Review: Star Trek Into Darkness ★★★★☆

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With the weight of virtually the entire science fiction fan-base of the world resting on J.J Abrams’ shoulders, it is heartening to hark back to the great success of the first instalment of this newly restored franchise. Taking everything that made the original Star Trek series and movies so beloved by people around the globe but fulfilling that urge we had in 2009 for a fresh and invigorating space romp, Abrams found that perfect balance of tongue-in-cheek homage and much-needed innovation and pleased pretty much everyone, both die-hards and newcomers, and most importantly kept the public’s faith in the validity of sci-fi filmmaking. That said he is by no means in the clear, having now been handed reins of Star Wars, his every move has the expectations of millions riding on it.

With that in mind, the goodwill towards Into Darkness was always high, if only because if successful, we could perhaps see the prospect of a good Star Wars film on the horizon. One franchise at a time though and this one right now is the far more exciting of the two. This sequel follows shortly on from the events of the first film, finding a still hot-headed young Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) leading his crew in a less than regulatory fashion. His lack of respect for his superiors and a close call on a mission that almost leaves first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) dead, lead to his expulsion from command early in the story, an event that coincides with a devastating attack on the Star Fleet headquarters by a mysterious and deliciously sinister rogue agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Ordered to pursue this criminal, Kirk finds him and his crew trapped in hostile territory, unable to count on Star Fleet for help.

It is refreshing to have such a renewed love of these old-time characters. While the conceit of the story and the depth that is given to Cumberbatch’s villain are exceedingly satisfying to watch, the resounding strength of the film lies in the continued focus of the series on Kirk and Spock’s polarised relationship. At times it is genuinely heartfelt and a tribute to a film that could not exist without huge set-pieces that you can shed a tear over Spock being able to call Kirk “a friend”. The entire cast now seem to have been granted the freedom to make these characters their own, not confined to the parameters of the heritage of their iconic predecessors (aside from the odd catchphrase slipped in there to keep the fans amused). The special effects have a real weight to them, each and every explosion resonating visually and emotionally, one particular crash near the climax of the film hitting the audience with some much force that the sky might as well have been falling.

Star Trek Into Darkness, as the name suggests, looks to take the exploration of its characters to new depths, using a darker tone both thematically and visually. While the usual sheen and almost blinding white light and vibrant primary colours we have come to expect from the franchise, there are much bleaker shades in play here from the design of Cumberbatch’s look to the burnt out rubble of the Klingon homeworld Kronos. It seems a deliberate but never patronising tool of signalling the presence of good and evil which is interesting to consider as the story itself toys with these ideas in a remarkably space-opera but nonetheless riveting way.

While it may be a more intimate story than the first film, with the number of locations less than before, with the questions of loyalty and friendship driving the story, it is a one that allows a highly refreshing addition to sci-fi saga that outdoes its 2009 reboot in both thrills and emotional depth. If he hadn’t done so already, Abrams has just set a phenomenally high bar for the future.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), directed by J.J.Abrams, is distributed in the UK by Paramount, Certificate 12A

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