Kirk faces his greatest challenge yet in the best Trek for years
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
J.J. Abrams, Chris Pine
When a terrorist threatens Starfleet, Captain James T. Kirk goes on mission of vengeance, with deadly consequences.
In 2009, American filmmaker JJ Abrams took the all but defunct Star Trek cinematic universe and beat it soundly into a new, crowd-pleasing form. With numerous set pieces, a fun tone and some very attractive crew members it was a successful reboot, though not the box office titan you might expect - making just $385 million on a $150 million budget.
I had fun with that Trek but it’s a film which suffers from repeat viewings, exposing a paucity of real story and character, a limp villain in Eric Bana’s Nero and altogether too much time spent getting people into the right chairs.
With much of that established, things are already in a better position for Star Trek Into Darkness (its full, official title) and it’s a film that isn’t afraid to surprise its audience, even if that may ultimately disappoint some of them.
Into Darkness is a pretty grim affair. The jokey tone of the first outing is all but absent and from the very beginning our crew is sombre, determined and not all that much fun. But it’s a direct response to the events of the picture, going down a route which sees the film touch on the nature of terrorism and the difficulty in finding an appropriate response.
Thankfully, these elements are not the focus of the film but their presence does reflect a more mature aspect, something which feeds into a transition in the main character of Kirk. At the start of this picture he’s still an upstart, making decisions on the fly with little thought of the consequences. It leads to a direct confrontation with Bruce Greenwood’s Admiral Pike and is the spur for much of the final act.
There’s plenty going on in Into Darkness, including a look at the more shady side of Starfleet and a teased mystery worthy of the creator of lost, and it all reaches a satisfying conclusion. Naturally, many of these questions stem from the new character of John Harrison, played with some considerable relish by Brit Benedict Cumberbatch. While his actions are undoubtedly villainous, his intelligence means that there’s usually some cold reasoning behind it. His secrets have a big impact on the way the story unfolds and are best left unspoiled but suffice to say you may find some sympathy for the character before the end.
Cumberbatch is the vivid, and immensely physical, villain the universe needed and there’s no competition on the acting stakes. Chris Pine is a charming lead but he’s more at home with the silly stuff, though he works hard to sell the darker moments. And in terms of screen time its really only Zachary Quinto’s Spock who gets much of a look in. It’s a tough role, with the actor forced to reign in those emotions even in the direst moments and can make him difficult to really empathise with.
The other players are all present and correct, and there are some fine new additions in the form of Peter Weller and an excellent (if underused) AliceEve but some barely get more than a line of dialogue. Anton Yelchin’s Chekov is one such casualty, while Zoe Saldana milks the fleeting moments she gets. Only Simon Pegg really get the chance to have much presence, being rolled out for more than just light entertainment this time.
It’s really all about the trio of Kirk, Spock and Harrison and that works just fine, limiting the need for excessive cross-cutting as the spectacular final moments approach and making some solid connections to previous Trek adventures without coming across as too pandering.
At 132 minutes there’s a lot of Into Darkness to go around and the momentum doesn’t let up for a moment. Dodgy dealings, conspiracies, new characters and intimate set pieces all provide for an efficient piece of entertainment, though perhaps one that is a little less crowd-pleasing than the 2009 effort. It’s undoubtedly a better film though, a sign of maturing skills from director JJ Abrams who is starting to find his own voice beyond wild plot twists and homage to past masters.
Star Trek Into Darkness is the finest film yet from JJ Abrams, something that bodes well for his future take on that other great franchise, Star Wars Episode VII. Great action, a compelling story and a spectacular performance from Benedict Cumberbatch make this one of the highlights of the summer movie season.