When JJ Abrams announced that he was going to reboot the Star Trek franchise, few could have imagined just how spectacularly he would have succeeded. Taking the term 'reboot' seriously, he created an alternative timeline in which the established narrative could be bent, modified and in some cases obliterated. Star Trek Into Darkness builds upon this idea and presents a fully-fledged adventure for the crew of the USS Enterprise.
Following an away mission, Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) breaks the Prime Directive to save his first officer Spock's (Zachary Quinto) life, revealing advanced technology to an underdeveloped civilisation. Stripped of command by Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), Kirk is given a secret, off-the-books mission to hunt down the instigator of recent terrorist attacks, former member of Starfleet, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Resolving to hunt down the outlaw, Kirk embarks upon a mission to Harrison's last known co-ordinates, a barren sector of Kronos, home world to the Klingon Empire.
Having established the new timeline in Star Trek, Abrams had the opportunity for a fully-fledged adventure for the crew of the Enterprise and he delivers. Starting with the fast-paced intro that draws more than a bit of influence from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the central narrative flies along at a breakneck pace throughout. Sub-plots are briefly raised and then drawn upon later, giving the narrative a wonderful cyclical feel.
The cast are excellent, although the sheer number of them causes problems and certain members of the crew sidelined for long periods. Simon Pegg enjoys a slightly expanded role and delivers some of the best comedy, while Karl Urban's one-liner dispensing Dr. McCoy has a metaphor for every situation. There is a little room to explore the developing relationship of Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock, while newcomer Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) establishes herself as the new girl in town. It is however Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto's growing bromance that is the most important relationship on display. With some sharp and witty exchanges, itself enough to put Star Trek Into Darkness above most blockbusters, it's amazing that they don't represent the highlight. Enter John Harrison. From the bombastic villainous music announcing his arrival, Benedict Cumberbatch grabs the audience by the temple and never let's go.
In the mould of Alan Rickman's Die Hard supremo Hans Gruber, Harrison's rasping, occasionally psychotic conversations provide the most memorable moments. Spock is the paragon of stoicism and logic, Kirk the embodiment of passion and emotion and both men get blown off the screen by Cumberbatch who leaves them in his over-pronounced dust. In one scene he asserts to Kirk that he is better at everything and it's tough not to take him deadly seriously. If there's a more compelling villain in any film this year, it'll be a surprise. It's a testament to his portrayal that his unpredictability even has the audience siding with him at various moments.
JJ Abrams keeps things bright and breezy, and other than a staggering over-use of lens flare directs with a sure hand. Pitched at the opposite end of the blockbuster spectrum to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, Star Trek Into Darkness forgoes desolation, loneliness and struggle in favour of a light-hearted approach with dashes of dramatic gravitas presented to keep it on the right side of silly. If there is a complaint to be made then it lies in the ending, which while exciting and crowd-pleasing, feels a little bit weak in terms of dramatic follow-through. But JJ Abrams has never pretended to be offering anything other than pure blockbuster entertainment and that's exactly what he delivers. When reviewing the original Star Trek, I suggested that George Lucas observe the right way to bring back a much-loved franchise. It seems somebody had the same idea. While constant comparisons between him and Steven Spielberg will continue, Star Trek Into Darkness has more than its fair share of George Lucas influence and that bodes very well for Star Wars Episode VII.
As with its predecessor there are mirror scenes from previous iconic Star Trek moments that get stretched and exploited and there appears to be more nods for fans of the series. In fact Star Trek Into Darkness is a far more Star Trek: The Next Generation-like film than the original, with a little more emphasis put into moral decisions and dilemmas and very little in terms of seeking out new life and new civilizations. The important thing is Star Trek Into Darkness brings the same level of fun and adventure to the screen and as Abrams departs the franchise, he finds himself leaving on a high.