J. J. Abrams' second voyage into the Star Trek universe is a bigger, brighter, but not necessarily better affair, but fans of the 2009 movie will be happy to hear that there is just as much fun to be had second time around. Despite the ominous title, Star Trek Into Darkness is a funny, bombastic and high-octane ride that easily exceeds the summer blockbuster criteria. Origin stories are hard to better, and while Abram's Star Trek achieved the seemingly impossible feat of appeasing Trekkies and bringing new fans to the franchise by reassessing the relationship between Kirk and Spock, Into Darkness focuses predominantly on Kirk's personal journey, and loses some of its heart in the process. The hard core fans will enjoy nods and references galore, to one film in particular, but the synergy of old and new Trek is not as successful as it was first time around, and many knowing gags will seem discordant to the uninitiated.
Many details of the plot must be retained for fear of spoilers, but Star Trek Into Darkness sees Kirk (Chris Pine) demoted from his position of captain of the Enterprise after deliberately breaking the rules to save Spock (Zachary Quinto) from being incinerated by an erupting volcano; a jaw-dropping opening, which immediately outdoes any of the spectacular set-pieces in Star Trek. Meanwhile, a Star Fleet building in London is attacked by a sinister terrorist known as John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), and when the threat gets closer to home, Kirk sets out for revenge.
Pine and Quinto quickly rediscover the same repartee established in the previous film, and the remaining members of the brilliantly-assembled Enterprise crew feel like they have never been away. Karl Urban's Bones stretches his homemade metaphors further than ever, and Simon Pegg basks in the light of his extended comic role. Alice Eve is the newest edition to the gang, playing the mysterious Dr. Carol Marcus, daughter of the newly introduced Star Fleet Admiral Marcus, played by Robo-Cop's Peter Weller. Eve's presence is not unwelcome, but her character seems a little under-explored, and one superfluous scene of her stripped to her underwear is disappointingly retrograde. However, it is Cumberbatch's Harrison who is the most significant edition to the cast, and early descriptions of the character being "not entirely what he seems" have unsurprisingly had fans speculating as to whether he might have greater significance in Star Trek folklore, but he is menacing, enigmatic and oddly seductive.
The pacing is fast, the dialogue is snappy, and the lens flare is back with a vengeance, but there is an undeniable sag in the plot-heavy second act in which I felt something not dissimilar to boredom. However, Abrams ends with bravado in a dénouement that will have Trek fans squealing with delight. Michael Giacchino's pomp-filled score perfectly punctuates some breathtaking action as Quinto pursues Cumberbatch through the streets of San Francisco, ticking every blockbuster box along the way. It's a highly satisfying end to a flawed sequel, and if Abram's calls it quits at this juncture, his successor will inherit a very healthy, reinvigorated franchise with endless possibilities.
Star Trek Into Darkness suffers from a few of the maladies of 'sequel syndrome', lacking the heart, focus and drive of the 2009 original, but there is so much unadulterated fun to be had along the way (especially for fans of the franchise), you will probably be more than forgiving.