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  • 12A
  • Adventure, Sci-Fi
  • 2013
  • 132 mins

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness


Kirk, Spock and the younger, rebooted crew of the Starship Enterprise face a terrorist bent on wiping out Starfleet in JJ Abrams’ sequel to 2009’s blockbuster franchise-saver.


JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot of Star Trek barrelled out of the gate with absolute, unwavering confidence. Its lean, fresh take on the spacefaring series paid off, enchanting a new generation of Trekkies by blowing bloated continuity and Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic themes out of the airlock. Now that the dust has settled, the task is to follow it, to build on its predecessor’s clean slate, and to boldly go where no film has gone before.

But what’s most surprising is that, instead of searching for new life and new civilisations, this follow-up finds its confidence faltering, seeking solace and inspiration in the first batch of cinematic Trek adventures. Where 2009’s Star Trek revelled in the novelty of shearing away the baggage of TV series and ten uneven films, here Abrams and writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof pepper their popcorn-munching spectacle with a crescendo of fan-service references and even direct narrative homages to both Star Trek: The Original Series and franchise high-watermark Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan - key texts that, at 30+ years old, might require footnotes for some of those recent converts.

The ‘darkness’ that the crew are trekking into, though, is a little unclear. Sure, there is a little less swagger throughout, but this is hardly The Dark Knight. From the off, when shady antagonist John Harrison orchestrates a bombing at a Starfleet headquarters in London, the stakes are high, but even in the thick of the film’s action, there’s no sense of peril. The joke the first time around was that JJ Abrams had turned Star Trek into Star Wars and, once again, the thrilling, theme-park ride sequences are all as present as the grand, some would say pretentious sci-fi aspirations are absent.

Furthermore, many of the character relationships and themes are stuck in limbo. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a reckless hero wrestling with the responsibility of being a captain, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is an emotionally-repressed half-Vulcan who relentlessly follows logic and protocol, and the two verbally spar before coming to a mutual, melodramatic compromise that befits their volatile bromance.

What stops In Darkness from being stuck in thematic stasis is Harrison, or more specifically, Benedict Cumberbatch’s bravura performance. Harrison is one of those de rigueur terrorist baddies whose intelligence, power and chaotic lack of motivation know no bounds, but Cumberbatch was clearly destined for the big screen, and his theatrical, larger-than-life presence is the film’s real revelation.

After his rakish take on Sherlock Holmes and minor supporting roles in the likes of Four Lions, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse, he here enters the pantheon of British stage actors that enliven the Hollywood mainstream with grace and gravitas. At once, he embodies the crawling, reptilian poise of Brian Cox’s Hannibal Lecktor and the deliciously evil, carefully-enunciated control of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, but it’s his imposing frame that sets him apart. At numerous points, Kirk and Spock let loose on him with fists and frantic shouting, but Harrison just soaks it up. He’s an undefeatable nemesis, and the jabbering, endlessly-running-about-through-corridors Enterprise crew-members can’t possibly compare.

Harrison is a monolith, a target for all the fast-paced thrills that Abrams can muster, but he reflects back the emptiness of the enterprise with a measured baritone. For fans of 2009’s reboot, Star Trek Into Darkness delivers much of the same, but by invoking The Wrath Of Khan, it not only runs the risk of alienating the audience, it also loses sight of its prime directive of reinvigorating the franchise.

In a nutshell

Abrams’ difficult, second Trek is as brash, spectacular and energetic as its immediate predecessor, but, without novelty on its side, the Star Trek series retreats into the shadow of the very films it once so entertainingly spurned.

by Michael Leader

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