It’s good Jim but not as good as the first one and maybe, just maybe Abrams' script breaks the Prime Directive but is it more than just into dorkness again for Trekkies?
One of the greatest and precious few pleasures of Hollywood’s desperate on-going obsession with selling us back the dreams of our youth (or retro-fitting old favourites for a new audience) was J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek movie.
Abrams is an uber-fan who truly nailed it with 2009's super slick re-boot. He served up satisfying proof that great stories, great characters, and a bloody cool space ship were timeless attractions that transcended Hollywood's depressing retrophilia.
Having laid down both his love and loyalty to the original series, the director manoeuvres the reclaimed space opera into deeper and darker realms in this largely successful sequel. As with Gene Roddenberry’s vision, it is pulp sci-fi Jim but not as we know it. Intergalactic peril lurks behind every star but there also is humanity, lessons learnt, and nicely-timed humour in Into Darkness.
We meet Kirk and Spock again in a cracking opening sequence that has more than a touch of Butch and Sundance meets Indiana Jones. On a surface trip to a volcanic outpost, they find themselves pursued by a bunch of primitive alien locals as the whole place is about to erupt into a supernova of lava. It's a mission undertaken like a boyish escapade by Kirk and it lands him in big trouble back at Starfleet Command in San Francisco.
But events over in London are about to overtake dull old federation politicking. A renegade Starfleet officer named John Harrison is carrying out a series of terrorist attacks in bloody protest over a secret Starfleet operation code-named Section 31, a title which does not bode well for future generations of Irish journalists. With a non-collateral new generation photon torpedo on board The Enterprise, Kirk and crew are tasked with tracking down and eliminating the now absconded Harrison in his own private Tora Bora deep in Klingon territory.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Harrison is a baddy with a brain the size of a small planet and he has a coolly-detached God complex not unlike a certain resident of 221b Baker Street. He's also clearly the best actor on board and everyone else is in his destructive orbit as he dismantles Kirk and his crew in a rich, creamy baritone. Pity then that Chris Pine as Kirk has decided to all but jettison his excellent William Shatner impression for a kind of blander Dan Dare-type space hero.
So we have Kirk, the tearaway Iowa farm boy turned maverick Starfleet Captain pitted against an enemy inside with the mother lode of all grudges. Of course, the Captain's sense of justice prevents him from doing the obvious and torpedoing the freak into the next millennium and this is where Into Darkness hits warp speed with engaging plot moves and some great action scenes involving both elegant spaceships and hand-to-hand combat.
It is not all smooth running however. In his first Star Trek movie, Abrams needlessly crow-barred Leonard Nimoy into the story by foisting a torturously complicated and boring time vortex script device onto us. Annoyingly, he’s at it again with Into Darkness and we must sit through another silly plot convolution to justify some of the more fanciful scenes.
But at least Into Darkness is always marvellous to look at. Abrams‘ gift for magicking up sparkling future-scapes is superb - towering skyscrapers disappear high above cloud level in the distance in 24th century London just like a Chris Foss designed book jacket or a Roger Dean album cover. The U.S.S. Enterprise herself may be the real star here and we see Her variously zooming into elastic warp speed, spinning crazily like a wounded Pterodactyl, and, doing something truly extraordinary in the movie’s Chariot of The Gods-referencing opening sequence.
With Cumberbatch glowering and Kirk crinkling his dimples and flexing his becoming mandible, the second most compelling presence here is Zachary Quinto's eerily-good Spock. At one crucial point, he delivers a very impressive monologue about how logic is not in fact the polar opposite of emotion but Quinto does have one scene which I found jarring as Abrams plays fast and loose with Spock’s own inner Prime Directive.
Karl Urban as Bones does his country doctor in space act again and tragically, Simon Pegg as Scotty has far too much screen time. He continues to misjudge the part and plays the Enterprise's Chief Engineer as a buffoon and along with his crater-faced sidekick, they are the twin Jar Jar Binks of the piece.
No matter. Watching this entertaining if unoriginal sequel, my brain went into a warp drive of giddy childhood memory on more than one occasion. It may not have the delightful bolts of familarity of his first Star Trek, but Abrams continues to mix the epic and the intimate nicely. Into Darkness never leaves the complexity of human relationships unexplored amid the gliding space craft, the roar of ballistics and the exploding bulkheads.
All this and a Tribble. A Tribble!