At the risk of losing some geek credentials (if there even is such a concept), I’ve never been a fan of Star Trek. It’s not that I dislike it, but I’ve never invested the time and effort required to watch it, I’m pretty sure I would like it if I did. I’ve seen none of the original series or the Next Generation, and only a handful of the films.
As such I had no objections to any alterations that might have been made with J.J. Abrams’ 2009 cinematic reboot of the series, which served as an enjoyable (re)-introduction to the universe and its characters.
Now that everything’s all set up, Star Trek 2 (or 12 depending on how you look at it) gives the crew a chance to actually go out and do some of this exploring they keep talking about.
The film starts off very well, with a (clearly) Indiana Jones inspired set piece featuring the crew escaping from a primitive planet they are surveying as a volcano is about to erupt. The new villain is also introduced in a highly effective sequence involving almost no dialogue, set in a future London.
That foe is John Harrison, deliciously played by Benedict Cumberbatch, some kind of terrorist who is targeting Starfleet buildings for destruction, before disappearing off Earth, requiring Kirk and co to go after him.
A lot of the main plot makes no attempts to disguise its parallels to 9/11 and subsequent events, with a stealth mission to a potentially hostile region in pursuit of a building-destroying terrorist, and discussion of ethics in such a situation.
Cumberbatch makes a great impression in his first big Hollywood role, keeping alive the charismatic, smart, well spoke British bad guy in action blockbuster troupe (along with Tom Hiddleston in last year’s Avengers), and convincing as an intellectual and physical threat to the good guys.
His is not a show-stealing performance though. Into Darkness makes sure to give every one of its cast at least one big moment, which they nearly all do great work with (Alice Eve’s new addition is the only weak link). The likes of Sulu, Chekov, Uhura and Scotty all get their moment in the spotlight in funny and/or heroic scenes, sometimes both simultaneously, while Karl Urban’s McCoy provides solid support throughout. It’s the winning Kirk/Spock relationship that rightly takes centre stage though. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have built a wonderful dynamic that works in the many different situations they find themselves in.
For all its strengths, it’s not too clear where Star Trek Into Darkness is going after a while, and it launches into an extremely troublesome final act. Avoiding spoilers, the last part of the film portrays events that seem worryingly, and carelessly, to counter a lot of what came before, and provide silly yet obvious developments with little thought to their consequences. It seems some of this was just to maintain equilibrium for future instalments, and the rest just to hammer in a massive, and unnecessary, climactic action sequence.
Make no mistake, Star Trek Into Darkness is not a particularly smart Sci-Fi film, for the most part it works as a fast-paced, brain-off action film, but a lot of what happens becomes increasingly disconcerting the more you think about it.
Maybe JJ Abrams felt he needed to justify a big budget by shoehorning in scenes of massive destruction, but they prove a hindrance to a film whose character moments are its real selling point. How about next time we actually see them ‘boldly going where no-one has gone before’?