Saturday, 11 May 2013

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Confession time: I am not a Trekker! There, I said it - I haven't seen any of the television series', and as far the films go I have only seen the very enjoyable 2009 reboot Star Trek (bet they took a while thinking that name up...), and as of last night, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (the fan heralded 'best Star Trek film ever'). Wait; what!? I know what you're thinking, I bet you were expecting me to say Star Trek Into Darkness there - the latest film and sequel to the 2009 blockbuster - but I didn't see that last night, in fact I actually saw it on Thursday, opening day in the UK. So, as I'm sure you can imagine, this new film must be something fantastic to convince me to dip my toes further into Trekker territory through watching one of the original films just one day later, mustn't it?...

Set after the events of 2009s franchise rebooting prequel-come-sequel (it's a long story...), Into Darkness opens on a distant planet as we find the intrepid crew of the U.S.S Enterprise mid-mission - thrusting the audience straight into the middle of the action in a way that felt reminiscent of the opening sequence on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. Of course, as you can probably imagine, it doesn't take long before things very quickly go out of control, forcing the infamous Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), and his expert team boasting the unforgettable Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Salanda), Bones McCoy (Karl Urban, the chin of Dredd himself), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) to make some rash decisions to get out alive - not without consequences of course. As the team head back home to the Starfleet headquarters, news comes in that the London branch has been the victim of a large terrorist attack, helmed by the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) who has a large vendetta against the intergalactic Peace Corps that he seeks to settle.

Zachary Quinto's Spock amidst a volcanic visual spectacle.

Instantly, the first thing to be said about Into Darkness as the film opens to shots of an alien world - filled with a forest of red trees, ancient temples and an erupting volcano - is that the impressive visual aesthetic of the franchise has been retained from its predecessor. Once again, the slick stylistic flair (and trademark Abrams lens-flare) of the Star Trek universe is brought to life beautifully, bringing an engaging depth and majestic wonder to the worlds that are explored, including a futuristic version of Earth. The CGI effects are truly second to none, but of course that is all secondary to the plot; give me a film with rubbish visual effects any day as long as it has a captivating storyline, over one without. Fortunately, Into Darkness features the best of both.

Based on the television series created in the 60s, Star Trek Into Darkness stays true enough to its source material's characters and ethos whilst infusing a modern spin through its updated visuals, which in doing so creates a loving old fashioned science-fiction story for a new generation. Perhaps more impressive is that fact that it does so without feeling at all outdated, as fantasies of space-exploration are still alive and strong today as they were during the decade that first put man on the moon. More than that, the film simply nurtures the human lust for adventure, and nothing quite delivers that like Into Darkness' enthralling action sequences. Fast paced and on a large scale, the film features a number of scenes that are as exciting and satisfying as they are ambitious. However it is the character-driven storyline that really allows the audience to engage in an alien universe, through its richly-written human characters that bring a genuine emotional heart to the film as well.

Cumberbatch's villain role takes centre stage amongst Into Darkness' returning cast.

Pitting the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise up against their toughest adversary yet, Into Darkness tests relationships between the characters to the limits. The love-to-hate friendship between Spock and Kirk gets a natural evolution which continues on from the first film, as the two become closer to a fully understanding one another. And if times weren't tough enough for poor ol' Mr. Spock, he also has to deal with love interest Uhura who, quite understandably, isn't too happy about some of his selfless actions in the film's opening. The rest of the cast's diverse ensemble also gets their moment in the spotlight, but it is Benedict Cumberbatch who naturally steals the show with his villainous portrayal of a vengeful adversary who alone poses an intimidating physical and intellectual threat. Cumberbatch effortlessly creates a screen presence that creates a constantly shifting power struggle amongst characters, as he gives the sinister smirk of a man two steps ahead. Balancing a wide range of impressive action sequences with an engaging character-driven storyline, Abrams' direction - from production through post-production - pieces together a well-paced, fast-flowing film that, despite a few scenes of exposition-heavy dialogue that slow the pace for just a fraction too long, is difficult not to enjoy.

With stunning visuals, superb action, and a great story, even the occasional lags of heavy exposition dialogue cannot stop Star Trek Into Darkness setting audiences to stun. Whether you are a lifelong Trekker, or an absolute newcomer to the franchise, perhaps the film's greatest strength is that it will entertain both sides: respecting its fans and converting the new. Of course, with director J.J. Abrams now turning his direction to the ways of the force, and with my earlier comparison to Empire Strikes Back I think that it's fair to say that if Into Darkness does anything it is to prove that he well and truly is the man for the Star Wars job; even if it does put the future of his Trektacular reboot on the ice (I only hope that it is not for long). Mr. Abrams: 'may the force be with you' as you undoubtedly 'live long and prosper'...


Star Trek Into Darkness (certificate 12A) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Star Trek Into Darkness? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!