Khaaaaaaaan do – ★★★★
Star Trek Into Darkness suffered a bit of a setback a couple of months ago with the announcement that the franchise director J.J. Abrams had effectively jumped ship (*groan*) to direct a new episode in the Star Wars series. It was a sensational story that kinda came out of nowhere and yet made perfect sense as the man’s talents at bringing action, spectacle, mystery and cool creatures and aliens to the big screen can’t be doubted. The big furore seemed to miss out the bigger question on what would happen to the Star Trek universe that he had so successfully rebooted four years ago. Anyway the fact is we now have a new Abrams Star Trek movie and will have a new Abrams Star Wars movie in two years.
I should say now that somewhat unusually, my allegiances are split pretty evenly between Lucas’ and Roddenberry’s worlds. I also don’t think Abrams should be faulted for doing a David Moyes and being brave enough to accept an impossible job. I enjoyed 2009’s Star Trek but it felt a world away from the clean-cut, carefree worlds of right and wrong shown in The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise that kept me amused after school for so many years. But it was a damn fine action movie and as the sequel sets out to continue this trend, I’m happy enough.
After a quick pre-credits scene that reminds us of the crew’s character dynamics and their interpretation of the Prime Directive, our latest adventure moves to Earth with our crew taking a bit of downtime. A Starfleet data centre has been blown up by a disgruntled employee going by the name of “John Harrison”, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. We’re not really spoiling anything (IMDB’s credit gives the game away) in saying his true identity is “Khan”, the role made famous by Ricardo Montalban in 1982’s seminal Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.Khan next attacks Starfleet command where Kirk’s mentor Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) is killed. Khan does a runner but Starfleet’s chief Admiral Marcus (played with lots of bite by Peter Weller who recently voiced Bruce Wayne in the animation Batman: The Dark Knight Returns) sends Kirk and Spock off with some shiny new torpedoes. Their orders are to blow up Khan on his uninhabited sector of a distant planet beloved to fans, and a place that we then finish with all too early – guess we gotta keep something for the sequels…
There are some problems with latter sections of the films, in particular a supposedly critical situation between two Starfleet ships felt a little inconsequential to me and it was only on return to earth that the tension and peril returns. Khan’s motivations and actions are a little wishy-washy and throw in a weird “hmmm, did they need to go there” cameo from an old friend of the series and there’s plenty there to pick apart if you really want. Abrams, and indeed screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, always seem to run out of steam in films with troublesome third acts but here things just about hold together around the rather brilliant action set-pieces they’ve constructed. Pick of the bunch is a kind of “space jump” with a dynamic duo zipping from ship to ship – see it in IMAX 3D if you want to spend €14 to feel thrillingly queasy.
The film’s main asset is undoubtedly its villain. Cumberbatch has kinda been flying under the radar for a few years now, having first made the breakthrough on BBC’s Sherlock, but is well and truly a big deal in 2013, with work in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Twelve Years a Slave and August: Osage County still to come on the big screen this year. He is truly brilliant as Khan. There’s very little similarity to my eyes with the work of his predecessor in the role but the logic with the Abrams reboots has always been to re-define things, not re-capture. He gained a lot of weight and muscle for the part and is always an electrifying presence on screen bringing a little British sophistication to proceedings with his delivery.
Unlike the second film in the original Star Trek and Star Wars series, everything is left nice and neat without any cliffhangers or great tragedy. That seems to be the first rule in the Hollywood rulebook for modern-day action blockbusters (Iron Man 3 being the most recent example), so I guess we can’t complain. While we’ve no idea what Gene Roddenberry would make of all this if you transported him here from 1966, it’s a damn fine action movie that may not have the heart or quirky charm of its television predecessors but more than makes up for with brilliant action scenes, a terrific villain and a good old-fashioned dilemma of good versus evil.
USA / Directed By: J.J. Abrams / Written By: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman / Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Alice Eve, John Cho, Anton Yelchin / 132min / Action, Sci-Fi / Release: 8 May 2013 (Ireland, UK), 17 May 2013 (US, Canada)