Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

03:14, Apr 30 2013

Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana

With Star Trek Into Darkness, which hits New Zealand cinemas on May 9 (one week before it is released in the US), director JJ Abrams has caught lightning in a bottle for a second time in the same way Gene Rodenberry had a hit on his hands with Star Trek The Next Generation following the original series.

Abrams, and his team of writers, have taken all of the ingredients that made 2009's Star Trek reboot film the most successful in the 47-year-old franchise's history and amped them up for Star Trek Into Darkness like George Lucas amped the original Star Wars trilogy up with The Empire Strikes Back in 1980.

In the case of Star Trek Into Darkness Abrams, and his talented company and crew, take many beloved aspects of all five live action Star Trek series and 11 films and throw them up into the air to see where they land.

This film melds characters and situations from one Star Trek television show with ideas and concepts from a completely different series with another crew to come up with something fresh which is at times funny and at times moving.

The film opens on an alien world where the undercover crew of the USS Enterprise are trying to save a primitive race from a volcanic eruption without alerting the natives to their presence.

The Prime Directive prevents Starfleet officers from interfering in the normal development of non-space-faring races and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is constantly reminded of the rules by first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto).

The opening scenes could have been directly lifted from the original series and remind those of us who remember it just how wonderful it was.

When it all goes wrong Kirk finds himself back on Earth explaining himself to Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the previous captain of the Enterprise as the unthinkable happens.

Terrorists, from within Starfleet's ranks, strike at a Starfleet facility in London and then San Francisco. The Enterprise is dispatched into enemy territory, Klingon space, to track down perpetrator John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and bring him to justice.

The story is edge of the seat stuff, with plenty for the average film goer to enjoy. But Trekkies or Trekkers, I never know which is best, will find plenty of blatant and oblique references to previous stories - even though Abrams films are set in an alternative universe.

There's plenty of references to the original show and films, although to say which episodes will give too much of the plot away, and the film also draws on a major plot point from seasons six and seven on Star Trek Deep Space Nine in which one of the space stations crew was recruited into the shadowy black ops Section 31 of Starfleet. In fact much of the plot revolves around Section 31, a sort of futuristic FBI, bringing Star Trek's film franchise into a post 9/11 world.  

Like his previous movie, which won a new audience while pleasing long time Trek fans, Abrams has been sure to put the relationship between Kirk and Spock at the heart of this one.

It is truly great to see Pine and Quinto have so much fun with it. For whole new generation these are the only actors to have played the iconic characters.

"Bones" McCoy was equally as integral to the original Star Trek, and Abrams gives our own Karl Urban plenty to do in Into Darkness but it would have been more faithful to the source to make this film about the classic triumvirate of the three characters.

Much is made, too, of Uhura's (Zoe Saldana) relationship with Spock - something only hinted at in one episode of the original series - The Man Trap.

In fact Uhura, who broke new ground in the 1960s as a black woman officer, gets plenty of action hero stuff to do in this film. Star Trek's late creator Gene Rodenberry would have approved.

The other characters get to play to their strengths too. Sulu (John Cho) shows his aptitude for command, Scotty (Simon Pegg) his ability to work miracles, Chekov (Anton Yelchin) his willingness to please and then there's Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) who meets Kirk for the first time in this film and you can only wonder whether he will go on to father her child David as he appeared in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

If you haven't seen it watch it and its sequel before you see Into Darkness as you'll get much more out of the new movie.

Cumberbatch, who as man of the moment took a break from Sherlock for this role, delivers a multifaceted performance which leaves you sympathising with his character at times while also loathing him for the atrocities he committed.

In fact the only thing this Star Trek lacks is a moral at the end of the story. Integral, some might say, but not essential.

Abrams has crafted another movie with anchors in Star Trek's past and today's reality which will be embraced equally by film goers who know a tribble from a trill and those who don't.

It also sets us up for another film which I predict will hit cinemas in September 2016 to mark Star Trek's 50thanniversary.

I think it will have to be based on the first season episode Errand of Mercy in which hostilities break out with the Klingons. They play a small role in this film, but will be wanting retribution in the next film for how things pan out in this one.

Star Trek looks set to live long and prosper, so long as Abrams keeps his hands on the tiller as he has promised to do as executive producer as he heads to that galaxy far, far away to direct Star Wars Episode VII.

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