Perhaps the most pleasing thing about JJ Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek series four years ago was the way in which he managed to assemble his new (or old, depending on how you look at it) crew. Chris Pine (as Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock) took to their roles like ducks to water – as did the rest of the hastily-assembled ensemble – and it really gave the film a sense of being back in a cosy old place where we could relax, even for audience members like me who aren’t massive Trekkies.
This sequel nods its head to previous films in the series, one in particular, but I found the nods to be suitably good natured and knowing, as opposed to cynical or forced. People who know the older films and the television series more deeply than I do might have a different reaction to these elements, especially in relation to the way the story pans out, but for me, Star Trek Into Darkness was a blast.
Abrams drops us right into an action sequence from the word go, wasting no time in reintroducing us to the characters, and there’s a quick bit of focus on Starfleet’s Prime Directive (which states that crews cannot interfere with the development of other civilisations), which was never mentioned in the first film. From there we move to futuristic London (a metal-and-glass metropolis) where ex-Starfleet soldier John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has just blown up an archive for unknown reasons. Cue a manhunt headed up by the Enterprise that will take Kirk’s crew into Klingon space – an act that could provoke an intergalactic war.
To say more would ruin much of the fun, but suffice it to say that the plot gallops along at a pace for most of the runtime. There’s quite a lot to get through, and while the film doesn’t feel overlong, the amount of plot and set pieces does diminish the time we spend with some of the supporting characters. This isn’t much of a criticism – after all, the reason we want to see more of the crew is because they’re such a likable ensemble – but the speed at which the film moves does also mean that the Klingon homeworld of Kronos, and indeed its inhabitants, are rather thinly sketched out, but again this a minor complaint, and perhaps something for a sequel to build on. The film also looks great, although the conversion into 3D, while technically well done, is a bit of a non-event.
Cumberbatch does a great job as John Harrison, even despite the fact that his character is introduced via the most hilariously portentous soundtrack explosion I’ve heard in a long while. He manages to conjure a sense of menace while not coming across as a stock character, which is unfortunately the way Eric Bana’s villain in the first film ended up feeling. This character is just more interesting – the script gives him a couple of standout moments, including one nicely-staged action set piece, and he ends up being a memorable antagonist; something the first film lacked.
But even despite Cumberbatch’s performance, the heart of the film still beats in the space between Kirk and Spock. Pine and Quinto have a great on-screen relationship in these roles, effortlessly playing off each other as the classic conflicts of logic vs. emotion and impulse vs. planning are further explored. That relationship pushes the one between Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) a little to one side, and relegates most of the supporting cast to little scenes and one-liners, but that’s ok – they can’t all be the hero. Kirk and Spock get a lovely scene late in the film which is the culmination of two films’ worth of interplay. It pays off and it’s a standout moment.
Star Trek Into Darkness is an operatic space adventure with three excellent central performances and a myriad of likable supporting roles. It takes what Abrams built in the first film and develops it, solving the problem of the villain and conjuring many memorable sequences. The pacey, twisting plot perhaps moves a little too quickly at times – a bit more room to breathe might have been nice – but there’s really very little to complain about in this warp-speed sequel. Abrams has taken it upon himself to revitalise the other big space opera franchise – Star Wars – in the years to come, but here’s hoping he doesn’t turn his back on Star Trek too soon. He’s the captain of this ship, and there is plenty of space left to explore.