Star Trek Into Darkness review

Review Simon Brew 30 Apr 2013 - 22:05

JJ Abrams directs, Chris Pine and Benedict Cumberbatch star, and Star Trek Into Darkness arrives. Here's our review...

Please note: there are no spoilers here. At worst, we've talked about things that happen before the title card appears.

Given that modern day blockbusters like to burst out of the traps with something really rather special to get us sitting up and taking notice, it's something of a surprise that Star Trek Into Darkness' weakest sequence is the one that opens it.

Here, we find the crew of the rebooted USS Enterprise on a volcanic alien planet, whose inhabitants are, to put it mildly, not the ones to go to when your computer doesn't work. Said sequence (which still impresses) does present the film's first moral conflict, and by no means the last, but even with the scope of the IMAX format to soak up, it feels a softer opening than we got with JJ Abrams' hugely successful 2009 reboot.

Furthermore, there's some careful re-establishing work done in the first ten minutes or so. Star Trek characters remind us that they do Star Trek things, and regular traits are established (Kirk: impulsive, Spock: logical, Scotty: stressed, McCoy: the go-to-guy for metaphors in space). It'd be remiss to call it an unsure start, but it does feel as though the proverbial engines are turning over at a level where Scotty might even consider taking an hour off.

It doesn't take too much longer for things to dramatically spring into life, though. And as it turns out, the early scenes, whilst establishing some important touchpoints for the film, are bristling with the kind of wit that underpins much of the movie. In fact, the first surprise about Star Trek Into Darkness is just how light it is. It's fast, entertaining, funny (Spock particularly so) and content to spend a good 70% of its running time with some kind of smile on its face, before thoroughly earning its 12A rating with the remainder.

Furthermore, the screenplay also remembers that details matter. The characters, as the film progresses, are caught in mammoth events, but it's the fact that we've seen them discuss and bicker over apparent trivia that makes it all actually matter and feel in any way tangible. JJ Abrams and his team managed this a treat in the early stages of his last film, Super 8. There, a spectacular train crash sequence felt all the more dangerous and real because there were believable characters at the front and centre of it. That ethos firmly carries over here, and you're in little doubt just what the stakes mean for everyone.

But then character is a real strength throughout, as it was in the last film. Star Trek Into Darkness is an ensemble piece, that finds room for several characters to thrive. Zachary Quinto's deadpan Spock is a wonderful mix of conflict, humour and perfectly pitched delivery, whilst Karl Urban threatens to steal any scene he's let near, with his grumping a constant highlight. Simon Pegg is almost back in Hot Fuzz mode here too, running at speed and generating more than a few chuckles himself. It feels as though any member of the impressive key ensemble can comfortably take over the heavy lifting at any time, and they frequently do.

And then there are the trump cards. There's a strong argument that Star Trek Into Darkness doesn't quite manage to scale the same heights as its predecessor, but it does have one thing that film hasn't got: a strong villain. Eric Bana's Nero was curtailed by limited screen time, as the 2009 Trek busied itself with setting lots of things up. But there's a lot more space for Benedict Cumberbatch's John Harrison to establish himself, and he's wonderfully magnetic to watch. That said, you know from the off he's going to be an important character, as Michael Giacchino's impressive score all but spells it out in big letters when he first appears. And important the character proves to be.

But if Cumberbatch is going to get most of the attention, it's arguably Chris Pine who's the hidden-in-plain-sight gem here. His James Tiberius Kirk bubbles with humour, rebellion and non-conformity, before revealing a steel undercoat when required. Pine nails it. He's taking the lead in the Jack Ryan reboot, due this December, and by the credits roll on that, he'll surely be a full-on movie star in his own right. As it his, his performance here is generous, anchoring the cast and giving them plenty to play off.

That said, credit must also go to the Venn diagrams that writers Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof map between the characters. Certainly the central core are all coloured with gradations of each other throughout, giving interesting shades of grey, and potential conflict, to pretty much every one of them. Take Harrison. He's a Shakespearean-esque foe in many senses (although, as Trek devotees know, you don't really appreciate Shakespeare until you've read it in the original Klingon), and he and Pine prove to be impressive foils for one another. Not for nothing are many of the best moments here are when people simply stop and talk to each other.

It's not all successful. There's a distinct lag in the middle of the film, and you may just tire a little of seeing lots of people running down corridors from lots of different angles. Furthermore, we weren't utterly convinced by Alice Eve's character, who fares the least well of the newcomers. Quite why she ends up in her underwear at one stage remains a bit of a mystery.

Still, Star Trek Into Darkness brims with positives. It certainly feels like a more unifying Trek than the last one. The 2009 reboot was, arguably, more about a recruitment drive to bring a new audience to the world of Star Trek. Here, the script keenly weaves in little touches and references that longer-term Trek fans will appreciate, whilst also delivering on its prime objective, to put a thrilling two hour summer blockbuster on the screen.

