Star Trek: Into Darkness (2012)

The famed science-fiction franchise is firmly on track to having a long life full of prosperity under the direction of J.J. Abrams.

star-trek-2012USA
4*

Director:
J.J. Abrams

Screenwriters:
Roberto Orci

Alex Kurtzman
Damon Lindelof
Director of Photography:
Dan Mindel

Running time: 130 minutes

Although the freshness of the Star Trek reboot may have worn off a little, its second instalment, titled Star Trek Into Darkness, is every bit as majestic and engaging as the first one that was released in 2009.

Only two films in, director J.J. Abrams has our complete confidence he has brought the franchise back from near-oblivion with films that invigorate the viewer and may even shape a new generation of fans seeking to travel to distant lands scattered among the galaxies. Abrams’s risky decision to include a few bouts of sentimentality is handled with extreme care and pays off in the end, proving this director is strong where it counts.

The major character arc involves the spontaneous, sometimes rebellious, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), who showed his mettle in the first film, despite his rivalry with Spock (Zachary Quinto), the most intelligent officer on the ship and the one with whom he clashed with most often.

In the opening moments, Kirk and Spock are outrunning primitive beings on the planet Nibiru before Spock is catapulted into a volcano that threatens to destroy the entire civilisation before it has even had a chance to develop. Although their presence is mostly unexplained, except for a suggestion they had an urge to save the planet, even though there was no vested interested in taking such dangerous action, this sequence is important because it establishes Kirk’s nascent feelings of friendship for Spock. Flaunting Starfleet regulations and potentially altering the course of history, he reveals the ship to the spear-wielding populace in order to save Spock from certain death.

It is an act the pointy-eared Vulcan doesn’t quite grasp, but by the end of the film his half-human heart will have come round, and we will realise how much the two opposites have shaped each other’s behaviour. Abrams walks a very treacherous road by reminding us of Spock’s loss of his mother and his entire planet in the previous film and Kirk’s loss of his father. At times, it seems like the film is headed straight for primal territory where passionate reactions are only possible when the past is dug up, but luckily the characters are complex enough for us to assume these past incidents are part of their makeup and do not dominate their actions.

But Kirk’s proclivity for adventure leads him into a sticky situation at the heart of the film, which involves one of the series’s most notorious figures: the genetically enhanced Khan Singh, also known as John Harrison. That Khan is played by the pale Benedict Cumberbatch may come as a shock to Trekkies, but the actor’s depiction of the ominous character, whose intellect rivals that of Spock and whose cells have the ability to regenerate at warp speed, is effective because he is soft-spoken but firm, very persuasive and ultimately terrifyingly cold-blooded.

If you are a diehard Star Trek fan, you may relish the opportunity to practise your Klingon, as this is the first time the language of this warrior race appears in the new series. The relatively short scene features expert “xenolinguist” Uhura (a constantly weepy and emotional Zoe Saldana, whose character is the weakest in an otherwise very strong cast) producing the guttural language during negotiations with jittery fighters.

The storyline isn’t as clear as it was in the first film, and it does not generate the same kind of awe at the magnitude of space travel until the very last scene, but much of the interest lies in the development and exploration of personality, as even a relatively small character like Lieutenant Sulu (John Cho) is given room to grow in a visible, memorable and satisfying way.

Into Darkness is by no means a film that can only be appreciated by the Trekkies, but it ought to offer committed fans of the franchise a smooth viewing experience as well. It is popcorn science-fiction entertainment writ large that focuses on human stories (or human feelings, as in the case of Spock, who still pines for the planet he lost in the previous film) rather than grand ideas or scientific minutiae. Michael Giacchino’s sweeping pieces for orchestra, sometimes boosted by a choir, accompany large sections of the film in a rousing way.

We will have to wait until the next instalment to assess whether Abrams can break the curse of the “bad odd-numbered Star Trek film”, as he did with his 2009 motion picture, but for now, the voyages of the USS Enterprise and its crew will continue to enthrall even the sceptics of science fiction.