To warp a common phrase, Star Trek: Into Darkness is very much one step backwards and two steps forward. Certainly the opening twenty minutes seem worryingly familiar. Kirks arrogance get’s him in trouble and demoted, Bruce Greenward’s Pike finds him in a dive bar to offer words of wisdom and Kirk is involved in weird inter-alien coitus. Fortunately this slight regression in character is short-lived when Benedict Cumberbatch’s villainous John Harrison attacks an emergency Starfleet meeting incurring the wrath of Kirk who subsequently sets off on a manhunt to get justice for the people Harrison has murdered.
And from then on warp is fully engaged and the phases are set to stun as J.J Abrams leads us on a relentless chase across space as the crew of the Enterprise grapple with the lethal John Harrison. In the hands of a lesser director this remorseless pace might mean a severe drop in characterization, but not with Abrams who balances character and action better than anyone else in Hollywood. Whilst some fans of the old Star Treks may find issue with the franchise’s move away from the more philosophic approach the television series took; Abrams does stick to one aspect of the original series rigidly, that of the Kirk-Spock relationship.
No longer nemeses, their bromance is in full flow, played to perfection by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Their relationship has something of a Holmes-Watson dynamic to it, as Kirk grows increasingly frustrated at Spock’s constant logic to the extent that he can’t even insult him anymore. However much like the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Watson, their deep friendship is clear but it’s only towards the end that these feelings are properly realised in a brilliant piece of writing.
Into Darkness does however, trip up and again, it is with its villain. The biggest flaw in J.J. Abrams first Star Trek film was that it lacked a good villain. Whilst Eric Bana was fun enough, he was just a bit superficial and acted more of a catalyst to getting the crew all together. Whilst John Harrison is definitely an upgrade, you can’t help but feel that Abrams missed a step. Much of his formidable intellect was promised in the various trailers and promos but there’s not a whole lot of evidence to support that in the film, indeed the film concentrates mainly on his overwhelming physical superiority rather than his intelligence. Cumberbatch is nevertheless brilliant with what he’s given; injecting Harrison with a Sherlock-esque sense of superiority whilst introducing physicality we’ve never seen in him before. Whilst he spends a lot of his time simply glowering, when he does speak, it’s which such gravitas you can’t help but listen to him.
The rest of the Enterprise don’t fare much better. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura exists purely to provide an amusing love triangle between herself, Spock and Kirk. Karl Urban’s Bones and Simon Pegg’s Scotty provide some comic relief whilst Alice Eve as Carol Marcus, a new addition to the Enterprise, is woefully cutout.
Into Darkness is nevertheless an improvement on its predecessor in almost every area. With Abrams’s confident visual panache and the injection of heart with Kirk and Spock’s vastly developed relationship, if Abrams doesn’t ever return to the Star Trek universe he’s built a solid foundation for his successor to build on; Which will be no easy task.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is released in cinemas Thursday 9th May.]]>