The 2009 reboot of Star Trek was a massive hit, pleasing hardcore Trekkies, casual fans and complete novices alike. With its gimmick of re-setting the timeline of the original franchise, it distanced itself from the existing Star Trek whilst allowing the new group to move off in their own direction. It was an excellent jumping off point with a great cast in place and felt like a bright, shiny new world of Trek to explore. Star Trek Into Darkness therefore, should have had it made and does well to recapture some of the spark that made the reboot such a joy.
This is thanks in large part to the cast, once again excelling in iconic roles and not becoming overshadowed by those who went before. One aspect that the reboot franchise has got right from the start is the dynamic between the crew although they don't spend nearly enough time with each other. A real highlight is the interaction between Kirk, Spock and Karl Urban's metaphor-happy Bones, perfectly re-capturing the humour of the three characters' relationship. Other characters don't quite get the same chance to shine though Scotty (Simon Pegg) is given a little more to do than comic relief this time around. Zoe Saldana's Uhura gets a couple of big moments but it is poor Alice Eve who does her best with very little as Carol Marcus, including a completely unnecessary underwear scene.
The big focus has been on a certain Mr Cumberbatch in all his floppy-haired, swishy-coated glory and he cuts a fine figure, balancing the emotional aspects of John Harrison with the more scenery-chewing villainy that we were all expecting. However, the film is rather surprisingly stolen by Chris Pine who turns in a quieter, yet very affecting performance as the headstrong Kirk. It's largely a film about his journey and so the focus is on Kirk much more as he learns about all the facets of becoming a captain and its difficulties. Pine proves to be more than a worthy foil to Cumberbatch and their scenes together crackle with an energy that deserved more screentime.
It is a shame that the same attention to detail that has clearly been paid to the characters was not transferred to the film's plot. There are some big themes in there - exploration vs destruction, the necessity of revenge, terrorism, impending war - but it never feels as if Abrams et.al want to go into these in any detail beyond Kirk's character arc. Likewise, we get plenty of nods to the original series, but they become so frequent, I found myself rolling my eyes whenever one was needlessly inserted into a conversation.
Predictable right from the start, the storyline is telegraphed through various signifiers so twists come too soon and are seen a mile off and as a result, no real danger is felt. At no point in the entire film did I get the sense that the stakes were high or that the crew were in any real danger, lessening the impact of the action scenes somewhat. That is not to say the action scenes are dull, far from it in fact, as some sequences are spectacularly put together (even if one is recycled from the previous film) and the actors, particularly Cumberbatch, impress with their physicality.
Despite this predictability, the first three quarters of the film are wildly entertaining, amusing and thrilling in equal measure. However, this is completely undermined by the final act of the film. Whilst I won't reveal anything at all spoilery, the last thirty minutes sent me into a downward spiral of disappointment and frustration. This falls solely at the feet of screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damien Lindelof who wrap everything up in a conclusion that is not only forecasted from a long way off, but is incredibly lazy and so devoid of originality that it leaves a bitter taste. It's a frustrating shame because everything up until then had been a little flawed, but mostly entertaining. It took just one moment to pull me out of that completely.
Star Trek Into Darkness is proving to be quite divisive and sadly, I find myself on the negative side of the debate. The build-up to its release has been immense and rife with speculation, but the film plays its hand too early and provides an ending that is not at all satisfying.
** (and a half- mainly for Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Pine)
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