Star Trek Into Darkness – J.J. Abrams keeps the Enterprise soaring

Back in 2009 director J.J. Abrams, already famous for producing the hit TV show Lost and directing Mission: Impossible III, rebooted Star Trek for this generation. Abrams used a clever mix of fast-paced action and big laughs, as well as taking the original story in a fascinating new direction while still managing to keep the fans of the original show happy. With this formula Abrams was on to a winner and his version of Star Trek was a huge success. That also meant that there would be an inevitable sequel on the way…and after a 4 year wait, here it is. Titled Star Trek Into Darkness it seems to promise more thrills, more danger and, well, more darkness. But with sequels there are often pitfalls that come from a director trying to set the bar too high. Has J.J. managed to avoid this with his much-anticipated follow-up?

As soon as the film begins we are reintroduced to the crew of the USS Enterprise on their latest mission, and not much has changed since last time we saw them. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is still the maverick bad boy determined to do what he thinks is right rather than follow orders, while Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) is constantly undermining him by rigidly sticking to the rule book. The rest of the crew still remain – Uhura (Zoe Saldana) the ship’s communications officer, Bones (Karl Urban) the ship’s resident and grumpy doctor, Sulu (John Cho) the ship’s intelligent helmsman, Chekov (Anton Yelchin) the young navigator and of course Scotty (Simon Pegg) the ship’s comical engineer. But the balance of the crew is suddenly upset and their entire existence put in jeopardy by a man called John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a terrorist who is intent on destroying Starfleet. Soon Kirk and his crew are in hot pursuit of Harrison and determined to stop him, no matter what the cost…

Director J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman (who both wrote the first film) and Damon Lindelof have all achieved something special with this Star Trek sequel. Not only have they managed to match the first film in terms of smart story, gripping action and funny, sharp dialogue, but they have actually managed to surpass it with a plot of greater intensity, wider scope, bigger thrills and more at stake than ever before. Having already been introduced to the much-loved characters and their ways in the first Trek film, this leaves room for J.J. and the writers to drop us right into the action (literally) as soon as the film starts. This quick introduction means there is instantly more time for the intricate narrative to unfold, as well as leaving plenty of time for more of the crew’s adventures. Indeed the game has been upped for this sequel in terms of huge set pieces, in particular a couple of thrilling ones on alien planets, all of which have been superbly and intricately designed but that still have a touch of realism about them. Abrams direction for these big set pieces on these alien worlds, as well as on board the Enterprise and in other moments, is wonderful. His camera is kinetic, moving you along with the characters through the more elaborate action-packed scenes, barely leaving you a chance to breathe from the moment it begins. This results in a film that moves along at breakneck pace, but that is all the better for this. Yes, there is never a dull moment with this crew.

Part of the secret of the success of the first film, and again here, is the cast playing the crew and their easy, funny banter with each other. In particular the Kirk/Spock bromance is expanded on in this sequel and played to perfection by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Two actors couldn’t have been more suited to the roles than them – Pine creates a charming, rebellious and bold Captain Kirk and revels in every moment while he plays him. And Quinto is perfectly stoic and deadpan as Spock the half-Vulcan half-human who keeps his emotions at bay in order to let his firm theory of logic remain. The rest of the cast playing the crew are again brilliant in this sequel. Notable mentions are Zoe Saldana who has a much more involved role to play this time as the intelligent, strong-willed Uhura. Again both Karl Urban as Bones and Simon Pegg as Scotty also get more to do this time around, both who provide much of the comic relief in the story and are therefore the most memorable out of the other main characters.

However the same can’t be said for the rest of the crew. Despite having slightly more to do on the ship than last time, both John Cho and Anton Yelchin seem to get left behind in this sequel as the focus on them is lost. In addition to this we are introduced to a new character on board the Enterprise – Carol Marcus played by Alice Eve. But as with Cho and Yelchin although she too performs confidently and competently amongst the regular cast, her character becomes wholly forgettable and it becomes clear that she is simply there to move along the plot (there is also the inclusion of an unforgivably gratuitous moment involving her character, something which J.J. and the writers should never have used and which serves no valuable purpose). However these are all minor flaws of character and somewhat inevitable in a film such as this – I guess that’s what happens when you’ve got a big cast and an even bigger story.

However in this sequel it is the introduction of another new character who surpasses the crew, in terms of the story and in acting, and whose performance ensures that Star Trek Into Darkness is entirely gripping to watch. This is Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious and terrifying John Harrison. The addition of his character raises the already high stakes for the crew as he matches them for brains and brawn. Cumberbatch is perfect as Harrison, all cold intense stares and restrained movements with an unreadable expression that gives nothing away to Kirk or his crew, or even to the audience. Not only this but Cumberbatch gets some more than impressive action scenes to take part in and gets to kick some serious arse. All in all this makes for a brilliant villain, and a fascinatingly ambiguous one at that, who keeps you hooked to the intense story. Any scene featuring him is thrilling to watch.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a perfect sequel. High-octane action and thrills, clever and interesting plot, superb and realistic design throughout and marvellous set pieces all wonderfully directed by Abrams. Not only this but it is a lot funnier than its predecessor, which is saying something when the first film was already hilarious. And Benedict Cumberbatch’s amazing performance as a new villain seals the deal in making this a sequel to be reckoned with. A fast-paced film that will more than satisfy you, but leave you eager to see where the crew of the USS Enterprise head next. Bravo J.J. – you’ve done it again.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on June 15, 2013.

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