Warning, here be mild spoilers (and I’m writing this from the memory of having seen it about a month ago – work picking up again equals less on blog…). A couple of years ago I commented that the first of the Star Trek reboots was a close to perfect summer fodder as possible. The directors follow up – Super 8 – was even better, a glorious throwback to summer films of old (and the film-making values of old as well). So expectations for a Star Trek sequel were high, could Abrams live up to his previous efforts again?
The answer (thankfully) is yes, “Into Darkness” doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors (pretty much the go to standard for summer films from the last five years), but it’s still a hundred times more entertaining than most summer films. Once again Abrams delivers something that feels like Star Trek whilst also feeling modern and not tied to forty plus years of story, taking aspects of what has come before and twisting them into something fresh. By now it won’t surprise anyone to find that this is sort of a remake of “Wrath of Khan”, but Abrams subverts the original enough to make it not feel like a dull remake or (even worse) a pastiche. The story is updated to reflect the times (something that Star Trek used to be good at), taking in issues of the War on Terror and fake-dossiers as the driving force, but never overwhelming the sense of fun. Here Khan is as much the victim as the villain (and the film should be applauded for delivering an on-screen rarity, few films end with the chief villain being captured rather than killed), although the film never forgets that this is a world of clear black & white, ambiguity is thankfully left at a minimum. It’s also nice to see the Federation played as the villains as well, with the sense that all of this zipping around space could be seen as much as conquest as exploration, even the perennial villains are seen as predicting their land rather than seeking conflict.
Whilst it would be far too easy to lay all of the praise at Abrams door, the truth is that this is clearly a collective effort, with everyone bringing their best to the table. It’s one of those films where watching it you get the sense that everyone had an absolute blast making it. All of the principals seem far more comfortable this time around, more willing to make the roles their own rather than slavishly mimic the previous actors. Predictably Benedict Cumberbatch and Zachary Quinto do the majority of the heavy lifting, the latter especially taking what is essentially the straight-man role and making it interesting. His Spock feels far more conflicted than Nimoy ever did. There’s less comedy for Pine to shine with this time (the whole film has a slightly more serious tone) which does harm the film a little, but this is a minor quibble really. The only person who doesn’t seem at ease is Simon Pegg, although this could be as a result of a plot contrivance too far rather than the actor himself (his Scottish accent remains appalling however).
Technically it’s dazzling, the effects flawless (and still obeying physics – for the most part) with plenty of moments where the artistry of the industry comes to the fore (including a jaw dropping shot near the start of the film of the Enterprise emerging from the ocean) – although there’s nothing quite as awe inspiring as the Saturn shot from the first film. Michael Giacchino’s score remains a pleasure to hear and a far cry from the usual doom-laden soundtracks of many modern blockbusters, altogether breezier. As per Spielberg (whom Abrams seems keen to emulate), the technology helps to tell the story rather than drive the film, something many other directors could take a lesson from. The 3D (post-converted) isn’t too bad either – directors seem to finally be moving away from poking the audience in the eye with sticks.
Into Darkness doesn’t set out to change the way we think or the nature of modern cinema, but sometimes just delivering solid entertainment is just as important as higher ideals. Once again Abrams has delivered a thoroughly entertaining film that doesn’t require us to completely shut off our brains prior to watching it, harking back to the glories of the eighties when films weren’t made to the lowest common denominator. Worth seeing, and certainly worth seeing on the big screen.