Release date: 9th May 2013

Director: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Alice Eve, John Cho

Review by Peter Gray

With his take on ‘Star Trek’ in 2009, director J.J. Abrams essentially rebranded what you could say was a flailing franchise.  Giving the film a slicker look, focusing on its action content, and casting a series of attractive up-and-comers allowed audiences to appreciate this keystone of science-fiction through new eyes.  If you’ve been a ‘Trekkie’ since the shows inception in 1966, a fan of the more modern spin-off TV programs, or a follower of the original film series, there’s no denying that the new-age take on ‘Star Trek’ is equally as enjoyable and clearly holds a respect for its source material.  Wisely though Abrams has created this new franchise with the intent of rounding up his own line of ‘Trekkies’ as his films have been structured in such a way that it isn’t a necessity to have any prior knowledge of the ‘Star Trek’ universe.

Science fiction films in general tend to not always evoke the most enthused reaction from the general movie going public, and you’d be forgiven for believing that a prerequisite in the field is non-sensical jargon that ultimately numbs the mind, but Abrams, along with writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof have compiled a film that is fresh, persistent in its enthusiasm, and over-flowing with genuinely enthralling action –  and none of it at the cost of telling a compelling story with well-conceived characters.  As exciting as ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ is, and rarely a moment appears when we are able to catch our breath, this isn’t a case of style over substance with the stunning visuals beautifully balanced by a witty script and robust performances.

The successful culmination of these ingredients is evident right from the film’s opening sequence where commanding officer Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and chief medical officer Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) are planning an escape from the planet Nibiru (a simply gorgeous looking set-piece if ever there was one) which almost costs them the life of Spock (Zachary Quinto), an executive and science officer on the USS Enterprise.  When they return to the Starfleet headquarters in San Francisco, where the respective top players are all less than enthused with the recklessness that Kirk and co. displayed, a one man terror chamber by the name of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) attacks with the threat of leaving Earth in ruins.  Armed with 72 proton torpedoes, Kirk and his Enterprise crew pursue Harrison who leads them on a chase that eventually exposes a hidden agenda within the torpedoes as well as uncovering the reasoning behind his violent attack on Starfleet.  On the surface it’s a story we’ve experienced many times over but in the hands of Abrams it all seems so crisp and innovative.

As in the earlier film, the casting is one of the big successes and, despite the enormity of the ensemble involved, everyone gets a fair chance to strut their collective stuff.  Pine, proving he’s far more than just a handsome mug, really comes into his own as Kirk here; sure he’s still a brash womanizer (early on in the film we seem him enjoying the company of two alien sisters) but he had to grow from that, and his progression to the leader of his crew plays out rather naturally.  There’s also ample screen-time devoted to the constantly evolving yet utterly uneasy friendship between him and Spock, which ranges from snide comments to one another to an eventual dramatic breakdown.  This in turn highlights Quinto’s performance as Spock who so beautifully handles his characters struggle with expressing emotion, a trait that allows the film to showcase its humanity outside of all the bells and whistles created by the effects team.  Simon Pegg as chief engineer Scotty and Urban’s Bones McCoy provide more of the light-hearted moments, both bringing a unique sense of comedic flare to the proceedings without simply seeing their roles relegated to that of the “comic relief”.

But it all comes down to Cumberbatch as Harrison.  The less known about his character the better, but suffice to say enthusiasts of the actor will not be disappointed, and those not familiar with his work will undoubtedly walk away as admirers.  He is a mesmeric actor, and though it calls for his character to be quite dramatic, Cumberbatch never falls to caricature.  In fact so expertly performed and well written is the character that he winds up being a villain you actually care for, something that isn’t an easy task when his actions cost the loss of countless innocents.

‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ is, quite simply, a superb and near-perfect blockbuster cinema experience.  It’s the definition of a big movie, but not one that is insulting to its audience.  Abrams has crafted that rarity in which a sequel has outdone its predecessor in almost every conceivable way, and considering the high calibre film ‘Star Trek’ was, that wasn’t an easy feat to achieve.

My rating 4.5/5 (Out of this world)

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