Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana
You may like this if you liked: Star Trek (J. J. Abrams, 2009), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Michael Bay, 2011), Star Wars Saga (George Lucas et al, 1977 – 2005)
This is not a synopsis that should be written with too much detail as I do not want to spoil anything. Basically, Starfleet comes under attack from within by John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) a former high ranking officer who is basically a one man war machine with a very serious vendetta. After attacking a meeting of Starfleet’s highest ranking officers Kirk (Pine) and his team vow to travel to the other side of the universe to retrieve Harrison and make him answer for his crimes.
In a world dominated by blockbusters having half baked lazy plots (Iron Man 3) Into Darkness almost feels like a pleasant exception and a reminder that films can combine big with brains. There is a strong plot with plenty of twists and turns and genuinely emotional pay offs, but to say too much here would spoil it. After starting things off with a top blockbuster that pleased diehard fans and multiplex crowds alike J.J. Abrams has delivered a more confident and more complete sequel. Now with the origin story and character introductions out of the way Abrams and regular screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kutzman and Damon Lindelof have been able to focus on pushing these characters further and produce a fast paced and genuinely exciting and involving film. The opening sequence of the crew saving a planet from a huge volcanic eruption is big, bold and frantic that sets the tone for the rest of the narrative and the pace never stops. Also within this sequence Kirk and Spock’s (Quinto) loyalty and morality are seriously tested setting up some very important themes that dominate the entire narrative and provide one of the key emotional cores. This opening scene successfully combines big bold action sequences at a frantic pace that are driven by the decisions and actions of the characters involved creating more emotional involvement and payoff. This high standard is maintained throughout as just like in Skyfall, Into Darkness is predominantly a character driven narrative. This making it therefore so much more emotionally involving than most bog standard blockbusters, who complacently (and insultingly) think loud bangs and bright lights are enough. Despite admitting he perhaps used too many lens flares in the last one; J.J. Abrams does not shy away from them once again with Into Darkness. I saw the film in 2D so am not sure how these looked in 3D, but though perhaps they are sometimes unnecessary they add to the epic scale of how the film looks.
At just over two hours there is very rarely a lull in the pace as there is pretty much always something going on with big set piece being followed by even bigger set piece. The constant plot developments keep you hooked but yet there is always a constant feeling that Abrams is always in control. This being the future there is of course the inevitable outrageous things being achieved by mind numbing science with slightly confusing explanations that are said as characters are running, but when the film is this much fun that is forgivable. Though if you are the kind of person who hates that then you probably would not consider watching a Star Trek film in the first place.
One major factor that keeps all the frantic action together is the performances. All major characters are given great dialogue and make great use of it. Pine for me has made Kirk his own, feeling more confident in the role this time around and giving him real substance. He may well still be a maverick and a bit of a wise guy, but he is man of integrity and loyalty and the perfect blockbuster protagonist. Quinto is once again excellent, conveying the internal conflict felt by Spock with absolute perfection as well as great comic timing. Karl Urban once again provides reassuring substance and humour as well typical metaphors as Bones. Cumberbatch excels in his role providing genuine menacing presence; lesser actors would have struggled to avoid hamming it up and sounding like a pantomime villain but his character is legitimately sinister and his motivations are explained and give his character genuine depth. All other characters are left on the sidelines, getting their chance to shine only on the occasional moments when the narrative needs their unique skills but they are all once again excellent. Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin’s accents are admittedly a little over the top, but never border on annoying. Both characters provide effective and genuinely funny comic relief throughout. However with so many characters there is never a sense of overkill and it is all handled well, and the main focus is the Kirk/Spock bromance and their relationship is what gives Into Darkness genuine heart and soul.
Just like the first film, Into Darkness has some subtle and less subtle references to the past to please hardened Trekkies. I do not have excessive knowledge myself of the history of Star Trek so there could easily be more than what I noticed. Some have argued that during a key emotional moment a following narrative development that nods to the past undermines it a little, I personally did not find this the case and in some ways added to it.
Big, bold, breathless and beautiful, combined with genuine heart and soul. J.J. Abrams has upped the game even higher to produce a blockbuster that delivers on all levels and sets a very high standard for the summer ahead.