Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Pegg, Alice Eve, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, John Cho
Running time: 132 minutes
After a huge explosion in London and a malicious attack on Starfleet HQ, Captain Kirk (Pine) and his crew of the Enterprise warp into enemy territory to hunt down the man responsible. Unfortunately, things take a drastic and unexpected turn upon their arrival, a turn which leads Kirk to make the ultimate sacrifice.
I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Into Darkness last December at an IMAX screening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Before PJ’s return to Middle Earth began, we were treated to nine minutes of loud, exciting and furiously-paced fun that sufficiently whet my appetite for the full feature. Five months later, and we finally get to see the whole thing. Does it live up to the promise? Well let’s see…
In short, yes it does. I won’t waste any time teasing one way or the other whether I liked it or not: I really liked it, and here’s why. What Abrams did with Star Trek in 2009 was introduce this well-established universe that’s spanned forty years, producing over five TV shows and over ten films, to a whole new audience. I myself had only seen one Trek film up until that point, and had only caught passing glimpses of the TV shows, but I instantly fell in love with the world of Starfleet Command and the crew of the USS Enterprise. Abrams directs with such visual confidence and panache that it’s hard not to be won over by any of him films purely from the presentation (he even manages to make lens flares not unbearably annoying, and sometimes actually look quite nice!), and Star Trek’s probably the best example. Whether Into Darkness is as much fun as Star Trek it’s hard to say, but it’s certainly a a bigger beast.
Another of Star Trek’s great qualities was the comedy, a quality which is not lost in Into Darkness. It’s filled with funny set-pieces and snappy exchanges (usually involving Kirk and Spock) which make it a joy to watch. When you’re not being wowed by the visuals and sheer scale of the thing, you’ve got a big cheesy smile on your face. I’m sure there are plenty of references and in-jokes that I don’t get due to my lack of knowledge of the original works, but everything I did get was great, and felt sufficient. Strangely, the comedy also adds an almost fragile edge to the characters, simply because it reminds us that they’re human – when compared to, say, Benedict Cumberbatch’s solemn, god-like villain. It gives us another reason to care about them, instead of relying on purely the more intimate, emotionally-charged scenes (of which there are many). One particular scene between Kirk and Spock (again) is really well-judged and quite touching.
Wait…have we seen this before?
The film doesn’t entirely escape from some of the generic blockbuster tropes that we’ve been seeing so much lately, like the villain getting captured and held in a glass cell (above), big things falling into the ocean or cities getting destroyed (Skyfall, anyone? Iron Man 3?), but to be fair they never feel too problematic. Neither does the soundtrack, which in general is fine but on a couple of occasions is a little overbearing, as it dictates how we should feel rather than complements the emotions on-screen. I only felt this towards the beginning of the film so perhaps it was simply a case of finding the time to settle in. I really can’t say why, but it did take me about half an hour to properly get into it.
The returning cast is excellent, again. There’s a fantastic dynamic between the group, and Alice Eve slips into their midst perfectly. The “controversial” underwear scene, for the record, is unnecessary but not bothersome at all. Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock remain genius bits of casting, and although we’ve seen them in the roles before it’s still worthy of praise. And then there’s Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain of the piece, John Harrison. One of the few problems I had with the first film was Eric Bana’s Nero. Bana was fine, but the character just lacked a certain villainy edge for me. Even though he blew up a whole planet, I never really felt like he was a proper threat. Here on the other hand, Harrison is a menacing, insidious and disconcertingly relaxed bad guy, and Cumberbatch plays him excellently. He steals the show.
J.J. Abrams’ second venture into the Star Trek universe is a loud, confident and glimmering one. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close to everything a blockbuster should be. I do hope Star Wars doesn’t draw all of his attention away from what has the potential to be a fantastic trilogy.