In the final moments of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek there was a tangible feeling of excitement. The film ended on a note of extreme anticipation of the journey ahead with the crew settled into their new roles, and we into this new Trek universe.
It is a feeling which survives repeat viewings and now that we have gone into darkness that feeling, it seems, was a justifiable one. Unexpectedly though it is not repeated with the same resonance this time around.
Star Trek Into Darkness comes to the screen with much expected of it. It had to maintain the new energy and beating heart of its predecessor yet strike out to new ground, with new battles to fight and new frontiers to find. Abrams arguably has a harder task this time around. To go one better, to improve on an extremely strong opening and although it is by no means flawless he has made another fine, and fun, Star Trek film.
Initially it is a triumphant return, the world and the universe is explored perfectly within the confines of the unfolding story. The opening scene functions in the same way as the destruction of the USS Kelvin did with the thematic structure laid out in an impressive action-heavy opener. When the film settles down the tone wavers slightly and it is only with the introduction of the new faces that it picks up pace again. Relentlessly, and at times to the overall detriment of the film.
This is spectacle on a grand scale with some very satisfying moments. Abrams has chosen some fine actors to bring into this world with Noel Clarke and Peter Weller making the most of their time on screen. An unexpected consequence of this is that the crew, whose development was so central to the first film, are barely any different when the credits roll. Only Zachary Quinto’s Spock escapes this fate and arguably steals the show with a rousing display, bringing a much-needed new dimension to his character. With a tapestry this rich the decision not to stray from familiar ground is a surprising one.
Where Abrams excels is in giving the fans what they want and propelling his stories with epic action set pieces. Star Trek Into Darkness is permeated with Trek lore, some elements expected, others not, but more often than not the story is served well. The excitement, however, comes from the new. Visually the film is stunning, with the 3D adding much to the spacebound action – it is by no means a necessity.
Flaws, such as they are, remain from the first film. Several characters are lost as the story hurtles to its conclusion, others fall too easily into their familiar selves. Now that the awkward moment of adjustment is over we get to see more of the new universe Abrams has created and if there is any criticism to be made it is that in old ground being covered it makes for a less effective foundation to build on anew.
John Harrison is a fine addition to the Trek universe and Cumberbatch employs his distinctive baritone to great portentous effect while scenery barely holds together around him. Once the shadow of Sherlock is lifted and Abrams begins to toy with us it feels as though we are finally breaking into new territory. Alice Eve does not get the same treatment and the trailer-friendly underwear scene is sadly, utterly extraneous.
It the elements which do not hold to, nor mirror, the existing knowledge of the universe that are the most engaging. When elements break away from, or realign themselves to, the lore of Star Trek the film is either propelled or slows. The first film almost achieved the impossible in recreating and renewing a series with reverence and a keen understanding of what fans wanted. More importantly with an understanding of what fans of good films wanted.
The trip into darkness is as good as its predecessor, with some excellent nods to the fans and enough excitement to convert many a non-Trekker cinema goer. However it misses the greatness it might have achieved if it had kept to the crooked path it was leading away from its past.
Star Trek Into Darkness will send Trekkers into paroxysms of delight. The rest of the audience will be thrown back and forth from enjoyment to frustration but ultimately leave satisfied. The emotional centre of the first film is absent, so too is the underlying sense of fun, but Abrams plays us all knowingly. The notes are as exciting as ever even if the melody is sometimes too familiar to stir the heart.