JJ Abrams’ previous Star Trek reboot was an unqualified success – a fast paced, exciting, witty science-fiction adventure that didn’t outstay its welcome, nor did it force heavy handed messages about tolerance down the audience’s throat (as had become the norm in Star Trek since the departure of the original crew). Star Trek Into Darkness continues the style of the previous film and is almost as good.
After an agreeably whizz-bang opening on an alien planet, Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself in trouble for violating the Prime Directive (basically interfering in an alien culture, which is very naughty in the Trek universe). Subsequently he is suspended from duty, though then rapidly reinstated following an attack on Starfleet top brass by a rogue secret agent called John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).
What follows is a lot of fun. The special effects are great, and fans of JJ Abrams will enjoy the usual lens-flare shots. Performances are all decent, and there are plenty of well-judged action set pieces.
There are some nits to be picked. For one thing, I’m officially calling time on the whole villain-deliberately-getting-himself-captured-as-part-of-masterplan routine. To expound on my other gripe, I am forced to issue a MAJOR SPOILER ALERT.
Essentially, Star Trek Into Darkness is an alternative, earlier version of the Wrath of Khan story, since John Harrison turns out to be Khan. This time Kirk is the one wanting vengeance; for the death of his mentor, Christopher Pike (played by the excellent Bruce Greenwood). Along the way Kirk meets Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), who as fans will recall cropped up in Wrath of Khan in her later years, having given birth to Kirk’s son David. There are nods to many famous Wrath of Khan scenes, which is a dangerous game for JJ Abrams to play, since you invite comparison with that classic Trek film at your peril. That said, for the most part Abrams gets away with it, except in a reversal of Spock’s legendary death scene which I think was a homage too far.
On a moral/spiritual level this has some good stuff about accepting responsibilities, the value of friendship, the perils of following regulations too rigidly, with a dash of post 9/11 subtext about terrorism and the dangers of militarisation. But none of this is examined too deeply. In the end, fun is the name of the game.
In short, Into Darkness isn’t quite as good as the previous outing, and Wrath of Khan remains unchallenged as the greatest Trek film. But this is still great fun and well worth a watch.