Jedi News Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

It’s been a long four years for Star Trek fans, eagerly waiting for a sequel to the film that reignited the movie franchise after the seven year gap since the disappointing Star Trek: Nemesis. But has that 48 months been worthwhile, or was J.J.Abrams first foray into the Alpha Quadrant a flash in the pan?

Jedi News were at the press screening of Star Trek Into Darkness on Friday 3rd May to find out.

So, as we settled into our seats at the Empire Leicester Square, packed with press and Trek fans alike we slipped on our 3D glasses and re-entered the world of the Bad Robot Star Trek universe. And from the off the film hits like a freight train and doesn’t give up. Pre-credits, J.J hurls us into the tail end of an adventure we’ll most likely only read about in a comic or novel as the film continues the frenetic pace of the 2009 film, throwing Kirk, McCoy and most predominently Spock into a dangerous, planet-threatening situation. It doesn’t take Data’s intellect to figure out that they survive, but despite that the danger quotia is high and as they jet away to the opening credits and the main meat of the story we are quickly eased back into this alternate iteration of Star Trek.

There are plenty of people who hold little love for J.J’s new version, but I’m certainly not one of them. The 2009 film ranks very highly in my list of great Trek outings, as it both honoured the past by including the Prime version of Spock as well as giving the series a much needed shot in the arm via the introduction new actors to portray the classic roles and allowing fresh designs of familiar Trek locales, vehicles and iconography. And this continues in Star Trek Into Darkness in both refreshing and occasionally frustrating ways.

Over the past year and since the first time Benedict Cumberbatch was announced as the villain there have been fan rumblings that the film was a retread of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. While not entirely true, the film certainly touches many of that films waypoints. A bruising starship battle, “The needs of the many outweight the needs of the few”, Carol Marcus, “I have been and always shall be your friend” among the more obvious links. And while it’s not my place pre-release to discuss the other most obvious link, Cumberbatch is a demon in the role of John Harrison. Intelligent, brutal, driven, devious, he’s a steely-eyed machine who will go over and through anything to get what he wants for his people. As the films most enjoyable cameo tells us, he’s not to be trusted and for good reason. Voyager‘s Chakotay once told us the tale of the scorpion and the fox. Bear that in mind while watching this film…

Those expecting a dark, grim, Dark Knight-style film will be in for a shock as Star Trek Into Darkness is genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny. Star Trek has always been full of humour, from the slapstick of Star Trek 5 to the knowing humour of The Voyage Home and First Contact. This continues that and while the dark gets very dark indeed at times, the easy banter is never far away and as in the first film the characters are well observed. You are in no doubt that these are the same heroes you grew up with, and via a bunch of subtle nods to the fans (Sulu sitting in the captains chair anyone?) the writers treat us again with some superb characterisation.

As the main villains of 5 of the original 6 motion pictures and main cast in another 4, you would be right to expect the Klingons to be present here. They were originally to be seen in the 2009 film, but this time around they are very much present as a mission to Qu’onos sees the introduction of the ‘new’ Klingons.

Fear not, these are definitely Klingons, speaking Klingon and a few minor tweaks aside we are in familiar territory, even down to a fight sequence involving a neatly redesigned Bird of Prey that showcases some magnificent VFX work. Indeed, as stated the film sometimes goes out of its way to remind you that while we are in a fresh timeline, there are anchor points and similarities to the much-loved original series, its sequels and the films. Kirk, Uhura and Spock fly a vehicle not disimilar to the USS Defiant. We see some more of The Motion Picture style uniforms and even a tribble. Repeat viewings will certainly identify far more tips of the hat than this, but as a lifelong fan it shows that the old has not been forgotten. Far from it, the spine of Star Trek Into Darkness couldn’t be more vintage.

As in The Search For Spock and Generations we see the Enterprise being battered senseless, another tour de force for the effects and practical teams and in the final act of the movie we are shown perhaps the only disappointing element of the film, a replay of a very familiar scene that treads just a touch too close to the original, but with a twist. Its resolution is excellent and welcome, played again by the principal actors with a steady hand and directed sensitively by Abrams, but if there is one complaint about the film, this would be it.

This new version of Star Trek has the ability to show us strange new worlds and new situations unencumbered by the contraints (if they are indeed restraints, I see them as history) of previously written stories. To go back to a classic tale that in it’s own way was retold by First Contact and Nemesis, touching upon both A Tale of Two Cities and Moby Dick, seems unnecessary. Thankfully it’s produced in a thrilling way and that skill gets it through what could be tricky waters for many Trek fans. The Beatles didn’t go back and remake Sergeant Peppers. ‘Nuff said.

As Star Trek Into Darkness ends you’d need a stone heart not to be grinning like Doctor Phlox and the eagerness for a third entry in this version of Trek is higher than ever. The entire team knocked this one out of the park, from the cast and producers to the writers and VFX crews. Special mention must go to Michael Giaccino for yet another stirring score that elevates the action in the grand tradition of John Williams.

As we prepare for J.J. to switch galaxies and start work on Episode VII he has left the Star Trek universe in a great place, and if he is unable to make that final film then whoever takes over the reins has got the best starting point to work from.

Everything is set, the 5 year mission is about to start. Let’s see what’s out there.

With great thanks to Rosanna Sutcliffe at Way To Blue.

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