Heroes are nothing without their villains, and the 2009 Star Trek learned the hard way how a one-dimensional, forgettable villain can reduce the impact of an entire film. Luckily, Star Trek Into Darkness rectified this immediately by casting Benedict Cumberbatch.
Where No Man Has Gone Before…
Could this be another classic case of a token Brit as iconic villain? Perhaps, but in fact there are a few others tucked in here and there as well. Simon Pegg returns as Montgomery Scott and newcomer Alice Eve as Dr Carol Marcus brings the ship’s compliment a bit more into balance.
The story this time around is that Cumberbatch, as the deliciously evil John Harrison, has declared a one-man war on the Federation ‘for reasons unknown’. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are back as a youthful Kirk and Spock, with an equally youthful crew (save Scotty, everyone appears to be in their 20s), but this time there are a few token aliens thrown in – a strange fish creature and some sort of cyborg to name but two – who are graced with a single line before never being heard from again.
The Enterprise Incident
Really, the crew could be limited to the top six or eight names and the film wouldn’t suffer, there’s not much to bring this bunch of faces to life and make you believe that they are a ‘family’, which is something the TV iterations of Trek were much more successful at.
The small cast does give time to develop some of the supporting characters however, with a varied amount of success. Karl Urban’s ‘Bones’ McCoy remains horribly underused, as is his role as the ‘heart’ part of the heart, brains and brawn triangle between him, Spock and Kirk.
Despite this the characters and actors remain strong, and there is a definite sense of progression in the relationship between Kirk and Spock in particular, culminating with Spock’s first hesitant addressing of Kirk as ‘Jim’.
The plot has elements of twisted logic found in J.J. Abrams previous endeavours. Despite being centred around Earth itself, as Harrison attacks the Federation, the majority of events take place on the Enterprise itself, in space where it belongs.
Providing you can overlook the occasional liberal interpretation of the laws of physics (how can phasers travel forwards when travelling at warp…?) the narrative gives enough to keep you engaged.
The opening encounter on the overly red planet of Nibiru, which recalls memories of some of the colourful planets seen in the Star Wars prequels (in fact more than once there is a Star Wars parrallel), and is a section dense with action and excitement, which continues for the first 45 minutes of the film. Watching on the edge of your seat, you are convinced you are in for what could be the best Trek flick of all time.
Sadly as the intrigues of the plot begin to unravel the magic dulls slightly and the pace slows, but certainly not to the extent that the film stops being fun to watch.
The comedy has been stepped up, with a dash of British sarcasm thrown in for good measure, and the exchanges between some characters which haven’t had the chance to interact before are entertaining. Simon Pegg brings the pedigree, but each character has their own moment.
The film is still clearly centred around action and drama, but there is more emotion on display here too, which forces you to care about the characters.
The re-introduction of some of the show’s most memorable villains is completely overshadowed by Cumberbatch’s ruling the roost in combat, as he commands the audience’s attention as soon as he is on screen. This attention soon leads the audience to draw conclusions about his character – there is more to John Harrison than meets the eye.
Peril is everywhere in the film, something immediately apparent from the trailer (see below) and so the ‘Into Darkness’ subtitle is warranted, but there is little contact with the people of the Federation outside Star Fleet to really spend too much time caring about their fate.
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield
By the end the conclusion of the story is satisfactory, rather than mind-blowing, but, as always, it’s the journey which makes a film worth watching, and in this regard Into Darkness succeeds.
To continue this new run of films into a trilogy there will need to be a real delve into Trek lore, to come up with a setting and situation which reflects the issues of today, something which the show always tried to do (and in the case of drugs or race at least, remain relevant).
As a piece of entertainment though, Into Darkness hits the mark, and hits it strongly, including all the elements general film fans have come to expect and far more for the Trekkies. There’s more to do to surpass the films and iconic episodes of years gone past, but with a history spanning decades and a range of quality, this film will go down as one of the better efforts.
James Michael Parry