Has there ever been a series as indebted to its past as JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot? It’s just an endless cycle of winks, nudges and nods. The fact that it’s such a feature of Abrams work doesn’t instil me with the greatest faith in his upcoming reboot of that other fallen giant of sci-fi. Fortunately he has a solid body of work to counter that claim, and Star Trek Into Darkness is yet another score for the well-oiled Abrams machine. This is a machine that’s made to thrill rather than enlighten, and, though Into Darkness is largely unoriginal and not massively impressive in any way, it once again gets the job done with another fun romp through the infinite vastness of space – though, that said, most of it happens inside a ship interior or in the distant locales of ‘London’ and ‘San Francisco’.
This time Kirk and Spock face John Harrison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and his cheekbones. As you might have guessed from Cumberbatch’s casting, Harrison is a maverick genius who seems to always manage to be one step ahead of the Enterprise. Cumberbatch is suitably menacing and his natural ability to patronise comes through as strong as ever, though, that said, it’s still a largely functional performance. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s not a showstopper by any stretch of the imagination. That might be in part due to the fact that he’s, in spite of supposedly being some kind of ubermensch, kind of a pawn in everyone else’s plans for most of the film.
It should be pointed out that these plans are, by and large, as blindingly obvious as the series’ trademark lens flare effect. Into Darkness is so predictable that after a while it becomes part of the fun seeing how many of your predictions unfold. I almost feel like it would be pointless leaving out the spoilers since you can see most of them, and there are quite a few twists in the tale, from about a mile away. It’s not like it’s got a terrible plot or is poorly directed or anything, it’s just clear that it took a back seat to the explosions, witticisms and random flashes of semi-nudity.
The whole film is the kind of slightly stupid fun in the vein of Iron Man 3, though never quite as fun as that, that’s made up of dozens of totally functional parts, but nothing particularly brilliant to set it apart. The performances are solid across the board, with Zachary Quinto threatening to break into something above-par as broody Spock, and the explosions are suitably gratuitous throughout.
Perhaps what best sums up Into Darkness, and the whole rebooted series, is the dual threat of Karl Urban’s Bones ‘I’m a Doctor, not a…’ McCoy and Simon Pegg’s Scotty. Pegg plays the stereotypical loveable yet gormless Brit and wages his own personal battle throughout the film with his seriously ropey Scottish accent. McCoy, on the other hand, is one of the most hilariously cheesy characters I have ever witnessed. Every line is so ham-fisted and cringe-inducingly cliché that it just turns into comic brilliance. Every sentence that man speaks is either a metaphor so heavy-handed it verges on assault, or an unfeasibly forced set-up for his signature line. At the heart of both characters is some truly bone-headed (pun absolutely intended) dialogue and characterisation, but, more because of it than in spite of it, they are a constant source of enjoyment.
Into Darkness is an incredibly predictable, incredibly unambitous piece of pure popcorn gold. And really, by pulling off that alone, that’s no cause for complaint. Maybe try pushing the boat out just a little next time though, please? I mean come on, you have literally all of space to play with and the best plot you can come up with is Caucasian man fights other Caucasian man in giant space boat?