Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Chris Pine, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana
Plot: When a seemingly unstoppable force strikes from within Starfleet, it is left to Captain Kirk and the fleet of the Enterprise to thwart it.
J.J. Abrams is the new self-appointed master of the universe. Not only is he at the helm of the Star Trek reboot franchise, but he is also going to be orchestrating the next big delve into the world of Star Wars, that of Episode VII which is currently in pre-production and slated for release in 2015. While Wars boasted big-budget CGI, huge explosions and panoramic set-pieces, Trek is more commonly associated with lo-fi effects, tight polo necks (the red ones mean you’re destined to be a short-lived extra) and polystyrene boulders that inhabit every conveniently oxygen-rich planet explored. Having re-invented Star Trek in 2009 with Star Wars special effects, Abrams cranks everything up another notch and sends the young crew of the Enterprise on their first proper mission – but does he manage to retain the heart and soul of the original TV series?
The USS Enterprise is sent on a mission to Planet Nibiru, where a volcano threatens to erupt, killing the primitive inhabitants. Mr. Spock’s (Zachary Quinto), life is placed in grave danger whilst initiating the device that will neutralise the lava and make the volcano safe – Captain Kirk (Pine) breaks protocol and is forced reveal the ship to the bemused onlookers whilst rescuing Spock. Back on Earth, Kirk is reprimanded and demoted to First Officer for his actions, with Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) assuming control of the Enterprise. Meanwhile, a Starfleet agent named John Harrison (Cumberbatch) successfully hatches a plan to bomb a secretive installation in London. When a meeting of high-ranking officers including Kirk and Pike is convened, Harrison attacks the office via a gunship, causing heavy casualties before escaping.
Fleet Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) then authorises Kirk to hunt Harrison and eliminate any future threat. However, they learn that their target has fled to the home of the Klingons, Kronos. As relations with the Klingons are at an all-time low and war is imminent, the Enterprise is equipped with 72 long-range photon torpedoes which are to be aimed at Harrison’s location and fired. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Simon Pegg) is convinced that the torpedoes are dangerous and resigns from his post as engineer with Chekov being appointed as his replacement. Marcus’ scientist daughter Carol (Alice Eve) comes aboard with a false identity. Upon their arrival at Kronos, Kirk, Spock and Uhura (Saldana) are trapped by Klingon ships and forced down. On the point of surrender, the trio are saved by a mysterious figure who fires on the group of Klingons, killing them. It is revealed to be Harrison himself, who has quite a story to tell in exchange for a deal which may have dire consequences for everyone at Starfleet.
The first film in the current Star Trek franchise reboot took us back to the origins of how the crew of the Enterprise came together, which made for a very interesting plot which we could all follow, even if being a Trekkie was an alien concept. Into Darkness launches us into their very first adventure, which turns out to be a straightforward battle between good and evil. While this has annoyed certain film critics for its simplicity (let’s not forget that Trek is aimed at a wide, global audience and not just the Ukrainian art house intelligentsia), it is to the benefit of the franchise that everything is finally up and running with a simple storyline, whilst concentrating on the spectacle of CGI instead of the intricacies of Starfleet politics. This is, after all, aimed at both young and old; fans of the TV series and a new generation who are ready to embrace Kirk and Co. Therefore the big major plus point is the special effects. A great deal of time (and money) has been invested into taking our breath away and in the main, it succeeds. Seldom have we seen a science-fiction film come alive on the screen in such a way – yes it is very loud and fast-paced throughout, but Abrams has succeeded in making it tremendous fun.
Chris Pine could very easily have parodied William Shatner’s famous staccato-style speech pattern and mannerisms to a diluted extent, but he never feels the temptation to do so – his Captain Kirk is ripe for the 21st Century (in terms of reality, at least). Zachary Quinto, who out of make-up looks about as far removed from Mr. Spock as is possible to get, is once again on form as he helps to develop the bromance between himself and Kirk (watch out for a rather tender moment betwixt a glass screen, which mirrors Spock’s death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), despite his stiff and starchy, by-the-book demeanour. Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison is suitably menacing, even if he doesn’t hit the heights of Hannibal Lecter in his single-glazed prison cell, Cumberbatch proves to be an effective villain and avoids stumbling over into pantomime territory. The supporting cast is very proficient, except for Simon Pegg, whose camp Scotty has a few good one-liners but irritates more than entertains and Anton Yelchin’s Pavel Chekov, whose pseudo-Russian accent sounds like a cassette tape being played backwards whilst being doused in vodka. J.J. Abrams’ direction is top-class and his use of lens flare in almost every scene harks back to the sci-fi films of the 1960s and 70s – a very deliberate and fantastic idea, even if it takes a little getting used to.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a terrifically entertaining sequel that might not have the same level of characterisation as the 2009 original, but makes up for this in its grand design. Star Trek and Star Wars might become particularly intertwined over the next few years due to the presence of Abrams on both projects, but if Darkness is anything to go by, then we’re not going to be short of blockbuster entertainment over the next few years.