I’m not going to start off with a full retrospective of forty seven years of Star Trek but needless to say that with six different TV shows and now twelve films its longevity is unprecedented. If you wanted to sit down and watch all of it without a break it would take you twenty three days.
Still, four years ago the franchise followed James Bond and Batman with a reboot. This time though they were particularly clever as unlike those other series, Star Trek managed to simultaneously go (split infinitive deliberate) right back to the beginning while still following on chronologically from everything that had come before. Good old time travel! It saved Lois Lane in 1978 and it saved the flagging Star Trek movie series in 2009. (Flagging? Well yes. There may well be six films for Shatner and his buddies and four for Patrick Stewart’s crew but Star Trek is still only the twenty third most successful film franchise of all time, which is way behind things such as The Fast & the Furious and Madagascar.)
This time around the recast Kirk and crew are moving through time in a strictly linear fashion but the story is still very clearly following on from and replaying previous events. Interestingly some of the elements of imitation have been played down, Chris Pine’s Kirk is developing into quite a different character from Shatner’s for example, but in other respects this film adheres very very closely to events in the previous Star Trek movies. There is even one scene that actually goes as far as directly, almost shot for shot, replaying something we have seen before.
In fact, there is one previous Star Trek movie that you really need to have seen to fully appreciate Star Trek Into Darkness but to tell you which would be a spoiler. Last time director J.J Abrams gave us a film that skilfully danced along the line between wide audience appeal and playing to the nerds and while he has pulled off the same trick here I think he has turned a little more to the geek side. This will no doubt please and enrage the Trekkers in equal measure.
J.J Abrams has quickly become a key Hollywood player which is impressive considering that this is only his fourth feature film, and with two Star Treks and Mission Impossible III among them, he isn’t really giving us anything new. Even Super 8 was largely, and deliberately, derivative of other movies. Perhaps it is no great surprise that in a time when Hollywood is producing a lot of sequels, remakes and sequels to remakes a director who specialises in repackaging well known stories is doing so well. Next up, of course, the guy is relaunching the Millennium Falcon.
This isn’t to say that J.J Abrams is an untalented hack rolling out knock offs of old movies, very far from it. While I could happily do without the constant lens flaring (its pretty distracting in this film), Abrams does have a great eye for both visuals and story. The idea that he is next going to play in a certain galaxy far far away is properly exciting, particularly based on the evidence presented in Star Trek Into Darkness.
The film looks amazing and the first few minutes alone are packed with some great images. Straight away we are thrown into an alien world that genuinely looks like no place on earth rather than just being shot in the desert. Shortly after this we have the sight of that familiar starship rising out from beneath the sea in a far more impressive way than anything seen in last year’s Battleship trailer (I couldn’t bring myself to actually see the film so I can only comment on the trailer) and to conclude this James Bond style pre credit sequence, Spock fights a volcano. It all looks great and, I never thought I would say these words but, it all looks great in 3D. There is also a lovely new effect when The Enterprise jumps to warp speed that I could watch all week (but not for twenty three days).
Still great effects need to be employed in the service of a great story and on the ‘Avatar’ to ‘Life of Pi’ Great Effects in the Service of a Great Story Scale this registers somewhere between Terminator 2 and The Matrix. The events play out around Benedict Cumberbatch as a futuristic Moriarty and as you would expect he effortlessly acts everyone else off the screen. For a while it looks like he is going to be one of the great conflicted villains of modern cinema (which is measured on the (Ed Harris in ‘A History of Violence’ to Ed Harris in ‘The Rock’ Scale) but ultimately his motives are not that surprising. Although the plot doesn’t really keep you guessing it is good to see all of the different character’s story arcs progress amid the explosions and firefights.
Kirk, who you thought might have matured after gaining his captaincy in the last film is still wrestling with his impulsive and irrational nature while Zachary Quinto’s superb Spock is fighting against his logical and impassive side. It’s not a sophisticated juxtaposition but its been a fun one to watch since 1966. Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Anton Yelchin all get brief but nice character moments. Karl Urban is a joy to watch having tremendous fun as Dr Bones McCoy and Simon Pegg is playing a comedy character more exaggerated than anything he has done before despite having appeared in Ice Age, Alan Partridge, Bottom, Brass Eye and Comic Relief. Also, he can longer boast of being the only guy to be in both of the great five decade long sci-fi series because Doctor Who’s Noel Clarke appears in this film acting as if his daughter’s life depended on it. This sequence realises the fears of us Brits that a futuristic London will be one where all of our beautiful buildings are dwarfed by Shard and Gherkinalike glass architecture.
So now that this film is done the director is heading off to the world of Jedis and Ewoks and there is a sense of completion about this part of the story. The end of the movie leaves the crew as we first found them (minus the shaky sets). There is a clear sense that with the set up done, we are ready to get on with business as usual, Tribble included, just as we were when Daniel Craig took off his hat, flirted with Moneypenny and headed into a wood panelled office to get his next mission from a male M. Here we are, simultaneously at the end and the beginning.
Star Trek Into Darkness, contrary to the title, is a lot of fun, just like its predecessor (which I think I preferred, just a little) and with this and Iron Man 3, the Summer is off to a great start.
Now lets see what Baz Luhrman has for us.
Is this one for the kids?
As you would expect this is a 12A and as you would expect that means there is some violence but nothing graphic. If your kids have seen stuff like Skyfall and The Amazing Spider-Man then there will be nothing here to bother them. There are some quick shots of a few severed limbs, a little off screen head crushing and a totally pointless shot of a pretty lady in her undies but otherwise it is all business as usual; shooting, explosions and multiple deaths.