Since his vision was released upon the slightly sceptical world back in 2009, writer/director (saviour) J.J. Abrams has come a long way. His Star Trek gathered both old and new fans alike into the camp of "exhilarated" and made its sequel one of, if not the, most anticipated films of this year. So before he makes the "Force be with us" all over again with his Star Wars Ep VII, let us "boldly go" with him once again Into Darkness...
As is the way, this entry into the Star Trek cannon, will be compared to not only its predecessor but to the original outings of Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise's crew - and with a certain adventure specifically. More on that later.
Abrams first foray into Roddenberry's world saw him introduce the characters whilst using the new time line plot to show off their slightly altered personalities. Here, with the core characters already in place, the task is to further build upon the bond between them and accentuate their now different life stories. This focus is primarily aimed at the burgeoning friendship of Pine's Kirk and Quinto's Spock. As the film progresses, so to does their banter, bickering and bromance. Kirk has the journey of becoming a Captain worthy of the legacy left by his father and Spock meanwhile has the journey of acknowledging and embracing his human heritage given by his mother.... so it's more like Into Deepness than Darkness in a way.
Now, don't be fooled or alarmed by that last sentence. This is not really as the title suggests a "dark" affair. This is far from it. Like Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams brings fun and excitement onto the menu along with the side dishes of tension and death. If someone needs to die to further the plot, then die they will. Like his idol Spielberg, Abrams knows how to put you through the emotional wringer and have you roller coastering from laughs to shocks to gladness and then back again through sadness. Here, laughs are shared more throughout the cast than the previous journey of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The bickering of Kirk and Spock remains one of the films comedic building blocks, but upon that the rest of the crew get to bring their gag reels with them - Pegg's Scotty sees the homage to the original performance of the Engineering Officer take it up a notch (but sadly still no "she can'ne take it C'apn. I doen't have the powwer!") Cho's Sulu gets a taste of the chair and likes it and Yelchin's Chekov (the character with the least to do this time round) gets to fake confidence to his superior in the face of danger. That leaves only two other central crew members. It is their spotlight moments that show the cleverness of the script which does something surprising and very, very well. Saldana's Uhura isn't confined to the comms desk with the blobby bit sticking out of her ear - she gets to go on away missions, fight baddies but best of all, gets to have relationship arguments with her boyfriend - Spock. The three-way argument in the shuttle between them and Kirk (the awkward 3rd wheel who's dragged into the discussion) is comedy gold and makes you unprepared for the action sequence that directly follows it - that roller coaster ride feeling again! So that keeps the newbies to Roddenberry's universe happy and glad that they've come back for seconds. It's Urban's McCoy that underlines the cleverness of the script.
He is the one that sticks out as the direct link to the original series - the Trekkie's lifeline and pacifier. His many variations of "I'm a physician, not a ...." callback to the 60's TV show but help with a shocking revelation - normal cinema audiences are quietly being turned into Trekkie's. They might not realise it, but this journey of the Enterprise has so many references to the world of Star Trek gone by that it's hard to count them. Normal people are sitting there watching the events unfold whilst sitting around them Trekkie's are feeling them slowly being seduced and moving over to the darkside (mixing metaphors and Star Wars/Trek deliberately there!) There is one MASSIVE callback to the origins of Trek's world but to reveal that here, without warning, would be sacrilege. If you wish to know it, the spoiler review will be below the trailer.
Now, there are other callbacks and not all of them are to previous connected works. Not unlike James Bond, Into Darkness has an opening sequence that is a totally separate adventure from the main story. I say James Bond, but to be honest, it's Raiders Of The Lost Ark - Abrams' nod to Spielberg again. This sequence has the forest, the chase, the spears but instead of an idol we have a submerged Starship and an overactive volcano. And a fantastic opening sequence that raises the bar so high that you wonder how the rest of the film will live up to it.
But, it does. Spectacularly. And part of that success goes to Cumberbatch and the introduction of a classic baddie that isn't a baddie. But then is. And then isn't. And then...oh, you get the picture. His portrayal of agent-gone-rogue John Harrison is cold, calculating and at one point when he's behind a glass prison cell, quite Hannibal Lecter-ish. You even hang on every quietly-spoken word of his whilst he and Kirk do brains-battle to see if he's going to have his "liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti." Of course, such an impression would not be part of Abrams style and it never goes beyond a quick moment of recognition, but Cumberbatch gets to create his own standout villain - a man who can take out a mass of foes (human and non-human) single handedly all whilst looking immaculate apart from his moppish hair. His presence and memory impact on the viewer is ten-fold of what Eric Bana was able to do with his Star Trek baddie Captain Nero which was the only slight niggle of the entire film so it would seem that Into Darkness has risen above its predecessor. And rightly so.
Now that he has Star Wars to do, there could be a chance that this is Abrams final foray into the final frontier. If so, which I mostly sincerely hope is NOT the case, then he leaves Star Trek in a place that many thought not possible - new and old fans alike, together in appreciation of a vision that has been reborn and yet still holds a torch and a mirror to its origins.
The Best Fun You Can Have In A Cinema With Your Clothes On This Year! Brilliant!
UK release date: 09.05.13
SPOILER ALERT REVIEW!
You have been warned - do not read unless you've seen it or don't want your world rocked whist watching it!
What Abrams and writers Lindelof, Orci and Kurtzman have done is something wonderful, and to this reviewer, thought once impossible. They have taken one of the most respected and loved Trek films and literally rewritten it. The realisation of who the new characters are what their roles mean to the Trek legacy is gasp-inducing as the makers drip feed you clues then in Oz style, pull back the curtain for the "Ta Da!" moment. The second "new" Star Trek film is a rewrite of the second "old" Star Trek film. This is a new generations The Wrath Of Khan and it is bloody brilliant!
But of course you can't just replay the events of the mighty Khan - old Trekkie's won't stand for it. So, all the events that you know do happen, but, not in the order you remember OR to those you expect. Back To The Future II was one of the cleverest sequels penned with its revisiting the first films timeline and observing it but Into Darkness joins it on that podium, however for very different reasons. It's a sequel but also a kind of reimagining of its natural parent film and in that sense it does too revisit the timeline but alters it just like Marty McFly once did... Things will not be as you remember them but it seems that destiny does have a sense of irony. Like with Final Destination, you can try and cheat the outcome but it seems that some events are written in stone. The Enterprise will be crippled. Someone will die to save the many. And someone will realise the meaning of friendship all too late. And you will be hooked. End of.