StarTrek-1Back in 2009, J.J. Abrams did quite a remarkable thing; he made Star Trek cool again. After the mis-fire that was Star Trek: Nemesis, it seemed that Gene Roddenberry’s vast and unique universe had lost all resonance and relevance on the big screen. Thankfully, that was not the case, as Abram’s reboot of the franchise rejuvenated the series with a jolt of adrenalin straight to the warp core. While many considered Star Trek to be a world where you were only welcome if you were well versed in Klingon, Abrams opened the door to the mainstream and delivered one of the most exciting space-action spectacles of the past decade. The pressure certainly was on for the inevitable follow up. There was the question as to whether this new alternative timeline (wonderfully established by wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-space-logic) would hark back to the previous entries more measured and philosophical themes, or if it would continue pretty much in the same vein as before; fast, exciting, relentless, but still with the characters at its heart. I can tell you now that it has gone for the latter. Faster, faster, faster is the name of the game, making for yet again another piece of super kinetic and thoroughly exciting action cinema from the man whose next foray is into a galaxy far, far, away.

Fresh from a skirmish with a primitive alien species, the crew of the Enterprise is called back to Starfleet when a terrorist attack in London requires immediate action. The man behind the attack, the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who once was a member of Starfleet, becomes the target of a galaxy wide manhunt. When a further attack by Harrison raises the personal stakes for one James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), the Captain of the Enterprise takes it upon himself to send his crew out alone to catch the fugitive. It is a mission thwart with danger and the risk of Intergalactic War with the fearsome Klingons. However, as Kirk, Spock (Zachery Quinto) and crew pursue, they soon begin to realize that they are  involved in a much larger conspiracy, and that John Harrison is not all that he seems to be. StarTrek-2

The beauty of operating within a new alternative timeline is that Abrams and his writers (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof) have the freedom to work within familiar territory and have the capacity to revise certain aspects and play with audience and fan expectation. There is plenty here that evokes memories of past Trek adventures (one in particular), but does so as to construct an air of familiarity before pulling the rug from under your feet. It makes for a very exciting, emotionally engaging and unpredictable experience as a spectator and as a fan. Some references to the franchise’s past are more subtle than others, but there is certainly enough to fuel the fan-boy spirit and turn you into a shrieking mess of delight (new look Klingons, Come On!), making it rather hard for you to keep your critical head on.

While the catering to the fans is well and truly present (and maybe not quite as necessary as the writer’s seem to think), the action sequences do more than enough to cater to the uninitiated. And boy, do they come at you fast. The film is positively unrelenting in its pacing. There is not much room to breath as Abrams delivers exhilarating action by the photon load. His signature lens flare style once again adds a visceral element to the space environments and makes the action much more dazzling, frantic but never incomprehensible. After an Indiana Jones-esque opening, the film delivers chases,  phaser shoot-outs, fist fights, space-jumps, space-ship skirmishes, and even a chase at warp speed. The invention and the impeccable mounting of these sequences are second to none and keep you on the edge of your seat, ensuring you stay on board the roller-coaster by quite simply never giving you a moments chance to step off. At is essence it is a pared down revenge flick that bursts with momentum and purpose, not so much boldly going as just simply going; as quick and as action-paced as it can.

MILD SPOILERS AFOOT.
YE HATH BEEN WARNED.

StarTrek-3The pacing does work against the film’s finale however. Due to the film’s relentlessness, when it does finally come to a halt it feels rather abrupt and rushed in order to make sure the film doesn’t run over a comfortable 2 hours 1o. It smacks of compromise and there is not a great sense of closure, with the script lazily recycling the ending of the previous installment almost beat for beat. If at least five minutes had been given to allow the audience to reach a suitable pace and to catch their breath before wrapping up proceedings, it would allow the ending to be much more measured and not as sudden, unfortunately that is not the case. However, it does certainly leave you wanting more, as Into Darkness was a ride that I was in no hurry to get off from.

One of the most successful components of the reboot was the pitch-perfect cast led by Pine and Quinto, and once again the cast proves to be one of the film’s stronger aspects. More time is given to the bro-mance between Kirk and Spock, and it does well to emotionally resonate in pivotal moments. The film deals quite heavily with the theme of morality and the acceptance of death as an inevitability. While this theme is generally well balanced and played particularly well by Pine and Quinto, it has perhaps come at too early a time in this franchise. These characters are still young and fresh, these themes should not really play until a later date, but it does certainly allow the title to live up to its name. A lot of the supporting characters get lost in the mix with most of the attention given to the inter-play between Kirk and Spock. Simon Pegg’s Scotty has quite a pivotal role, and Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is utilized much more as Spock’s girlfriend, amounting to some enjoyable comic beats. Many of the other characters get lost in the mix but are all still given their moments to shine.

Now on to the villain of the piece. I will not divulge much in regards to the nature of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, although the twist is one of Abrams more unsurprising reveals of his career. In regards to Cumberbatch’s performance; the boy has done good. He is cold, detached and quite stoic; equally mysterious, compelling, and down-right terrifying. It is a shame then that he is not quite given justice with the amount of screen-time that he has, nor in the dialogue he is given. Much of his dialogue is driven by heavy exposition, which even for an actor of Cumberbatch’s caliber, can be quite hard to deliver while still forming a layered and StarTrek-4motivated performance. Yet he delivers where it counts, proving to be surprisingly intimidating in his physical presence and strength. Some fans may not be pleased, but Cumberbatch proves to be a domineering presence in bigger budget fair. And long may he continue to do so.

Into Darkness perhaps does not have the same effect the reboot had back in 2009, it isn’t quite as fresh this time around and the script is not as balanced to allow enough time to be shared amongst the characters. But the style and energy is firmly in place, and it is just too darn exciting to truly allow anything to bother you too much. Perhaps as I reflect over time I might happen upon more factors that bother me (as has happened with Iron Man 3) but at this current moment in time, Star Trek Into Darkness stands above Iron Man 3. The action is not as strong as some of the spectacle in Iron Man, but its balance of character and break-neck pace push it above Shane Black’s still very impressive Summer blockbuster. Although it is unlikely that J.J. Abrams will return to the Captain’s Chair, he has left the franchise in a safe and promising place, although I do think it might be time to slow the pace down somewhat and bring back some of the wonder of exploration that Star Trek inhabited under the caring eyes of Gene Roddenberry.  An adrenalin shot of a movie whose positives outweigh the effect of it faults. There may not be a lot of logic in that, but who cares when it is this much fun.

4/5- Exciting to say the least; Into Darkness is a non-stop relentless ride to the outer limits and back; filled with dazzling action, stirring emotion and of course, plenty of lens flare. Abram’s phasers are certainly set to stun.

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