When the J.J. Abrams directed Star Trek was released in 2009 it did the seemingly impossible and breathed new life into a film franchise that had well and truly run its course. With no new Star Trek series on TV there seemed to be little hope of further big screen releases. However, in giving the story a re-boot with a plot involving time travel, Paramount brought back the iconic characters from the 1960s TV show. Their biggest success was creating a movie that not only appealed to Star Trek’s (admittedly huge) fan-base but also to the general cinema goer. No longer were Kirk and Spock the preserve of people who wore replica Star Fleet uniforms or knew how to speak Klingon.
Good casting decisions meant that actors portraying the original ‘Enterprise’ crew were believable in their roles, especially Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy. A snappy script with good interplay between characters also added to the enjoyment.
So the pressure was on Abrams to deliver a sequel of the same calibre. Does he manage with Star Trek: Into Darkness?
To start with the positives, Chris Pine (Capt. Kirk), Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scotty) et al are back and as good as before. They have real chemistry with each other allowing the one-liners and humorous scenes to fly. Benedict Cumberpatch makes a decent villain as John Henderson – a plot reveal about this character will have Trekkies bouncing out of their seats in excitement.
Usually I find 3D films at best pointless and at worst annoying. However, in this feature the 3D element works, making the effects visually stunning. Abrams can be trusted with spectacle but he doesn’t use it in the way other directors such as Michael Bay do as a substitute for a comprehensible plot.
Speaking of plots, we come to the negatives. The narrative is straight forward, consisting of the basic elements of revenge, peril and conspiracy. Nothing wrong with that per say, although here things are so basic that I was a little underwhelmed. Later on in proceedings a moralising tone starts to take over, regarding the correct response by superpowers to the threat of terrorism and hostile nations. Screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof seem to have discovered the technique of social commentary and used it to express their views on U.S. foreign and defence policy. If it was done subtly, fair enough, I just object to it being forced down my throat.
Alice Eve is spectacularly terrible as Dr. Carol Marcus. Every scene she’s in dies a lingering death. How she got the part is a mystery – perhaps nobody else turned up to the casting call? This is a real shame as in an otherwise strong cast she stands out like a sore thumb prodding you in the eye.
The running time is too long for the plot; at least thirty minutes could have been shaved off without losing anything key to proceedings and with the benefit of picking up the pace, which does lag at times. Found myself wanting to shout ‘Get on with it’ Monty Python style.
Dialogue has a tendency to be overly expositional. Every little thing is laid out in forensic detail by the characters to the point of nausea. This makes a lot of the conversations seem stilted in amongst the otherwise enduring interactions.
Is it worth watching? Definitely, this is Sci-Fi made for the big screen and as with the first Abrams Trek movie it shows there’s plenty of life left in the idea hatched by Gene Roddenberry all those decades ago.
Does it reach the bar set by the 2009 release? No, however remember that bar was set high to begin with. Unfortunately there are too many niggles creeping into the 2013 sequel that prevent it attaining the same heights.
J.J. Abrams has risen to such prominence in Hollywood by being a safe pair of hands. He can be given an idea and it’s a safe bet he won’t do anything daft with it like make Scotty Australian. Blockbusters are bread and butter to him; he understands what the mass audience want to see and gives it to them. At the same time he doesn’t insult their intelligence or feel the need to shoehorn in lame comedy relief. My gripe is that he’s too safe and I would like to see what he could accomplish if he felt able to take risks with his work. He’s one of the directors that’s rumoured to be in the running to take on Disney’s Star Wars titles and after seeing what he did with Star Trek it’s easy to see why.
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Benedict Cumberpatch, Bruce Greenwood
Runtime: 133 mins