Star Trek Into Darkness Review
Boldly going where no director had before, J.J. Abrams reinvigorated the tired Star Trek series with his 2009 reboot, implementing a cleverly devised parallel universe that allowed him to tinker with the much-loved characters whilst refraining from rehashing exhausted storylines. Here, Abrams follows up the $385m yielding reboot with a much larger spectacle; this swashbuckling adventure story has style and charisma in abundance and may be the most engaging Trek feature since The Wrath of Khan.
Beginning with a marvellously shot action sequence, our ‘bromance’ duo of Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) run frantically away from pursuing indigenous species on a nearby planet, as Spock (Zachary Quinto) tries to valiantly set off an explosion and render a hostile volcano inactive. Characteristically going against protocol, Kirk reveals the USS Enterprise to its inhabitants and is stripped off his command for breaking a prime directive – despite saving Spock’s life in the process.
Futuristic cityscapes of London and San Francisco light up Into Darkness’ opening third. Breathtaking establishing shots prove to be only the release from the constant blockbuster pace – before we’re even given a chance to admire the visuals, renegade madman John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has set off a bomb-by-proxy at a Starfleet centre. It quickly transpires that this was a ruse to assemble members of the High Command together so that he can attack them again before beaming himself onto the uninhabitable Klingon planet Qo’noS. Inevitably, it’s up to the recently reprimanded and rather reckless Captain Kirk to trek into the darkness and track down this one-man weapon of mass destruction.
Cumberbatch is a revelation, exuding all of the menace and intrigue of a Bond villain from his very first scene, yet with the cerebral authority of a man much more sinister. Building on his masterful portrayal of Sherlock Holmes for British television, he stamps his authority here as the go-to up-and-coming thespian. His greatest achievement is in excelling the previous films villain; while the intentions of Nero (played by Eric Bana) were solid, he wasn’t anywhere near as menacing as he needed to be – Harrison outclasses him in every way.
At a time of blockbuster fails like the Transformers and Clash of the Titans series, it’s refreshing to see such a large budgeted film balance its character development and action sequences with devastatingly entertaining results. It’s a nod to Abrams’ talents that he’s able to keep us interested in his characters whilst maintaining the urge for the next action sequence. Doubtless we’ll see few scenes more thrilling this summer than those of the Enterprise crew parachuting themselves through space or the penultimate sequence with Spock and John Harrison – needless to say, Into Darkness never feels like a throwaway addition to the Star Trek film universe.
Of the new characters, Dr. Carol Marcus is played beautifully by Alice Eve. Of those returning, Simon Pegg seems to finally have settled into his accent as the bubbly Jock engineer Mr. Scott. Sulu (John Cho) and Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) also put in a reappearance, yet it’s the joyfully presented romantic subplot involving Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) which highlights Into Darkness’ intentions as a smart and cleverly written re-imagining. Their domestic spat is played perfectly for laughs and, much like everything else in this thrill ride, doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Beaming in at near 140 minutes, the space opera flies by at warp speed, though perhaps Abrams and co-writers Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof could have benefited from three hours of screen-time. The climax is a touch unsatisfying, but still this is a franchise reborn. Whereas a new Star Trek movie could easily have been made to satisfy the fanboys but hardly anyone else, Abrams seeks to make its universe accessible to all. If this is to be his final frontier – especially with his sights now set on another galaxy – we can safely say that his two Star Trek pictures should live long and prosper.