Even though – thanks to those IMAX scenes – I think the visuals here are slightly better than the 4K release of J.J.'s first 'Star Trek' movie, I held back on giving this a reference-quality score, simply because of the 2K DI source used for this transfer. That said, it's hard to imagine anyone will find much to fault here – the image is fantastic.
'Star Trek Into Darkness' beams up to 4K with an English Dolby Atmos track (which plays as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track for those without an Atmos set-up) that is nothing short of reference-quality. Even slightly more-so than the 4K version of the 2009 film, every swoosh, crash, bang, zap, buzz, and beep of the track comes off as distinct and with real clarity. Smooth seamless pans and directionality are used throughout, giving the audio a real immersive feel to it. Dialogue is clear and properly mixed with the rest of the track. LFE use is frequent and fun.
There are no glitches to speak of with the audio, and despite as active as this track can get, I never got that 'unbalanced' feeling where the explosions and laser blasts felt excessively louder than they should. Say what you want about the movie itself, but this is top-notch audio that only manages to enhance the already-impressive video quality, making 'Into Darkness' a great disc to throw in your 4K player when you want to show your friends what this format is capable of doing.
In addition to the Atmos track, the 4K disc also offers up 5.1 tracks in Spanish, French, and Portuguese, as well as an English Audio Description track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Note: Since all of the bonus materials on this release have appeared on prior releases of 'Star Trek Into Darkness', the Blu-ray supplements descriptions that follow are from fellow HDD writer Joshua Zyber and taken from his fantastic review of Star Trek: The Compendium.
Also note that his 4K Ultra HD release of 'Star Trek Into Darkness' does not include the 3D version of the movie, so if you already own that on Blu-ray, you'll want to hang onto it if upgrading with this release.
4K Ultra HD Disc
Blu-ray Disc 1
Blu-ray Disc 2
There's no denying that 'Star Trek Into Darkness' is at times entertaining and action-packed. The movie's biggest faults lie in the fact that it doesn't feel very much like a 'Star Trek' film, nor does it get many of the established (alternate timeline or no alternate timeline) principles of the original show right. Still, it's hard to believe most fans won't want to pick this Ultra HD release up, given its outstanding video and audio. 'Into Darkness' is among my least-favorite 'Trek' movies, but this release is still recommended.