And at its best, thrilling is just what Star Trek Into Darkness is. It's little secret what project JJ Abrams is moving onto next, and the quality of the space-based action sequences here suggests that Star Wars: Episode VII is in extremely capable hands. But what's of greater importance is his ability to put believable characters in otherwise unbelievable situations, and make it all hang together. Star Trek Into Darkness may be a slightly bumpier ride than the last one, but at its best, it does manage to exceed it.

Appreciating that Iron Man 3 kicked summer blockbuster season 2013 off by subverting the comic book movie genre and, in places, turning it on its head, what Star Trek Into Darkness has done is no less impressive. It's played its hand a lot straighter, with a three act story bustling with characters it's fun to spent time with, unified by a director who not only knows how to shoot an action sequence, but who also continues to prove he's a damn good storyteller. The end result? An exciting, entertaining and pretty excellent blockbuster. Let the clamour for another film start right here...

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Disqus - noscript

Hey, Mikey! He likes it!

There's a fifteen minute scene that starts out with explaining why an Indian was played by a Mexican actor.

Sort of indirect reply; might get a few arrow downs for this too but I truly believe Chris Hemsworth would of been a much better Kirk.

Well, my go to places are always Empire and DOG, and for you both to go four stars I am confident it will be as good as it looks :).

Let the insanity for Episode VII begin now... and I can't wait!

It's a pity they're not doing the 'Star Wars' prequels now, I can't look at Chris Hemsworth now without seeing the Anakin Skywalker we should have gotten... he would have just KNOCKED that out of the park!

Interesting thought.

He could certainly do it well. He was great as Kirk's dad.

I like Chris Pine and think he's good. Though he may be a bit too LA ... On the other hand, he's a fellow Old Blue -- UC Berkeley alum -- so that has to count for a lot!

I played the Star Wars soundtrack for weeks before the movie itself opened.

But I can wait. Especially when we have a new Star Trek movie to feast upon.

Khan is a Sikh, and Montalban looked every bit the part.

I think you misunderstood me somewhat, William dude, I'm not undermining the genuine expectation and anticipation many have for the new 'Trek installment (nor the enjoyment many will get from it), I'm just saying that from this summer through to zero hour in 2015, it's gonna be all Episode VII all the time... and it WILL be insane, we'll not be able to contain ourselves (especially when that first teaser trailer hits), search your feelings you know it be true!

You've just used it as another excuse to talk about Star Wars.


"delivering on its prime objective"

Prime directive!

I didn't know he was up for the role. It makes the choice of Christensen even more of a mystery.

All Indians should be played by the Rock. Can you picture Marty McFly driving into a wall of Dwayne Johnsons? Now picture instead of riding horses, they were centaurs. Yeah. I'm scared too. Sleep tight

He doesn't!

I'm a Sikh and I found this comment offensive (actually I'm a Mexican with white skin but apparently some rightful people think all "browns" are the same but they totally aren't racist!).
I'm not against Khan being played by a Mexican or a British actor because it's a science fiction character. Khan is not Gandhi!
Also Idris Elba would be a great James Bond and Lucy Liu in Elementary should be Sherlock Holmes not Dr Watson.
Sorry for my English.

No sale. Not even a nice try.

I'm seeing Iron Man 3 this weekend, and whilst I'm intrigued I know it's just the support act really. May is all about Trek and I can't wait to settle into my seat in front of the massive IMAX screen and soak it all up again!

Well, this has got me a lot more interested than that horribly dull trailer has. STILL haven't got round to seeing the first one yet, so may do a little double-bill here.

Have we settled on it being KAAAHHHNNNNN!!!! then?
Or are we still open to speculation? Perhaps John Harrison is just that. There's no rule to say that Abrams has to use only enemies that have appeared in Trek before?
As much as us Trekkies love Kahn et al, we would also enjoy something new.
It's a new universe, new possibilities.
And lets not rule out the possibility of Cumberbatch being one of the 60s-era, non-bumpy Klingons.

It wouldn't have made the films any better.

As a die hard Trekkie, I'm still not feeling it :(

As a passive I used to watch the tv shows and enjoyed Star Trek and that's all, I'm still not feeling it too.

it is khan not kahn

"There's a strong argument that Star Trek Into Darkness doesn't quite manage to scale the same heights as its predecessor"

So its even worse then the first abrams star trek movie?

Makes sense.

I dont think I ever expected anything more from the combined efforts of abrams, the writers of transformers and damon lindelof.

Add disney to that team of scam artists and hopefully star wars 7 will almost reach the heights of the phantom menace.

I'm not really feeling the big deal about jj abrams.

