JJ Abrams hits warp speed right from the start of Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to his cracking 2009 reboot of the classic sci-fi series, kicking off the movie with a breathtaking sequence that combines breakneck thrills, deadpan comedy and deft use of Star Trek lore.
In short order, Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk and crewmate Bones (Karl Urban) flee spear-chucking angry natives on an alien planet; Zachary Quinto’s Spock jumps into an erupting volcano; and the Starship Enterprise rises from the ocean to save the day, thereby violating Starfleet protocol and sparking conflict between cocky rule-breaker Kirk and by-the-book Spock.
Abrams doesn’t quite sustain this level of energy and invention with what follows (how could he?), but his film still has more than enough zip and wit to satisfy diehard fans and non-Trekkies alike.
Another sign that Abrams’ movie is a distinct cut above the average blockbuster is the quality of its villain. Played with sardonic intelligence and imposing presence by Benedict Cumberbatch, John Harrison is a rogue Starfleet officer waging a terror campaign against his former organisation.
Finding out what lies behind Harrison’s one-man war against Starfleet, forms the heart of the story – and cleverly references Star Trek mythology. But the film’s emotional heart lies in the relationship between Pine’s Kirk and Quinto’s Spock.
Abrams and his screenwriters (Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof) cannily exploit the tension between Kirk’s reliance on gut instinct and Spock’s Vulcan logic to create moments of gripping suspense, but there’s a sense of real feeling, not just a plot dynamic, underlying the conflict.
Among the other members of the Enterprise crew, Zoe Saldana’s cool communications officer Uhura once more proves her mettle, Simon Pegg again plays Scotty for laughs and Urban’s cranky Bones comes up with ever more tortuous metaphors (‘You don’t rob a bank when the getaway car has a flat tyre’ is one of his most succinct).
The film looks fantastic, too, with Abrams using high-resolution Imax cameras for parts of the movie, though his penchant for lens flare has become an ever more noticeable tic. Yet the film’s flaws are only minor irritations. Spectacular, smart and thrilling, Star Trek Into Darkness is a blast.
In cinemas from Thursday 9th May.
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