STEPHEN BERMINGHAM finds the reboot sequel entertaining but ultimately too far outside the Trek universe.
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch
Running Time: 132 min
“The needs of the many outweigh…” he is cut off. It doesn’t matter; we know what he is going to say next, even if we can’t declare it publicly.
My fingers have discretely parted into the salute in my popcorn free hand. I must be discrete. Despite Game of Thrones, and re-launches of Battlestar Gallactica and Doctor Who glamorising geek culture, it is still not quite socially acceptable to be a Star Trek fan in the present climate and I must control my inner-fanboy in order to write this. As 2009’s Star Trek proved, you don’t have to be a nerd to enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness, but enjoy is all one can do with this above-average, if not stunning, action movie.
The story begins simply: The crew are reunited, Earth is threatened by a war against mankind waged by the enigmatic John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and, as the manhunt to find him begins, Kirk will come face-to-face with perhaps his greatest adversary (no spoilers!). Into Darkness is thoroughly entertaining and an immense improvement on its predecessor. Like The Dark Knight, with the universe’s characters and histories safely established, J.J. Abrams can allow both his cast and his writers (Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman return, joined by Damon Lindelof of LOST fame) greater freedom with the script. The tone, dialogue and comedic timing are far more confidently handled, the appearance of the 23rd Century is more striking and moments such as the terror attacks and the introduction of the Klingons are superbly choreographed.
It ably caters for everyone and therein lies its weakness. Despite superb popcorn- munching action, elaborate visuals and Benedict Cumberbatch, it is far from the profound and changing experience that it is marketed to be.
As for performances, the same praise goes to the same people. Zachary Quinto triumphs as a cool but turbulent Spock, and fans will still be gawping at Karl Urban’s near reincarnation of Bones McCoy. But there is no doubt that Cumberbatch steals the show as the principle villain. Think Loki played by Alan Rickman, exuding limitless charisma, a dangerous on-screen presence and delicious moral ambiguity in his Hannibal Lector-like gaol sequences, and inflicting an inferred signature method of death to rival Heath Ledger’s pencils.
Yet, the offenders too remain the same as Chris Pine, Anton Yelchin and John Cho brood and blunder their way through two hours and it is their (particularly Pine’s) inability to sustain any emotional core which places the film’s narrative a firm second to its visual spectacle. Even Michael Giacchino’s witty score, nodding to the James Horner and Alexander Courage originals, is drowned amid the noise.
My inner fanboy was sated: The blood is green! Surgery on a torpedo! Sulu’s getting used to the captain’s chair! The moon is in pieces! But these are details, tricks almost, to get the fans on board – this isn’t what Star Trek is about. It still feels as if Orci and Kurtzman have done their research on Wikipedia rather than the series and are still not engaging with what these characters are, what they mean. This doesn’t feel like the show where Russians and Americans worked together in the Cold War, where an interracial kiss took place in the late sixties, where Martin Luther King came to the dressing room and told the actors to persist because they were changing the world outside.
Despite all its pretence of going ‘Into Darkness,’ the film doesn’t really go anywhere we haven’t been before. Even the plot is essentially the same as the previous film: attack, alpha-male tension between the leads, big scary spaceship in silhouette, battle in the Earth’s atmosphere. It still needs to do a lot more to warrant the hype that has accrued about it.
Call it Into Darkness, call it ‘Space Hike’, call it the Benedict Cumberbatch show, but not Star Trek. By supposedly darkening the tone they are pretending to Nolan-ise the franchise without actually Nolan-ising it. Star Trek at its best didn’t need Nolan-ising. Star Trek at its best was about society, ethics, the possibility of religious and political tolerance, what it means to be human. It was a programme that asked questions, took its characters beyond the confines of what they knew.
The previous film forgot this heritage and this film is no different. The oaths, the catchphrases, the taglines from the originals – the past is inserted enjoyably, but nonetheless pointlessly, to prop up the present. The rebooted franchise still needs something new and original, something it can really call its own before it can boldly go where no film has gone before – as all great films do.