Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Peter Weller, Bruce Greenwood and Alice Eve.
Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and Roberto Orci.
Director: JJ Abrams.
Utilising every visual trick in his arsenal to keep the franchise pulse strong and the pictures pretty, director JJ Abrams and his trio of writers (original instalment scribes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, working with the ubiquitous Damon Lindelof) explore accepted Star Trek lore with skill, ensuring die-hard fans, both old and new, will have lots to knowingly nod their heads about.
But Into Darkness proves a misleading title; despite a vivid central villain, there is thin, shiny veneer of shallowness that infuses this second instalment of the rebooted series. Thematically, Abrams works in scenes of friendship, honour, loss and loyalty, but the drama coasts on the emotional legacy of the series rather than creating any of its own heart or warmth. The production generally fails to overcome the false empathy associated with franchise characters that are never really in peril.
Following a frantic opening sequence that nicely positions Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) as conflicted moral adversaries, a terrorist attack on the London-based Starfleet archive prompts a gathering of the top brass, unknowingly furthering the diabolical agenda of the evil John Harrison (a glowering Benedict Cumberbatch).
Harrison flees to the distant Klingon outpost of Cronos with the USS Enterprise in pursuit, its crew under direct order from Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to terminate their target. But Harrison secures passage aboard Kirk’s ship and is soon willing his way into the heads and consciences of key crewmembers with his own grandly evil scheme unfolding as planned.
Abrams convolutes cliffhanger after cliffhanger, relying heavily on at least three old-fashioned ‘counting clock’ moments to up the tension. There is a grinding relentlessness to the film’s third act, as characters run everywhere and yell at each other while often seeming to peer out from behind the director’s blinding lens flare (Abrams really needs to rein in this affectation). Devoid of emotion, Abrams’ style less resembles his hero, Steven Spielberg, than it does the hollow visuals of contemporaries such as Len Wiseman or Paul WS Anderson.
Anglophiles will be chuffed at the more central role afforded Simon Pegg’s Scotty and newcomer Alice Eve, as the sex-kittenish science officer Carol; regulars such as John Cho’s Sulu, Anton Yelchin’s Chekhov and, in particular, Zoe Saldana’s Uhuru are underserved, existing largely as plot devices. Karl Urban’s ‘Bones’ McCoy, a highlight of the first film, descends into the comic relief role, which does not suit Urban’s burly persona. Pine is fine in the action moments, though his impetuous playboy captain (when called into action, he must cut short a threesome with two long-tailed alien babes) is less endearing this time round; as it was in round one, Quinto’s take on Spock is the film’s strongest suit.
Perhaps most worrying is the general air of ‘seen-it-before’ ambivalence the effects work inspires. Post screening, the gathered crowd bandied about titles such as Minority Report, The Avengers and the Total Recall remake as obvious reference points. With the Star Wars saga next on Abrams dance card, one hopes new software or, better yet, a commitment to a fresh vision emerges from Hollywood’s ‘Golden Boy’ and the tech sector at his disposal.