FOUR years ago JJ Abrams rescued Star Trek from the Neutral Zone with an amped- up reboot which managed to channel the original characters in ways that were funny, smart and sometimes even touching.
Star Trek Into Darkness (12A)
Director: JJ Abrams
Star rating: * * * *
The only question for the next instalment of the series was whether the new younger Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and McCoy (Karl Urban) could stick with this new warp speed.
The opening sequence of Star Trek Into Darkness seems to anticipate this, crashing immediately into a race against the clock that crosses The Man Who Would Be King with Krakatoa: East Of Java, as Kirk and co are pursued by a primitive alien race for stealing their most valuable religious artefact, while Spock parachutes into a nearby volcano to try to prevent it from obliterating all life on the planet. The mission is not entirely successful, and when Kirk and Spock log differing accounts to Starfleet, they are demoted and blame each other for the disgrace, causing their blossoming bromance to hit the skids for a while.
Like the old Star Trek series, Star Trek Into Darkness winds current social-political preoccupations into its futuristic universe. This time it’s a parable about terrorism, outdated rules of war, and the enemy within as even the most loyal crew members find themselves conflicted by plot turns. Scotty (Simon Pegg) is dismayed when he realises the Enterprise is loading up with an awful lot of military-grade torpedoes. “I thought we were explorers,” he complains in his on/off Groundsman Willy accent before tendering his resignation.
The enemy on the outside is Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison, who is a whizz at chemistry, physics and punching. His hi-tech terrorist campaign targets Starfleet landmarks, although the film telegraphs Harrison’s villainous disposition through the rather more low-tech device of fashion; dressing him in black or leather wherever possible. Up until now, Cumberbatch’s antiheroes have been buffoons rather than threats, but Harrison is a piece of full-on, chilly, orotund Shakespearean villainry, and it’s a kick to see Cumberbatch roar, glower and run through glass windows like a weaponised Duracell bunny.
Star Trek is a terrific looking picture, and there’s no doubting Abrams can stage an action sequence, with pacing that is manic but propulsively entertaining. Not everything works – new recruit Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) doesn’t register too much personality, and when the camera pans an astonishingly gratuitous shot of her in underwear, it occurs to you that maybe things haven’t moved that far from the anodyne dolly nurses in Sickbay 50 years ago. It’s also disappointing that Abrams persists in pairing Scotty with a galactic teddy bear sidekick who feels more like a Star Wars leftover from The Ewok Adventure.
However, these are small gripes that could be drowned with a pint of Romulan ale: Star Trek Into Darkness remains great fun for non-fans, but especially the faithful, with nods to some of their favourite tropes, and a wholesale flip revision of one particularly successful old storyline.
With planets and interstellar debris shooting past your left ear, 3D is once again part of the Star Trek spectacle. However those who hate its intrusion may derive some small satisfaction from noting that, even with this souped-up technology, those famed furball Tribbles still look like something you might glimpse on Terry Wogan’s nightstand. «
On general release from Thursday. Spectrum: Benedict Cumberbatch interview