Alias was okay.

But I suspect that I mostly enjoyed watching Jennifer Garner wear different hot outfits.

Thats the only thing I remember about that show.

Maybe thats abrams talent.

It seems to me that the best thing about the abrams star trek was the hipster attractive ensemble cast.

Like Garners hot outfits.

Have you taken a good look at Alice Eve? I think its quite clear why they put her in her underwear at one point.

Come on man, I'm a bit miffed a pasty white guy is playing Khan - but while Montalban looked ethnic to an extent - he did not look sikh/sub-continental asian in the slightest.

"It's not all successful."

I bet.

You need to keep your handles straight. Actually, you need to avoid wasting time.

He wasn't. It's just some guy trying to turn a Star Trek thread into a Star Wars thread.

Intensely boring.

Star Wars is science fiction for people who don't like science.

May the farce be with you!

Apostrophes are cool ...

So was the wild Alias plotting. But you had to pay attention to follow along.

your not a "die hard trekkie" then.


" Let the clamour for another film start right here..."

Good news. A Third film has been confirmed.

"The height of the first film"!?!?

Now Star Trek 2009 is aomething to look up to?!?!? No seriously? :D


Pedantic nob. As a punishment I am going to tell you that I watched the film last night and now I am going to ruin it for you.
It is Khan and Kirk dies intead of Spock but Bones discovers that Khan has magic blood that will bring Kirk back to life.
At the end, with Kirk back amongst the living, they get set to begin their 5-year mission.

Alias was great, it wasn't just about Jennifer Garner wearing sexy outfits ! The plot was very complex and you have to watch all the episodes to understand and get the clues about what's going on !

the heights of phantom menace ?? when the time machine I ordered from Amazon arrives, I'm gonna travel back in time and strangle Jar Jar Binx and maroon Samuel L Jockstrap on a planet far far away.

If you were a die hard, this could look absolutely terrible and have the worse marketing ever and you'd be there for the first showing. So aren't a die hard TREKKER.

Looking forward to seeing this on the IMAX screen. Can't wait, the first was brilliant.

Entitled to your opinions you are.

Redspider-Such a shame that. The magic blood stank of midiclorians. The Khan reveal hissed through the glass prison was so badly foreshadowed it was expected. I was hoping for more from the 4-star reviews I'd read.

And Khan beaminbg to the Klingon homeworld after shooting up the admirals in his shuttle. How far can they beam in this new timeline? Why do they even bother with ships? Transporter range even in the Next Gen was never that vast.


You and your weird descriptions. Also: I really don't care.

I agree with you.

I do not recognize what Star Trek stood for. (of course I do not speak about the last movies as Nemesis... please..)

it's not just empty blockbuster. I have plenty already.


This sites comments are full spoilers...

I just assumed that Khan had designed a superior transporter himself - in his TOS appearance he's basically a genius at everything (he's one of a group of humans who were genetically enhanced intellectually as well as physically, and who ruled Earth in TOS continuity for a century or so, during which they advanced humanity to a space-exploring species, so there's a bit of leeway for bending the continuity in terms of what kind of tech he has).

That's not Kahn, it's John Harrison, an OC. As stated in this review.

Someone should pitch this to Disney. Strike the hated prequals from the canon and replace them with good ones.

Heck, they could probably Kickstart it, the amount of hate people have for the Prequels.

It's pretty clearly a new character.

Seems like most sci-fi movies in the 21st century are about taking some old action script and sending it into orbit- no philosophy, no thought that propels the movie just some great big space shoot-out.

Some well-placed Ka-Booms, screaming and more screaming by women & men all in 'futuristic' costumes and you have yourself a 'meaningful' science fiction flick. :P

It's Khan.

I felt it was far better than the 2009 film actually. This one actually bothered to develop character and really benefits from having a proper, tangible threat to the Enterprise crew. The humour works incredibly well and all the actors are on top form, except Chris Pine who remains utterly dreadful.

What an Amazing film. Loved it start to finish and loved the twists.

Of cours he does. He's impersonating William Shatner.

Watched it and enjoyed it as a space-age action thriller. Where the Star Trek philosophy, the sense of adventure, righteousness, and plain-old 'Strar Trekness'? Lens flare why? Just gave me a migraine. The villain channeled a lot of 'Congo', then there was the jumping of train wagons, ok, ok, space age earth-vehicles, some Titanic scenes (yes, really, I'm that old and I expected Rose to pop out somewhere), then the weird feeling that this movie was actually a very popular multi-player game that got made under the ST Label...

Oh, yes my son loved it-- but he loves anything that goes Ka-boom, has lots of flying wreckage, etc... so....

Strong villan? Maybe compared to the previous Star Trek, but he's just there, nothing memorable

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