Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Damon Lindelof
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch
Release date: May 16th, 2013
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 133 minutes
Best part: The villain.
Worst part: The underused supporting characters.
In 1966, a sci-fi TV show called Star Trek hit the airwaves. It contained a low budget, some groovy outfits, and an over-acting William Shatner. With all that said, it’s difficult to comprehend that Trek is now a pop culture phenomenon. 47 years later, the Starship Enterprise is still going where no man has gone before. The latest offering, Star Trek into Darkness, proves this franchise has many more successful voyages to come.
The twelfth film to be crafted from Gene Rodenberry’s original creation, Star Trek into Darkness is a visually stunning and powerful blockbuster. This may be a strong statement, but the movie is in serious contention to be the best big-budget movie of 2013. This sequel/reboot/prequel/whatever starts off with an exciting race against time for our plucky band of heroes. After Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) are chased by an alien tribe, Dr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) comes to be in charge of saving the tribe’s planet from destruction. Whilst saving Spock from being burnt alive inside an active volcano, Kirk comes under fire from Starfleet for breaking the mission’s ‘Prime Directive’. However, Kirk and Spock’s demotions are the least of Starfleet’s problems. Super-powered secret agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) betrays the Federation and blows up London’s Starfleet Archives building. With a point to prove, Kirk and Spock are reinstated and tasked with eradicating Harrison by any means necessary. However, the universe and Harrison hold many surprises for the Enterprise’s crew.
The real captain of this multi-layered ship is J.J. Abrams. Abrams is one of the busiest and most engaging producer/directors currently working. When he’s not creating shows like Lost, he’s directing big-budget flicks like Mission Impossible 3 and Super 8. His first Star Trek film, back in 2009, revived a once flagging franchise; smartly and efficiently bringing together the beloved group of Starfleet officers in an alternate timeline. Once again, his directorial flair shines in every scene. Clearly inspired by the early works of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, he injects charm and wonder into every shot. His film hits warp speed rather quickly. This instalment, despite containing a convoluted screenplay by Lost writers Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci, excels at keeping everything balanced and weightless. Despite some familiar and unnecessary plot points, the screenplay keeps you guessing whilst keeping the extraneous Trek jargon to a minimum. Unlike most sequels, the plot, characters, and special effect/action sequences fit together seamlessly to propel the story forward. This instalment owes a debt of gratitude to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Whilst containing some major spoilers, this instalment matches the classic Trek sequel in emotion and thrills. Both Trekkies and average film-goers will savour Abrams’ take on these eternally culturally-relevant characters.
This time around, Abrams has beefed up the series’ ‘Mac Store’ look. The film switches mostly between futuristic Earth settings and scenic vistas of the universe. Every setting is slick, expansive, and brightly lit; adding to this already awe-inspiring experience. Some may find Abrams’ lens flares to be jarring, while everyone else will quickly be immersed in his expansive creation. Abrams, hurriedly becoming an auteur, has a keen eye for universe building. The production design immediately impresses with the opening scene. The threatened planet, featuring a lush, red forest and black and white-painted tribesman, becomes an enthralling sight to behold. The inventive cinematography and score also stand out. Abrams’ unique camera-work presents the Enterprise as an intricate, maze-like creation. The action set-pieces come thick and fast. Spaceship battles, foot chases, and shoot outs are some of the film’s most enthralling moments. The ship is nearly destroyed on multiple occasions, somehow coping with whatever the universe throws at it. However, Abrams never allows style to overtake substance. His references to the original series and movies are subtle and, at points, extremely clever. The famous quotes and signs (Vulcan salute, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” etc.) are subtly thrown in when required. The comedic moments are also fun, and delivered particularly well by the film’s immensely-talented cast.
“KHAAANNNN!” (Spock (Zachary Quinto), Star Trek into Darkness).
Despite the heavy amount of exposition in some scenes, the dialogue is delivered flawlessly by this stellar cast. The cast now comfortably fits into every key role. Abrams balances wit and drama whilst controlling the film’s colourful array of personalities. Pine is a charismatic and powerful presence on screen. Kirk is a man of many talents, but continually fails to follow orders. His arc here is both familiar and touching. To conquer this ominous threat, he must trust his crew members and learn the importance of humility. His friendship with Spock becomes more naturalistic as the film progresses. Quinto flawed me here with his nuanced and delicate portrayal of Spock. Here, Spock is in an internal tug of war with his Vulcan sense of duty and humanistic sense of modesty. Cumberbatch’s Harrison is a menacing and sympathetic villain. Essentially a 23rd Century terrorist, his startling actions draw many comparisons to current events. He represents the enemies that major organisations struggle to find. This vengeful character’s motivations are clear and understandable. However, this is one of many recent blockbusters to depict the lead villain being intentionally captured (this cliché has now officially run its course!). The supporting cast, including Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, John Cho, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Zoe Saldana, are effective in small roles. However, newcomers Peter Weller (‘Robocop’ himself) and Alice Eve fail to make the most of their underdeveloped characters.
Tense in some scenes and tear-jerking in others, Star Trek into Darkness is an almost flawless big-budget, sci-fi action flick. The cast, kinetic visuals, and fun action set pieces form a thrilling and enlightening film-going experience. With Abrams making Star Trek instalments of this quality, let’s hope that Into Darkness isn’t his final frontier.
Verdict: An exciting and profound sci-fi spectacle.