Star Trek Into Darkness (12A/PG-13, 132 mins)
Director: J.J. Abrams
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Most expectations were surpassed with the release four years ago of Star Trek, J.J. Abrams’ ambitious reboot of the original series that recast all the iconic parts with new actors.
With the groundwork done, the opportunity was there for this first sequel to blast us into the cosmos, all the while further whetting appetites for two years from now, when Abrams will turn his attention to that other sci-fi juggernaut, Star Wars.
But while expectations may be sky-high, the reality doesn’t quite live up to them, and the result is a solid and very enjoyable adventure rather than an unqualified home run.
An all-action prologue finds the Starship Enterprise and her crew on an alien planet, where they're attempting to save the primitive inhabitants from an erupting volcano without revealing themselves and breaking Starfleet’s prime directive about interfering with undeveloped civilisations.
As well as being stirringly executed, this sequence sets up the major themes of what’s to come, found in the relationship between hothead James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his seat-of-the-pants, wiseass captaincy versus seemingly emotionless half-Vulcan first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) and his cold and logical approach to everything.
All the crew are present and all signs point to this being the jumping off point for a proper mission for them. But this proves to be a false start, and the pace stalls a little when Kirk gets busted for his antics on the alien world (“They saw us, big deal”), with he and Spock still railing against each other.
So first, the stuff that doesn’t quite work: a firefight on the Klingon homeworld is chaotic and incomprehensible. A midsection that cranks the plot in to place is often gibberish. Any attempt to summarise it would be futile, partly because it’s badly written, partly because of the twists involved as it progresses.
So it’s left to the characters for what works, which really is how it should be. Not everyone gets a chance to shine right enough. Does Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) do anything other than chuck out grumpy, albeit very amusing one-liners? Not really.
Simon Pegg has improved his accent no end since first time out, and his Scotty is a laugh, but Uhura, Chekov and Sulu are window dressing, even if the actors playing them (Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, John Cho) are perfectly decent. Pine and Quinto are good too, but Cumberbatch is amazing, a calm and steely presence who anchors the whole thing, blowing Pine off the screen whenever they face off in scenes which are among the best in the film.
It really is a geek’s delight, with nods and references to past glories likely to leave newcomers scratching their heads as to what the fuss is about. As betrayals and reversals abound and Kirk is outmatched by Harrison at every turn, the bigger picture is outlandish and impenetrable.
Hopefully there will be more fully developed blockbusters this summer, but there may not be too many that are this much fun. Just don’t spend too much time thinking about it.