Rating: 3 stars out of 5
In 2009, filmmaking wunderkind J.J. Abrams reimagined ‘Star Trek’, boldly going where no one has gone before, turning Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future into a high-octane action ride.
Abrams’ lauded ‘Star Trek’ is more than just your run-of-the-mill prequel: he took the Enterprise and the whole Trekkie universe into a black hole where time-travel and one Leonard Nimoy turned the franchise on its head, unburdened by almost five decades of canon – rebooting the whole origin story of Kirk and crew.
Warp-speed to 2013: with Captain Abrams at “the con”, he delivers the much anticipated sequel, ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’. Once again, Abrams manages to maintain equilibrium with a storied franchise that’s five decades old: delicately balancing the obligatory nods to the old while boldly going forward on warp speed.
‘Into Darkness’ opens as any Star Trek movie of yore – with the crew of the Enterprise in the midst of saving a doomed planet. While this is the high-octane version of the franchise, yes it is a massive action set piece of an opening, complete with chalk-faced alien natives and a world-ending erupting volcano. The crew saved the day (but of course) but Chris Pine’s impetuous James T. Kirk is summoned back to Earth, reprimanded and stripped of his command for violating a Star Fleet Prime Directive.
However, a terrorist bombing of a research facility in London and an attack of a meeting which killed some Star Fleet heads put Kirk back in command. His mission? To hunt down the man responsible for the attacks: Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison.
There was a veil of mystery as to the identity of Cumberbatch’s shadowy character. A rogue Star Fleet agent? A future progeny of a Beatle vowing to give Kirk a hard day’s night? A younger version of an original Star Trek villain?
Whoever he is — it’s the worst kept secret ever — Cumberbatch delivers a performance so quietly ruthless that it perfectly fits the movie’s title (the real meaning of the title refers to a major story arc, but we’re not going to spoil it for you). Fans of BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ know just how intriguing Cumberbatch can be and as predicted, he is the most exciting character of the whole movie.
Singlehandedly, Harrison manages to best Kirk and his crew, mentally and physically. The bulk of the film is really a running battle between the Enterprise and Harrison. At one point, he even tries to convince the crew (and us) that he really isn’t the bad guy at all.
One of the selling points of Abrams’ rebooted franchise is still the energetic young cast, particularly Chris Pine’s impish and obstinate Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto as his logical alter-ego Mr. Spock. Pine completely owns the role from start to finish, playing Kirk with a blend of arrogance and comedy. Quinto, on the other hand, gives a performance that manages to be both subtle and amusing, and we can’t imagine anyone else taking on the role.
As for the rest of the cast, the whole Class of 2009 is back: Karl Urban's Bones McCoy; Zoe Saldana as Uhura; John Cho’s Sulu; Anton Yelchin as Chekhov plus Alice Eve, in character as weapons expert Carol Marcus, whose duties include disrobing down to her skivvies.
Despite the non-stop action and Cumberbatch stealing the whole movie, each character still gets a time to shine. For once, Simon Pegg’s Scotty gets more to do than just worry about warp engines.
Plot-wise, ‘Into Darkness’ refuses to go beyond the tried and tested formula of a summer blockbuster: there’s the requisite non-stop action sequences, a villain we can hate (or root for; you’d have to watch to know why) and heroes we can look up to.
In that sense, ‘Into Darkness’ feels more like an actioner paying homage to the franchise rather than a worthy entry to the Star Trek canon like its 2009 predecessor. This can be disappointing, but there are benefits.
In spite of the inside references, ‘Into Darkness’ is free from any convoluted backstory, making it a movie that anyone can easily beam into and enjoy without any significant knowledge of the franchise.
What we felt was missing in this movie was the original franchise’s intelligence; most of the conflicts and politics of ‘Star Trek’ represent real life issues – racism, human rights, class warfare, etc.
In terms of sheer spectacle, ‘Into Darkness’ delivers spot on.
While slightly empty at its core, nonetheless it is a fun, solid sci-fi adventure that should provide reasonable entertainment for newcomers and old time fans alike.