These days, the concept of going where no Summer blockbuster movie has gone before is becoming increasingly challenging for production teams to match, what with the ever-expanding realms of CGI and directorial quality demanding that new sequels up their game in the biggest manner possible. Indeed, in this year’s Summer of Film season, studios just can’t afford to make a mistake, with Man of Steel, The Wolverine, Kick-Ass 2 and The World’s End all amongst the fierce competition awaiting new contenders in the months ahead.
For JJ Abrams, though, the challenges don’t end there. In two years’ time, Abrams will be bringing us his sensational rendition of Star Wars with the release of Episode VII in cinemas, so if anything it’s fair to call his much-anticipated science-fiction sequel Star Trek Into Darkness a proverbial ‘testing ground’ for our future adventures to come in a galaxy far, far away. Into Darkness features dazzling special effects, adrenaline-fuelled setpieces and acclaimed international actors galore, perhaps the ultimate tour de force in terms of sheer visual spectacle of the Summer. All of those elements are aesthetic though; the real question, of course, is whether Abrams can provide a deep and compelling science-fiction narrative, replicating the surprising success of his 2009 Trek reboot.
We’ll say this: if Abrams does perhaps slightly fall short in a handful of areas in the storyline department, it’s not for want of trying. The narrative action picks up with Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew after a few months exploring space, now facing a personal disaster as a rogue Starfleet agent initiates a mission of brutal vengeance on their home planet. Once the film moves past its standard ‘redemption’ arc for Kirk in the midst of an early mistake, we venture into the titular ‘dark’ territory of the depths of outer space, and it is here where the storyline broadens and deepens, channelling the iconic The Wrath of Khan while equally posing a fair number of innovative surprises of its own.
What arguably lets the side down here is that on the whole, Into Darkness’ narrative feels somewhat uncertain of what it’s trying to achieve. At times, the viewer is presented with an emotive, visceral rendition of humanity in its darkest guises, more often than not thanks to a stunning performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as its antagonist John Harrison. Elsewhere, however, many of the supposed plot ‘twists’ are either completely foreseeable (one particular homage to Wrath will be recognised by fans a good time before its full reveal) or simply fail to have any dramatic impact due to later events dismissing their ramifications. From the manner in which the title sequence is introduced to the reprisal of Kirk’s classic opening speech from Trek’s television series, there are few elements here which don’t evoke a sense of déjà vu either from the show or even the 2009 reboot. This reviewer has always loved nostalgia, make no mistake, but at times you will likely come to question the effect the movie would have were we to ignore the various continuity references and homages.
All the same, there’s absolutely plenty to complement here. If Abrams wanted to convince us that he’s capable of directing some of the most accomplished effects-based action sequences of recent times, then with Into Darkness he does so with a breathtaking flourish. The sights of alien and terrestrial planets alike are both realistic yet vast, the grounded and space battles dazzling to watch play out and each shot of a character, a locale or a key event handled with masterful precision by the movie’s esteemed helm. As per usual, the 3D feature is by no means essential, but there’s arguably more of a case to be made here than with the usual rushed conversion efforts provided for Summer flicks.
Best of all, though, Into Darkness packs a sensational cast. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto manage to effortlessly redefine the relationship between Kirk and Spock once again, Simon Pegg is on top comic form as Scotty, Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is both empathetic and hilarious and even Alice Eve manages a surprisingly likeable turn as fan favourite femme fatale Carol Marcus. As I mentioned earlier, top credits must of course go to Cumberbatch, whose transformation from the enigmatic hero of Sherlock into a fearsomely enigmatic villain here is utterly captivating, and begs the contemplation of just what wonders we can expect as Sherlock’s Martin Freeman goes head to head with his co-star in a battle of the fates in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this December!
Let’s face it: matching the shock and awe which JJ Abrams provided us in Star Trek (4.5/5) back in 2009 was virtually an impossible feat, even for the man itself. However, while Star Trek Into Darkness doesn’t quite scale the heights of its innovative predecessor- ultimately succumbing to its nostalgia factor and thus its imbued sense of déjà vu- it nevertheless remains a stunning visual blockbuster which begs the attention of any willing action fan. Diehard Trek fans may quarrel with the lack of ‘exploration’ here in favour of phasers and photon torpedoes, yet for the rest of us viewers who are less easily irked, Star Trek Into Darkness is simply great fun at its shallow yet visually spectacular volcanic core.