Review: Star Trek Into Darkness
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Set your phasers to stunning, but your anticipation to subdued...
[Some spoilers follow. So if you'd like to go in blind – or into darkness – then don't read on until you've seen the film...]
Star Trek: Into Darkness is an impressive and enjoyable blockbuster, make no mistake about it (though we'd still like to know just what Paramount's marketing bods have done with the colon that belongs in the middle of that title). It's fast, full of action, frequently funny and pits characters we like against a credible villain in a tightly-plotted tale of revenge.
It's also, somehow, a four-star film that's simultaneously a bit of a letdown.
Cast and crew aren't to be blamed here, but rather the raising of the bar by both JJ Abrams' franchise-rescuing reboot and other semi-serious popcorn movies like The Dark Knight. Abrams revived a moribund sci-fi product with verve and wit while Christopher Nolan's technical expertise and superb cast meant that a film about a crime-fighting billionaire in a bat costume felt important and grown-up.
Yet despite Into Darkness ticking every necessary box – convincing bad guy, slick story, technical expertise – you're more likely to react with a shrug than the air punch 2009's Star Trek provoked. There's much enjoyment to be had but this sequel goes solidly, rather than boldly.
The action kicks off with what you might call a cold open, if it didn't involve a volcano. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) sprint and quip through a chase sequence before Abrams gets everyone back on the bridge of the Enterprise and reveals that, if you tease him for his love of lens flare, he'll just double his efforts to obscure some of every shot with refracted light. While there are some stunning visuals throughout – one weaving dogfight makes the prospect of an Abrams-directed X-Wing battle even more appetising – Into Darkness is, like Iron Man 3, a summer blockbuster that should only be seen in 2D. Sure, the 3D's reasonably effective in some energetic set-pieces but this doesn't atone for lens flare becoming yet more distracting, or the queasiness induced by interspace battles at warp speed.
From the strong and comfortable opening, we move to London in 2259.55, where Noel Clarke's young father character is bribed by Benedict Cumberbatch's steely, deep-voiced stranger into enacting a terror attack in exchange for a drug that will save the life of Clarke's dying daughter. Of course, Cumberbatch isn't just a pharmaceutical entrepreneur with destructive tendencies, but a madman waging 'a one-man war against Star Fleet', his alma mater.
As the scale of his villainy becomes clear, Kirk and co face employers' reprimands, a dangerous clash with some Klingons and political machinations with a horrifying cost. Whether 'Earth will fall', as the tagline claims, is dubious, but there's enough rumination on instincts, emotion and sacrifice to make the stakes seem just about high enough.
The cast are, by and large, fantastic, with Pine sparky and charismatic again and at his best when bouncing off Zachary Quinto's stolid but sensitive Spock and Urban's typically exasperated Bones (who gets a great 'Dammit man!' moment in the third act). Simon Pegg's again amusing as Scotty but saddled with some jargon-heavy dialogue, while John Cho and Anton Yelchin manage to make an impression despite only playing a supplementary role in the story. It's a pity that Alice Eve, a newcomer to the franchise as science officer/eye candy Dr Carol Marcus, isn't given much more to do than titillate in an underwear scene so gratuitous you'd swear Michael Bay had taken Abrams' place in the director's chair.
The trump card however is, unsurprisingly, Cumberbatch, who doesn't just steal the film but saunter off with it tucked under his arm. He's a menacing mix of brains and brawn – it's as if Sherlock has cleaned up his vices and focused on getting an endorphin high in the gym. Cumberbatch isn't playing a sociopath here – he's a psychopath who can verbally spar with the quick-witted Kirk just as easily as he can withstand a beating. A potential misstep in the middle of the film as the plot moves from the pyrotechnic to philosophical just about pays off thanks to Cumberbatch's raw, wounded revelation of Harrison's motives while the Briton's physicality in the climax makes up for the slightly underwhelming action.
Of course, it would be unfair to expect a sequel to carry the same shock of the new as a franchise reboot, but it's a pity this follow-up doesn't feel quite as playful as its predecessor. It's not especially 'dark', either, with Kirk rebounding from a seemingly serious punishment in about ten minutes and an initially surprising decision from the Enterprise crew wiped clean of ethical ambiguity almost immediately.
That said, this sequel still soars in its confidence and flair. Not every joke or callback to the original series works, but events move so quickly and with such aplomb on both sides of the camera that even if Abrams does abandon the Enteprise's five-year mission for a trip to a galaxy far, far away, he's left Kirk and co in rude health. And made us even more excited for Episode VII...
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