Star Trek Into Darkness – review

Chris Pine

Chris Pine in a still from Star Trek Into Darkness

J.J. Abrams, who has recently been confirmed as the man to direct the first of Disney’s era of new Star Wars films, is back with the small matter of the second of the rebooted Star Trek movies.

Sci-fi fans are spoilt for choice this summer, with plenty of post-apocalyptic/futuristic blockbusters about – Oblivion recently out and Pacific Rim and After Earth soon to hit the big screen – but for the connoisseurs of all things intergalactic this film is the main course.

There is no great complexity or intricacies for this to be classed as cinematic fine dining, but there is enough excitement in this two-hour adrenaline ride to satisfy the palette.

Abrams’ second stint in the Star Trek hot seat has all the ingredients to give avid “Trekkies” and less informed converts what they want. We have Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk (Chris Pine) in love/hate bromance mode again, eye candy in the form of new weapons specialist Carol (Alice Eve), some breath-taking 3D action and the return of a fan-favourite villain who brings the USS Enterprise ship to its knees.

Some fans were surprised to see James T. Kirk played as a reluctant hero in the first of the reimaged Star Trek films (2009); a roguish, prodigal talent who must shake off his bad-boy ways to discover the born leader within him, before growing into the captain of the Enterprise.

At the beginning of this sequel, we see he is still a risktaker and a young man who has problems with authority. Despite this, he still has a leader’s intuition, which he demonstrates when a crisis meeting at Starfleet HQ with high-rank members discussing a worrying terror threat, comes under assault itself.

The film begins with Kirk being stripped of his leadership due to going against protocol whilst on a mission, which ends up with the crew making daring manoeuvres to save Spock from an erupting volcano on a planet called Nibiru, inhabited by a primitive indigenous population.

The ship is handed back to Pike (Bruce Greenwood) as Kirk is deemed a loose cannon by top brass, while Spock seems less than grateful, as his logic-driven mind sees Kirk’s actions as reckless, despite them saving his life.

It is not long before Kirk is back aboard the Enterprise though and he is soon tasked with a special revenge mission, which is both dangerous and beyond Starfleet’s supposed remit as explorers (not military personnel). The man behind the terror attacks (including one on a Starfleet archive hub in London) – John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), must be eliminated, but he has taken refuge in Kronos, which is home to Starfleet’s deadly rivals, the Klingons.

The mission has trouble written all over it, but Kirk has more reasons than most to want to take on the assignment and seek vengeance on Harrison, who is not all he appears to be.

The mission is not actually what it seems either and there are soon questions surrounding the real agenda of the journey, the true identity of the mysterious Harrison and the motive for his attacks.

Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) is so concerned about a load of torpedoes Admiral Marcus has instructed Kirk to take on board as weapons that he resigns, but the other usual suspects are all back on board, including Mr Sulu (John Cho), Bones (Karl Urban), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

What ensues is an almighty battle involving brute force, mind games and manipulation, and the crew of the Enterprise is stretched and tested to the limit, as is the close relationship between Kirk and Spock. Morality, humanity and the essence of what it means and what it takes to be a leader are themes juggled by the writers and director, however don’t think of this as a venture into gloom and despair in the way Christopher Nolan reinvigorated the Batman saga with the epic (but dystopian) Dark Knight trilogy. This movie has plenty of laughs and despite the peril the crew find themselves plunged into, the vibe is generally kept quite light and plot is not too demanding. There is nothing light though about the gripping climax.

With Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams has not surpassed his first instalment, but has maintained the elements that made it such a big hit, and given us a truly imposing baddie, menacingly played by Cumberbatch, who is an icy killing machine with superhuman strength and intellect that will win the film and the in-demand British actor plenty more followers.

Star Trek Into Darkness (12A)
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Alice Eve, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban. John Cho, Peter Weller, Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Greenwood.

Running time: 132 minutes

Star Trek Into Darkness is showing at Hackney Picturehouse in May & June.