** Beware – this review contains significant spoilers that may be visible if you are reading this on a mobile device **
Star Trek Into Darkness is the much awaited second installment of JJ Abrams ambitious reimagining of the Star Trek universe. Pitting baddie John Harrison against the Enterprise crew, it is setting its phasers to stun as one of this summer’s blockbusters.
2009’s Star Trek was an impressive achievement. Recasting iconic characters and diverting them into a parallel universe could have been an astonishing kick to the teeth for devoted Star Trek fans. Instead it was done in a sympathetic way that reignited a dying franchise.
For its second outing, things are more muddled. This is clearly a film designed for the Trekkies with references littered everywhere. Most of these are irrelevant to your enjoyment of the film but Into Darkness’s key problem is an over-reliance on kisses to the past.
The chemistry that the new Enterprise crew had is in evidence during this second outing. Right from Kirk and McCoy’s chase at the beginning through to its heart-stopping conclusion, the sense of this actually being a crew and team is abundant. Most importantly, it feels like the cast are having tremendous fun. Certainly they all get more to do with some clever foreboding.
When Chekov dons a red shirt, you wonder if his time is up. Uhura gets a tremendous chance to prove herself as more than a romantic interest and Sulu ends up taking the Captain’s chair albeit briefly. There are also some witty lines, and the dry humour that characterised the trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy in the original Star Trek firmly entrenches itself here. For instance when Kirk learns that Uhura and Spock are fighting he wryly comments: “You’re fighting with him? What is that even like?”
Of the guest cast, Benedict ‘Sherlock’ Cumberbatch is an enigma as the mysterious John Harrison, and indeed is wasted until his motives become more apparent. It is at this point that his malevolence seeps through. A compelling villain, he suffers from being drawn in sketchy lines. On the other side, Alice Eve is merely eye candy as the criminally underused Carol Marcus whilst Noel Clarke is barely allowed to utter a single word in his effectively, cameo role.
SPOILERS AHEAD (highlight to read):
It’s just unfortunate then that this is a retread of tired old ground first trod in The Wrath of Khan. And it’s not a particularly good retread at that. Cumberbatch comes into his own as Khan proving to have the gravitas to be a big screen baddie and is genuinely a highlight of the movie. But his characterisation is lacking. He degenerates into a bog standard villain without much motivation. It feels like the responsibility is on you to fully understand the backstory for Khan.
Recreating the iconic scene where Spock died, but twisting it around so it is Kirk that perishes is a brave step – if this were to be followed through on. It would have been a ballsy step to kill off the Captain and possibly a shot up the arm the franchise needs – although it would have been a shame to lose Chris Pine’s portrayal.
Leonard Nimoy’s guest cameo initially brings a cheer until you realise the effective send-off he was given in the last film. Additionally, if Spock can just call on his elder self for help at any given point, how can Quinto’s version become his own person?
The key to this movie is the development of Kirk – it all hinges on his Captaincy. Removed from command of the Enterprise and demoted to First Officer, he is talked at, rather than given the chance to act. Fortunately, throughout the film he is granted the chance to act honourably leading to his humiliation at the hands of Admiral Marcus and his eventual death. The biggest and perhaps most enjoyable character arc of all is as you see Kirk move from irrational womaniser to Starfleet Captain.
Overall, a bittersweet experience that lives or dies on your tolerance for over-reliance on the past. An action blockbuster yes, but with a wafer-thin plot that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. This Enterprise crew has gelled and works well together and whilst it advances the narrative for the next movie, hopefully it has also eliminated the need for such blatant kisses to the past. Hopefully Star Trek 3 will enable this crew to stand on their own feet and finally explore strange new worlds..
The Fiction Stroker gives Star Trek Into Darkness three strokes out of five:
Star Trek Into Darkness is on general release now.