JJ Abram's Star Trek sequel is a truly riveting and mesmerising journey packed with stunning visuals and a superb ensemble cast
The Star Trek film franchise returned to our screens a couple of weeks ago with its second installment, Star Trek: Into Darkness. Newly announced Star Wars director JJ Abrams returned to the fold to direct, although uncertainty surrounds his decision on directing a third, while the whole cast from the first movie are back, including Chris Pine as the charismatically arrogant Captain James T. Kirk, and Zachary Quinto as half human/half vulcan Spock. New additions to the cast include British actor, Alice Eve as Dr Carol Marcus and Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch as the film's primary antagonist, John Harrison. With Abrams having done a slap up job of rejuvenating the dying franchise back in 2009, there was obvious pressure on him to do the same with this sequel. Abrams recently said he was never a huge Trek fan when he made the decision to direct the franchise back in 2007, allowing him to not get bogged down in the Trek fanboy universe and start afresh from the beginning, bringing something new to not just Trek but to each individual character. He has returned to Into Darkness with the exact same approach, and it has absolutely paid off.
Into Darkness starts off where the last movie left us, with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on a mission to explore deep space and observe new planets. The whole gang is back, including Dr McCoy (Karl Urban), Montgomery Scott or 'Scotty' (Simon Pegg), Spock's love interest Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and of course helmsmen Hikaru Sulu (John Cho). Following a disastrous mission to a beautifully crimson yet primitive planet, Captain James T. Kirk is stripped of his official title, and taken off any future Enterprise missions.
In the mean time, terror ensues for Star Fleet as attacks are made against them by ex-Fleet officer, John Harrison. After an attack on the San Francisco headquarters, killing Kirk's mentor Christopher Pike, Kirk is re-instated as captain of the Enterprise, with Spock as his first mate. With Harrison in uninhabited Klingon territory, the crew's mission is to locate Harrison and kill him immediately. Yet with tensions running high between Humans and Klingon, any sort of intimidation by the Enterprise, even on uninhabited territories, could start an intergalactic war.
Having already lost Scotty due to moral issues in not being able to properly inspect missiles on board, the Enterprise also suddenly leaves its warp stream on it's way to Harrison, leaving the ship unnervingly floating in Klingon space. Left with no other choice, Kirk, now having changed his mind from killing Harrison to capturing him, in line with Fleet law, heads down to the planet with Spock and Uhura, capturing Harrison after a brief encounter with some hostile klingons.
Yet Harrison is manipulative, citing cover ups at Star Fleet as to why he is raging a campaign of terror against them. With Kirk seemingly trusting Harrison, not helping tensions on board, things take a turn for the worse as an ominous ship approaches, while Harrison is revealed to actually be the greatest Trek baddie of them all, Khan Noonien Singh! The Enterprise and its crew now face a interstellar battle to not just save themselves and the ship, but to save the true morality of Star Fleet.
Abrams could not have directed a more thrilling and action packed movie. From start to finish it never stops, taking us from London, to San Francisco, to Klingon space and the moons of Jupiter, it's truly an astonishing journey. Visually it's dazzling, and in terms of CGI it may possibly be one of the most impressive films I've seen. There is some classic Abrams lens flare, but thankfully it's kept to a minimum. It really feels like Abram has put real time and effort into making this, crafting such a breathtaking space epic. Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have done an excellent job on the plot, fusing this new Trek era and old ones alike, it's big reveal was also cleverly timed, and in all honesty, surprising.
Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman also did well to pull in the reigns on the story, any director would have ran away with a Kirk and Carol Marcus love story, and while signs of a romance were obviously there, the writers never divulge further, ideally allowing Kirk's relationships with other to evolve, while also setting them up nicely for the third movie. The film also struck a good balance between action, emotion and humour. The film is funny at the right times and tear jerking at the right times (specifically the superb Kirk/Spock scene on the engineering floor), Shane Black and the Iron Man 3 team, take note!
While this film is expectedly brilliant in its visuals and story alike, its real surprise is the general high quality of acting throughout. The ever evolving Chris Pine was again ideal as James T. Kirk, while of course he portrays him with typical boisterousness, charm and bravery, he certainly delivers in the more serious scenes. Kirk is often a complex character, always wanting to break the rules, yet striving for greatness in Star Fleet, Pine obtains the perfect balance of this divisie nature, while he also again proves to bounce so well off Zachary Quinto's Spock. Much like Pine, I find Quinto to be a superb Spock. From body position, to facial expressions, and even that nature of stillness that accompanies the vulcan, Quinto nails it. His ever evolving friendship with Kirk is a fascinating one too, and felt more genuine and true than any romance they could have whipped up. Quinto is particularly outstanding when he tries to portray the difficult job of Spock's emotional side.
The supporting cast are also great, Simon Pegg is of course an absolute delight on screen, not only proving to be funny, but also showing his acting can reach a deeper, more sincere level. It was nice that Scotty proved to be such a pivotal character in the end, meaning Pegg got more lines and scenes than I expected, the more Pegg, the better. I also loved Karl Urban's Dr McCoy/Bones, a hilariously shrewd and typically cantankerous portrayal of the Enterprises' chief medical officer, while Alice Eve's Carol Marcus was a nice addition to the film. You really grow to like every single character onboard, and each crew member seems like a vital component in succeeding in the Enterprise's mission. It's also great to see character evolution and growth in the supporting cast particularly in Scotty and Sulu, Abrams is surprisingly able to pull this off despite a large ensemble cast. We also get another look at Leonard Nimoy as older Spock, another nod to old Trek of course but also keeping us aligned with Abram's current universe, though he did not add much to the plot.
Yet, full praise must go to the incredible Benedict Cumberbatch. What a performance! He is the complete Trek villain, a Khan for the ages. His thunderous oration and delivering of lines matches that of even Alan Rickman, his performance is simply sensational. He's impervious and frightening whenever on screen, constantly menacing and unpredictable, you can't trust him, but you understand him. He is manic and intelligent, bionic and vengeful, yet calm and impatient all in one. Cumberbatch's Khan is a theatrically angry yet fallen figure and easily the best action villain in recent memory. I genuinely believe Cumberbatch is one in a million, one of those actors who comes across every so often who is able to sink into characters with ease, giving consistently powerful performances.
My only criticism, if you could even call it that, is that it truly never stops. It doesn't slow down for anyone, which personally I like, but for others I could see this becoming a problem.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is a more than worthy sequel to its predecessor, a captivating mix of both adrenaline pumping action and emotional punch. Visually it is faultless, seeing space in CGI has never looked better. Come for the visuals, come for the big fights and the charm of Kirk or the pedantic nature of Spock, but by all means stay for Cumberbatch's terrifying turn as Khan. You will leave the cinema feeling gripped, fascinated and more than satisfied. Honestly the best action movie of 2013 so far.