You don’t need to be familiar with Star Trek to get something out of J.J. Abrams’ latest incarnation of the iconic sci-fi series because Star Trek Into Darkness, whilst referential to characters and events from previous films, works perfectly well as stand-alone piece of cinema. Whilst the characters are the same and the Starship Enterprise is once again the trusty steed on which Captain Kirk and his crew go galloping across the universe in search of new worlds, familiarity with anything that has happened in previous films is not necessary.
With Kirk (Chris Pine) struggling to balance his responsibility to his crew and upholding the rules by which he is bound, he loses command of the Enterprise momentarily when he breaches protocol in his efforts to rescue Mr Spock (Zachary Quinto) from within an erupting volcano. However, it isn’t long before Kirk’s replacement is killed by bad guy Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Kirk finds himself reunited with his crew, which includes Doctor ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg) and the dodgy-accented Chekov (Anton Yelchin). Sci-fi nuts are no doubt excited by the appearance of original Robocop Peter Weller as the rogue Admiral Marcus, whose daughter Carol (Alice Eve) scams her way onto the Enterprise for reasons that are not particularly well articulated. The fact that she strips to her underwear seems to be reason enough for Kirk to let her stay.
The plot revolves around Kirk and the crew chasing down Khan to avenge his attack on Starfleet headquarters. Of course nothing so simple ever is and their mission becomes complicated when, following a confrontation with a Klingon patrol in an isolated part of the planet Kronos, Khan surrenders and subsequently joins forces with Kirk to dispose of Marcus, albeit with vastly different agendas. Of course, there are no major surprises in how everything pans out as we need all the characters to survive to set up the next movie, or two, or three in this seemingly perpetual franchise.
There are moments where Abrams has attempted to inject humour into the narrative, but unfortunately Pine, Urban, Quinto and company do not possess the comic flair that, say, Robert Downey Jnr exudes. Alternatively, maybe it is the jokes themselves that are the problem, but either way, some of the intended funny moments don’t really crackle like they should. Furthermore, the romance between Spock and Uhura serves as nothing more than a distraction that really serves little purpose in propelling the narrative, other than giving Saldana an opportunity to emote when Spock’s life looks to be in jeopardy. A real highlight though was a cameo by the original Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, whose legacy remains very much entrenched in the history of this franchise.
The special effects and action sequences are all fine, as you would expect from Abrams given his experience with the first film in the Star Trek reboot and his appointment as Director of the upcoming Star Wars sequels. Some of the performances are wooden – Pine and Urban in particular – but overall this is an enjoyable enough journey into yet another cinematic rendering of a distant future.