Setting all phasers to stun, J.J Abrams’ bombastic sequel to 2009’s Star Trek revamp ups the stakes, casting the now not so fresh-faced crew of the U.S.S Enterprise into a titular Darkness. Does this deep space boldly go where no one has gone before, or is it stuck in orbit over the same old content?
Star Trek is smart, but, man, it can be a real snoozer, too. For all its scientific credibility, expanded mythology, and hamtastic cast members, the series’ preoccupation with phaser-based space operatics have always left it playing second-string to Star Wars‘ lightsaber enhanced smorgasbords of destruction. Ever the intuitive auteur, J.J Abrams set out to reboot the franchise back in 2009 to great results: both a critical and commercial darling, Star Trek proved a cleverly reworked envisioning of the original series that pleased Trekkies and newcomers alike. Four years and a two hundred million dollar budget later, Abrams takes to the captain’s seat once more with the heavily-hyped and awesomely titled Star Trek Into Darkness.
Into Darkness finds the ever impregnable Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) doing what impregnable interstellar wunderkinds do best: saving the world(s) via increasingly daring and roguish means, a habit that puts him at the wrong end of the Starfleet’s good-side. Not helping things are Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) inability to tap into human subtlety, Dr. “Bones” McCoy’s (Karl Urban) negative Nancy-ing, and Zoe Saldana’s Uhura’s troubled love-life (dating an obsessively logical being can be a real drag…). As Kirk finds himself chewed-out of the fleet and his crew flies dangerously close to soap-opera melodrama, in comes a mysterious white guy with an English accent blowing up Starfleet assets with reckless abandon for human life. Pretty soon, Kirk and crew are back on boldly going where no one has supposedly ever gone before, zapping baddies and zipping around space in spectacular fashion.
Hamming things up in the right way, BBC alum Benedict Cumberbatch puts on his very best annunciation face, taking every opportunity to come across like an outer-space Voldemort with giant guns and a nose. Despite admirably imbuing his character a not-so-subtlely terroristic tone, Cumberbatch’s villainous John Harrison ends up more of a half-hearted wink-wink at the one of the original series’ (admittedly) best antagonists than a truly terrifying embodiment of genetic supremacy. Peter Weller is a welcome newcomer, begging the line “Dead or alive, John Harrison’s coming with me”, while Alice Eve, as (FAUX-SPOILER ALERT!!!) his daughter, basically plays a platinum-blonde Kirstie Alley and vague love-interest for Kirk.
As with its predecessor, Star Trek is less about villains and romantic subplots than it is about high-stakes action sequences and brisk, hilarious chemistry between key players, and, boy, does Into Darkness deliver. The film (literally) ignites with an opening volcanic rescue scene, and only continues to up its game as the Enterprise races across the galaxy in pursuit of Harrison. Expect chase scenes galore: a particularly fantastic set-piece set amid a bustling 23rd century London in the movies final act will leave you breathless. Lightening the mood, Simon Pegg’s Scotty and Anton Yelchin’s navigator hastily-turned engineer Chekov make for some well-cast comic relief, while Pine and Quinto’s effervescently amicable bickering does a decent job developing the antagonism the two had in the first film into an endearing friendship.
That said, much of the film lacks the distinct freshness Abrams brought to the table four years ago. Phoned in cameos by Leonard Nemoy, for example, seem more forced than necessary, while the updated Enterprise non-characters, featuring, amongst others, a bald android/Data stand-in and that equally bald lesbian mom from Under the Dome, come across as purely-aesthetic attempts to diversify the command-deck rather than flesh it out. These hitches, while minor, are glaringly apparent throughout Into Darkness, as are the overly overt and predictable shout-outs to the 1982 classic this sequel was basically birthed from.
Visually terrific and a breeze to watch, Star Trek into Darkness proves an excellent popcorn affair, brimming with enough references to the old-school to keep fanboys happy and enough lens-flare enhanced action scenes to keep the rest engrossed. It decidedly lacks the same wit and narrative gusto the first entry in the reboot thrived upon; however, Abrams and Co. still offer up a remarkably fun and well-rounded blockbuster bound to leave you dazzled in the darkness.