Star Trek Into Darkness – the review
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 5 May 2013
When J.J. Abrams (then best-known as creator of Alias and Lost, and with one Mission Impossible film under his belt) helmed the 2009 Star Trek movie, his nerves were swiftly soothed by critical acclaim and box office success.
The origin story, soon a must-have for all comicbook/sci-fi franchises, delighted audiences as it brought together an eclectic bunch of misfits to form the crew many knew so well. Even non-Trekkies grew up knowing about Captain Kirk and Mr Spock, and most childhood games involved doing the Vulcan salute as we vied to wear the mustard-coloured tunic. Director Abrams hit the jackpot with his fresh and individual take on the franchise, and novices and fanboys alike went home from the cinema happy.
However, the original thrill of seeing the young Spock (a perfectly cast Zachary Quinto), New Zealander Karl Urban as Dr “Bones” McCoy, and meeting the swaggering ladies man that is James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) can’t be created twice. Now we need to be wowed by something completely new. Happily, four years on Abrams has got the band back together to put on another display of intelligent, innovative blockbusting.
Given Star Trek‘s history, its devoted following, and the intensity of speculation around this latest rendition of the Starship Enterprise‘s adventures into outer space, it’s best to keep this a spoiler-free zone. Let’s face it – a brief plot summary won’t help you decide whether to see this film – so let’s just say there is conflict, both interpersonal and martial, lives are thrown into jeopardy, grown men cry, laser guns zap, cities crumble, there is nerve-wracking teleportation and a lot of travelling at warp-speed, and the whole thing looks incredible.
As to be hoped from the chap who’s about to reprise the Star Wars behemoth, the alien worlds and life aboard the Enterprise are beautifully rendered, from the precision of the crew’s slightly square uniforms (who irons the crease into those trousers??) to the sensational heat-deflecting jumpsuits. Abrams’ trademark lens flares mark nearly every scene, immersing you in the fantasy.
It’s not, however, all about the aesthetic. Abrams and his regular screenwriters put heart into the first film, and care just as much about connecting with their human audience here. So it is exciting to drop down to planet Earth, where the depiction of a futuristic London (retaining much of the city’s historical beauty in a fascinating juxtaposition of then and now) brings the “reality” of deep space home to a world that is familiar to us.
Pine, Quinto and their gang reprise roles from the earlier film, some of them given little more than a metaphor to spout or a grumpy girlfriend to personify. However, the leads’ bromance has deepened since 2009, and much of the pathos comes from trying to get the half-human Vulcan to express emotion (though Spock’s unintended wit is undiminished: when Admiral Pike admonishes “Are you giving me attitude?” Spock replies: “I’m expressing multiple attitudes simultaneously. To which are you referring?”).
It’s the new faces who bring a thrill. RoboCop himself (Peter Weller) plays Admiral Marcus, while Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch brings his own special brand of purse-mouthed, British villainy to the role of interloper John Harrison, blindingly superb as something of a New-Romantic goth who requires only charisma and That Voice to invoke menace. Even the inexplicably dull casting of Alice Eve (nice hair, though) doesn’t detract from what’s great.
While possibly not as heartstring-tugging as Abrams purports, Star Trek Into Darkness is nonetheless a rollercoaster ride of laughs and gasps, spectacle and pathos. One can’t help but feel his next big project is in very safe hands – may the force be with him.