This guy... he's pretty great, you guys. I'll keep spoilery things closer to the second half of this rather than the front, so yankeedoodles can read some of it, but be warned: there will be spoilers beyond the cut!
Even though Into Darkness is a better, more capable film than it's predecessor, I'm not sure I love it as much as I do the first yet. But I still really, really like it a lot! It felt like for every time I began to think 'ooh err, not sure about that...' something would happen immediately, usually accompanied by this, and I'd be gurning like a buffoon. It still hits all the moments that made me fall in love with Trek 2009, and probably then some.
There's more heart to it, less of a romp of set piece after set piece after set piece like the first and more of an actual drama, with the intensity ebbing and flowing, and it's supported by an enjoyable and brilliant cast. Who was stealing the film actually changed so many times as I watched it - Zoe Saldana at one moment, Benedict Cumberbatch the next, then Chris Pine, but I think ultimately Zach Quinto was my favourite member of the cast. Cumberbatch comes ever so close to taking the whole thing from the crew of the Enterprise, but it's actually Spock and his internal conflict that sits at the heart of the film and gives it a thematic arc and resonance, more so than Kirk's growth into the role of being a Captain. Although the film ends with our crew more or less in the same place as they were at the end of the first movie, you still get the feeling that they've solidified as an ensemble and grown as characters. On its own it's a great movie, but the jumping off point for whatever Abrams and co. do next excites me.
One really weird quibble though - I'm by no means a prude, but for a 12A, I was genuinely surprised at the amount of swearing throughout the film. It felt a little jarring to hear repeated uses of 'Shit' and 'Bastard'. That's as strong as it gets, but it still surprised me to hear them (it's not like they're cursing every five seconds, but both were used enough that I noticed it).
Oh, and another minor thing, while I'm at it.... that shot of Carol Marcus in her bikini that's in most of the trailers/TV spots? Literally the most pointless and jarring use of 'oh look, boobs!' I've seen in a long time. It was frankly dumb as hell. As much as I like seeing Alice Eve in her panties, it felt really out of place and didn't make sense in the first place.
Right, now we get into Spoiler territory after this picture, so if you want to remain plot free, turn away now!
(See what I did there?)
I'm not going to start with the obvious spoiler, but, another one: Oh no, they killed Captain Pike! I was genuinely shocked by that, and how early on they did it. As he crawled across the floor, I thought 'oh, this must be where he's paralyzed and gets put in the wheel chair for real', but no, they just flat out shot him! Great moment though, and I loved Spock's recollection of the Mind Meld he administered to him just before he died, very touching.
Yes, everyone guessed it, but still: Holy shit, CumberKhan! It's almost a shame that I'd twigged who he was, because the actual moment when he says his name was fantastic. And I'm glad he wasn't killed off (holy shit, just how many stun bolts did he take from Uhura's phaser in that final fight!?) at the end, to get a possible return. I'd love to see more of this interpretation of Khan showing up in future movies, as part of the Enterprise's 5 year mission... even if he is still on Earth as a creepily smiling popsicle.
All the references were quite nicely integrated too - seeing the Enterprise NX-01 in Admiral Marcus' line up of Space ships throughout the ages, seeing Qo'noS (annoyingly spelt as Kronos in the typography), mentions for the neutral zone, little things, it felt even more 'for the fans' than the first one did. I think the only one that sort of bothered me was the Tribble in the Med Bay - and the fact that said Tribble was also key to solving the finalé! - as much as I love them, it felt a bit out of place, and under cut some of the tension in it's 'on-the-nose-ness'. Also, wouldn't it have started reproducing after Bones revived it with Khan's blood? Has McCoy inadvertently created a race of Eugenics-enhanced Super Tribbles!?
Finally, my favourite bit of the film, Kirk's death scene, and it being a reversal of Spock's death scene in Wrath of Khan, was really, really well done. It's almost a shame (if unsurprising) that he was revived by Khan's magic super-blood at the end, because damn, it was a gut punch of a moment. Both Quinto and Pine did wonderfully in that scene. 4 Shatners out of 5 for Spocks 'KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!' yell too.
(P.S: Pretty sure Nolan North was one of the bridge officers on the USS Vengeance. Practically fell out of my seat going 'OMG NATHAN DRAKE!'. Huzzah for Mr. North!)