Before he jettisons to a galaxy far far away, Spielberg wunderkind JJ Abrams takes the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on a journey Into Darkness, following 2009’s fantastic alt-verse voyage, Star Trek. Anyone concerned that Abrams’ focus may have been blurred by a preference for Star Wars needn’t have worried, because – lens flares and all – this is superior science fiction film-making.
As an audience we are beamed straight into the middle of the latest mission for the now well-oiled team of Starfleet’s finest. Captain Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) is becoming increasingly cavalier in his decision making, much to the ire of his first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto), who has his own issues with Uhura (Saldana), as she’s struggling to deal with his Vulcan emotional detachment. Their tribulations take a back seat when enemy from within and seemingly indestructible force, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), unleashes a brutal act of terrorism upon Starfleet that triggers a galactic man-hunt.
Recognisably Abrams, Into Darkness excels by foregrounding character amongst spectacle, but by no means does it skimp on the latter. With the meet-the-gang out of the way, relationships are now fully established and allowed to flourish. The quick-fire quips exchanged between Kirk and Spock, and Kirk and Bones (Karl Urban would have stolen the movie if it wasn’t for a certain expertly enunciating bad guy) supersede any comedy you’re likely to see this year. But for every jibe about pointy ears or Bones’ overuse of metaphors, there are an equal amount of weighty exchanges, one of which is a real tearjerker, which is very different from most summer blockbusters.
The casting agents struck gold with their choices in 09; Pine continues to perfect the cocky young action hero, but here imbues him with a vulnerability that complements the unfolding narrative. Quinto was born to play Spock reincarnate, not just because of the uncanny resemblance he bears to Leonard Nimoy, but how he walks the human/Vulcan line expertly. Saldana does her best with possibly the weakest element of the script, reduced to comical exchanges about her relationship with Spock for most of the movie. So much so that she doesn’t even get as many dramatic beats as usual comedy foil, Simon Pegg (as funny as ever and surprisingly kick ass).
But it’s Benedict Cumberbatch who consumes the movie, enveloping everything like an unrelenting black hole of charisma and intrigue. His arrival and interaction with the main players signals an upturn in a film already coasting on the intensity of the action set-pieces. In fact, his lengthy, measured soliloquies provide a welcome break from a fast paced structure that at times allows very little room for the film to breathe.
Of the multiple set-pieces, Abrams wows with the schizophrenic rotation of a ship plummeting to Earth, ratcheting up the tension with claustrophobic, Inception style impossible POVs. The impressive prologue is also visually arresting.
While it may not have the sprightly sense of fun that made the initial outing such a welcome surprise, Into Darkness is a more satisfying behemoth that carries the franchise forward on a consistent trajectory. Even though Abrams is abandoning ship, he has assured that the cinematic adventures of the Starship Enterprise will live long and prosper beyond stardate 2013.
‘Star Trek Into Darkness’
Director: J.J. Abrams
Starrings: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana
Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes
4 stars out of 5