Cast your mind back four years to 2009 and J. J. Abrams was the talk of Hollywood. He already had created two very successful television series in “Alias” and “Lost”, produced the alien disaster movie “Cloverfield” and revitalised the “Mission: Impossible” film franchise with the third entry into the series.
Then he managed to perform a feat that Doctor McCoy would have been proud of by breathing life into the tired “Star Trek” franchise by returning the franchise back to its origins whilst rebooting it through the device of establishing a new timeline which included the death of Kirk’s father, along with his becoming more rebellious than the original version, and the destruction of Vulcan.
Since then, he has created another hit in the popular television series “Fringe”, directed the smash sci-fi film “Super 8”, produced further hit series such as “Person Of Interest” and “Revolution”, along with the cancelled “Alcatraz”, and produced the smash hit “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and the lesser known “Morning Glory”.
So, it was only a matter of time for Abrams to take his place in the Captain’s chair behind the camera with this follow up to his “Star Trek” reboot.
Whereas the original film centres on the building of the Enterprise crew, along with re-establishing the spiky beginnings of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy relationship and Kirk’s journey to being given the centre seat, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is a darker film which puts the crew of the Enterprise to the test whilst exploring what makes them a family, of sorts, and forcing Kirk into a lesson that being given the Captain’s chair and truly earning it are two entirely different things.
The script by Abrams’ regular collaborators Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof also intelligently explores the psychological definition of how people view the term “evil” especially the way that darkness can taint the most noble of motives through the character of John Harrison, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, whilst not stinting on the action and humour of the previous Abrams “Trek” film.
Abrams uses the script to deliver a pacy action film that keeps the audience entertained, whilst allowing for natural slowdowns, partly for the audience to catch their breath and partly to pose the interesting moral dilemmas facing Kirk and Spock due to Harrison’s actions.
Chris Pine has definitely settled into the role of Kirk, taking the character on a journey from the cocky young man who still writes his own rulebook, rather than following Starfleet’s rules, through a man driven by pain and revenge, into a true captain who truly cares for his “family” and sets the example of leadership which inspires his crew to care about him. Pine’s portrayal of the role is primarily of his own making, yet also allows enough room for William Shatner’s portrayal to peek through, especially in moments of playful humour alongside his co-stars.
Zachary Quinto takes the opportunity to build on his original portrayal of Spock, crafting a character which honours Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of the role, but not to overshadow his interpretation. This is a Spock who is truly conflicted between his Vulcan and Human natures, both in moments of humour and drama. Whilst the previous film portrays the Kirk/Spock working relationship as spiky at best and downright hostile at worst, “Into Darkness” really lays down the platform for the Kirk/Spock “bromance”, especially in the film’s closing act.
Karl Urban cements his place as Doctor McCoy with the same acidic wit and cantankerous nature that DeForrest Kelley brought to the original incarnation. Urban also gets the opportunity to portray McCoy’s role as the human conscience in this film to balance Kirk’s gung-ho nature and Spock’s steely logic… plus he get’s to deliver the classic McCoy “I’m a doctor not a…” line.
Zoe Saldana is given more to do as Uhura, taking on the action duties alongside Pine and Quinto whilst serving as Spock’s love interest and his emotional compass. In addition to this, Saldana and Quinto provides some well balanced comedy to demonstrate the problems of a relationship between the passionate, caring Uhura – who is the emotional hearbeat of the Enterprise crew – and Spock’s emotional repression which neither veers into the mawkish or the inappropriately silly.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the Enterprise command staff is underserved with Scotty, portrayed by the brilliant Simon Pegg, making the most of his limited screen time by being humorous in the role whilst adding in a couple of interesting moral questions to beef up his role from the previous film, whilst Sulu, portrayed by John Cho, and Chekov, portrayed by Anton Yelchin, being relegated to bit parts. (Although Yelchin does get a great gag about the traditional Starfleet “red shirts”).
Bruce Greenwood returns as Kirk’s mentor Christopher Pike, whilst new major introductions to the Starfleet Roster comes with Peter (“RoboCop”) Weller coming in as Admiral Marcus, whilst British actress Alice Eve adds potential, if only underplayed in this film, romantic interest in the role of Carol.
But the big new entry into the cast roster is Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of John Harrison. Harrison represents the current obsession of the “enemy within” and whilst there have been other portrayals of Starfleet officers and agents gone rogue, Cumberbatch is certainly the most engaging, as far as I’m concerned. He takes the character and moulds and manipulates it into somebody who, on a certain level, you can’t help but have a degree of sympathy for, whilst on the other hand he has to portray the character as somebody who will stop at nothing to achieve his aims whilst using people as simple accessories to help with those achievements… plus the Cumber Collective/Cumberbabes (whatever you wish to call yourselves) can revel in his vocal performance.
“Star Trek Into Darkness”, like the previous film, builds itself on the firm foundations of the original television series, whilst giving itself the latitude to establish its own identity. Whether the franchise continues with Abrams in the director’s chair is open to speculation, given that he has now signed up to direct “Star Wars: Episode VII”. However, he , along with the talent in front of and behind the camera, has created a winning formula which Paramount would be daft not to build upon further.