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Movie review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Facing the future of the franchise with eyes firmly on the past

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Bolding going... backwards?

It’s a gorgeous film to watch, and for once the imposed 3D didn’t mute the movie’s bright tones. I’m still not a fan of 3D, and Into Darkness will be no less enjoyable in 2D, but at least it’s well integrated here.

In fact, there’s little fault to be found, if any, with Into Darkness’ technical side. Abrams is a good director, and he has assembled a solid production team and a splendid cast, here joined by Peter ’Robocop’ Weller, Alice Eve and, of course, Benedict ’Sherlock’ Cumberbatch as the new crew’s nemesis.

Star Trek Into Darkness

‘I can quote Moby Dick, you know’

For the first, better half of the movie he goes by the nom de guerre John Harrison, seemingly some kind of terrorist or perhaps a Star Fleet intelligence agent gone rogue. Cumberbatch is very watchable, as usual, and his performance only misfires when the revelation of his character’s true identity is made - a moment Abrams choses to underplay, despite it being the film’s turning point.

Cumberbatch plays a character who would not have been affected by the timeline-twisting events of the previous film. Yet he is not the man he, as it were, once was. That’s not Cumberbatch’s fault - it’s how his character has been written or, more likely, shoehorned into an earlier script. He’s not the story’s prime mover, for instance. At once the film is playing with the series’ past but, here, trying to play it down, presumably to make it harder for you to guess who it is. Fans will have worked it out already.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Prince among men

The upshot is that the second half of Into Darkness is less satisfying than the first, because it’s here that the movie becomes so especially self-referential.

Maybe the writers were trying to be all cleverly meta-textual, to acknowledge the rich legacy they’re working with, but instead they come over as smart-arse fanboys.

Fan-ying about

It’s not all bad, though. As I say, Abrams’ Enterprise crew is great, and if most of them are less central to the action than is Chris Pine’s excellent Kirk, that’s because this is really his story: the swaggering teen learning the lesson he failed to grasp when he cheated the Kobayashi Maru test and growing as a character - and growing up - in consequence. The leader of men at the end is not the boy he was at the beginning of the film.

Zachary Quinto is again a splendid Spock, though neither he nor Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, John Cho’s Sulu and Anton Yelchin’s Chekov quite capture their predecessors as well as Karl Urban does of DeForrest Kelley. But then, this being Kirk’s flick, they all have less opportunity to do so than they had in the previous film.

Star Trek Into Darkness

There will be blond

I wasn’t looking forward to Simon Pegg returning at Scotty. But with more screen time and things to do this time - and, dare I say, accent lessons - he’s a pleasure to watch this time round, he and Abrams seeming to have worked out the right balance to strike between Pegg the actor and Pegg the comedian.

The Reg Verdict

Let’s not pretend Star Trek Into Darkness is anything more than flim-flam. But it is entertaining and enjoyable, and it’s more than a CGI roller-coaster ride. Even the excessive self-referentiality doesn’t entirely detract from the experience while you’re sitting in your seat staring up at the screen. Thankfully it never descends into farce the way some of its predecessors did, most notably the god-awful Voyage Home. But the writers will need to exercise some real self-restraint to stop that from happening next time.

With the Enterprise and her crew now about to embark upon their five-year mission, I hope Abrams and his team - or whoever else is at the helm of film three - have exorcised their inner fanboy and be able to set aside the past mythology and give us something fresh. But the cynic in me says it’ll probably be yet another phaser and explosion filled run-in with the Romulans, the Klingons or the Borg. ®

In cinemas across the UK from 9 May. Check out trailers and cast on the official Star Trek Into Darkness movie site.

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