I found myself in an awkward position after seeing the original Star Trek, the rebooted beginning of a series of prequels to the original set of television series and films. Masses of people, ‘Trekkies’ or otherwise, came out of the film waving their arms and screaming about a piece of genius; the director J.J Abrams had managed to unite hardcore fans and also make it appealing for a new generation. I came out of it having enjoyed it, a smart and fun sci-fi adventure, but also somewhat baffled by the continuous media frenzy over it. I had never become a ‘Trekkie’, had only seen a handful of episodes and maybe two of the films at the most. Now we have the sequel, also directed by J.J Abrams, and I come out of it with my hands in a Vulcan salute, grinning from ear to ear. Star Trek: Into Darkness is a riotous and adrenaline filled space adventure, which feeds off some fantastic performances and some fine directing. It is wonderful summer entertainment, and although it lacks the fine characterization and emotion of the original, it more than makes up for it with some incredible visuals, the plot’s many twists and turns, and a wonderful performance from new villain John Harrison, played by the British star Benedict Cumberbatch.
Taking place not much longer after the events of the first film, we rejoin Captain Kirk and Spock as they are exploring the galaxy. Abrams opens with an opening eye-fest, showing off the beautiful visuals with a jaw dropping sequence involving Spock and an erupting Volcano. Called back for a conference concerning an apparent suicide bombing at the public archives, Kirk and Spock barely survive a planned attack which leaves the majority of the high ranking offices in the Starfleet dead. John Harrison, a mysterious traitor of Starfleet, takes responsibility and hiding in Klingon territory, where Starfleet can’t catch him at risk of starting an already inevitable all out galactic war. So begins a top secret and dangerously unprofessional mission by Kirk and the Enterprise to track down and kill John Harrison. But is he everything that he seems?
Whether walking at pace through bright corridors, or flying through space, the surroundings Kirk and Spock find themselves in are always nothing short of beautiful. This is a film, seemingly of a dying breed, where the visual effects are used to enhance the story, not to distract us from the shortcomings of the script (Oblivion, I’m staring at you). The sound design too, is stunning, and the whole film is just produced to such a degree of quality you can’t help but enjoy the spectacle put in front of you. It really is a treat for the senses, in every sense. I didn’t see it in 3D, and I personally advise you to go see what I saw; it’s cheaper and just as effective in its use of visuals. I could tell where the 3D points were used in the film, the tell-tale signs being when something sharp and pointy hurled towards the screen, and I can guarantee that seeing this in 3D would have both annoyed me and also made me slightly queasy.
Although he can sometimes create a film with unbalanced pace, J.J Abrams is doing an absolutely incredible job in almost reinventing the science fiction genre for a new generation. His direction here is flawless (although enough with the lens flares!), but what really stands out is his overriding ability to please the hardcore Star Trek fans, while also creating a very entertaining, funny, dark and beautiful movie for the average viewer as well. He has convinced me he is the man to lead us forward into the new age of science fiction, an excellent choice to combat the challenge of continuing the Star Wars series. There will always be a place for one off, original works of science fiction, like the excellent Looper from last year, but Abrams is moulding himself as the king of sci-fi, and Star Trek: Into Darkness does a lot to reaffirm that claim. This latest instalment is so much fun, such a glitzy and adrenaline pumped ride that I nearly laughed out loud randomly in the cinema from the sheer thrill of the whole thing. Cinema is supposed to be enjoyed like this, comparing it to a roller-coaster doesn’t do it justice, you will lean left, right, back and forward in your seat in an attempt to keep up with the story, the characters and the fun. No doubt it is darker than the original reboot, but at the same time I had a lot more fun with it. Sounds like a paradox, but it’s the best of both worlds.
The original Star Trek seemed to work for so many people because of its bromance between Captain Kirk and Spock, played by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. They bickered and fought for power in their conversations, developing such a strong bond that it fuelled the whole story. It was an incredible showing of characterization by the script, and Abram’s deft touch, and I was disappointed it was much less prominent in Into Darkness. The third party has entered the fray, with Benedict Cumberbatch brilliantly portraying the mysterious John Harrison, but the film has paid a heavy price for including a strong villain. The consequences of this is that some of the chemistry between the two leads is lost (too often, Quinto steals the show as Spock and Pine is just too ordinary as Kirk), and in the films intended heart rendering moments, we don’t care as much, or even not at all. In its hastiness to include such a strong villain, the writers lost a lot of what made the first film so warm and refreshing, and many will feel this while watching the movie. Although that is a decisive shortcoming of the script, the supporting cast do a great job of it, particularly Simon Pegg, with his energetic comic timing as Scotty shadowing over the fact he can’t do a good Scottish accent. The most amazing fight in this movie is the fight between the actors themselves, Quinto and Cumberbatch, in an effort to steal the show. Spock is cold and calculating but shows glimpses of a warm potential, John Harrison is ruthless and efficient, but does show moments of grief and genuine pain. Cumberbatch wins. Just.
A spectacular space sequence where Kirk and John Harrison fly out of a air vacuum of one ship, into another. An extraordinary CGI sequence, filled with wonderful sound design and stellar directing by Abrams.
The disappointing lack of new characterization between the two leads, Kirk and Spock, and the movie ultimately loses what made the original such a success. In introducing a strong new villain into this new universe, one of the great bromances in the history of cinema gets ignored, and for many this could be unforgivable.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is a beautiful and high octane thrill ride of a movie, with a genuine heart and a fantastic new villain. Although it loses some of its soul from ignoring the characterization between Kirk and Spock, it is relentlessly exciting and an incredible amount of fun, with each actor giving strong performances. An unpopular opinion, but I enjoyed this more than I did the original. Star Trek: Into Darkness isn’t just a good Star Trek film, it’s a good film in its own right; and when you think about it, that’s nothing short of a minor miracle.