Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

FILM REVIEW: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

Kirk and Spock

Release date: 09/05/2013
2hrs 12mins |  12A
Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof
Director: JJ Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoey Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg

How much you get out of this film probably depends on how much you know about Star Trek. For newbies who only know Kirk as Chris Pine, it’s an enjoyable fast paced action flick with a likable cast and a strong villain. For those who worship at the alter of Roddenberry, this is less a movie and more a series of homages.

While it’s wonderful that the writers and directors have so much affection to the source material, on occasion it seems there is an assumed knowledge leaving exposition untold.

Not that it really matters for much of the film. There’s barely a chance to take breath as JJ Abrams directs at a relentless pace, starting with a bright action set piece before bringing the Enterprise back to Earth with a bump as Kirk has to learn the consequences of his actions. He keeps everything moving along at a frenetic pace, and while the marketing hinted at a somber Earth based affair, this is very much a space adventure.

This cast are excellent and now own the roles some considered untouchable. These iconic characters have been brought back to life and while in the first film it was all about meeting for the first time, there’s real pleasure to be found in seeing the crew working together on the bridge. Although has mannerisms are nothing like those of William Shatner, when Chris Pine smiles or simply says “Mr. Spock” he is Kirk. Similarly Quinto and Urban inhabit the parts of Spock and McCoy and there’s great opportunity for this trio to interact in the exact ways you would expect them to.

Aside from the regulars, Noel Clarke is conveys powerful emotions as a Starfleet officer who sets events into motion non speaking role that sets the entire plot in motion. Alice Eve plays Carol Marcus, a character first seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and played by Bibi Besch and while you can see a direct line between most previous incarnations, there’s no indication that this is the same character in anything other than name. The chemistry between her and Pine isn’t really there, but there’s little room in this film for anything approaching a romantic subplot among the action.

Benedict Cumberbatch is superb and chilling as the lead villain, channeling his inner Hans Gruber to great effect. The performance is particularly effective when interacting with and manipulating the crew of the Enterprise.  A general theme of vengeance pervades the film and while there is some attempt to make the threat personal, you never get the impression that Kirk and his crew are anything other than an obstacle in bringing down Earth and the Federation as a whole.

There are a couple of missteps that prevent Into Darkness from becoming truly great. Showing Alice Eve in her underwear is no less jarring in the film than in was in the trailer and seems to be a pandering move just to make sure the movie ticks the sexy ladies box. One of Star Trek’s most iconic alien races make an appearance and are somewhat underutilised. There’s also a cameo which, although it ties back to the first film, feels incredibly indulgent.

These slight misjudgments are few in what is a very strong entry in the Star Trek canon, however by evoking the past they invite comparisons and there the film is found lacking. While the scale is epic and cinematic, the emotional beats feel muted and perfunctory, haunted by the ghost of Star Trek’s past. Cinema can create a complex emotional landscape but here there is never as much resonance as have been seen in the finest hours of this franchise, perhaps because this crew don’t yet have quite the depth of back story yet.

It’s a curious mix with the visuals of blockbuster cinema  – the Enterprise has never had more spectacular corridors- but without the emotions to match. The final scene feels oddly like the end to the pilot of a TV show, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It means that you want to spend significantly more time on the bridge with this crew as they explore strange new worlds.

This isn’t quite a step up from the previous film, but perhaps it matches it and builds the reputation of 21st century Star Trek, as well as keeping the standards high for the blockbusters of 2013. It’s a smart and engaging popcorn movie, reverential to Star Trek’s past, but not quite able to match it.