With the beauty of hindsight, J.J. Abrams’ sequel to his own barnstorming 2009 Star Trek reboot had a lot to live up to. Having failed to muster the requisite warp speed to really shine in a summer populated by similarly bloated genre efforts, there’s still much to enjoy in Into Darkness (2013), even if it does fall somewhat short of its aims (in a wildly illogical move, a recent online poll by Trekkies named it the worst film in the franchise). Beginning with a fun Bond-style narrative, dropping-in on the crew of the Enterprise at the end of a previous mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) ditches Starfleet protocol to save a stranded comrade.
Having been reported by the same rescued crew member and supposed Vulcan chum Spock (Zachary Quinto), Kirk is busted down the ranks. Any animosity is put aside, however, when a dastardly act of terrorism in London propels the crew of the Enterprise on a search and destroy mission to find the perpetrator of said act – the film’s genetically-enhanced antagonist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Upon capture, it soon becomes clear to Kirk and his crew that there may be more to their intended target than initially meets the eye. For the most part, Abrams and his creative team manage to recall those fast-paced action beats and warm, funny character interactions which formed the success of the first film.
That common issue of catering to a large ensemble is still apparent, and some characters receive short thrift (Karl Urban’s Bones is sadly a victim of this), but the central relationship between the captain and his green-blooded first mate shines. Unfortunately, this is also Into Darkness’ undoing as Abrams and his team insist on shoehorning in a thematic continuity evident in one of the revered films from the Shatner/Nimoy era. That insistence on self-consciously referencing the past and trying to establish a life-long bond between the two lead characters strips much of the nuance and excitement from the final stages of this sci-fi sequel.
Newcomers to the Star Trek franchise unaware of this almost facsimile occurrence will probably enjoy what’s on offer, but seasoned fans will be less forgiving. Nevertheless, Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness is a well-crafted slice of summer escapism which still manages to entertain on the small screen. Here’s hoping that next time around the Trek filmmakers will move away from what has gone before and forge their own unique voyages across space’s final frontier – before Abrams’ own Star Wars sequel gets the drop on them.
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