‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ spoiler-free review

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The sequel has plenty to live up to, and while it lacks the unexpected joy of seeing the 2009 outing masterfully create a new Trek universe, it manages to be just as exciting, and raises the stakes for the crew of the Enterprise to a whole new level.

The performances, as before, are excellent, and once again every member of the crew gets their chance to shine in a script that juggles the ensemble very well. While this is Kirk and Spock’s franchise, the rest of the crew are so well drawn that you’ll wish you could spend more time with them!

But the focus is again on the relationship between Kirk and Spock, and it’s a pairing that still provides plenty of fertile ground to explore; Zachary Quinto remains superbly skilled at showing Spock wrestling between his human and Vulcan sides, while Chris Pine balances the brash, care-free nature of Jim Kirk with the more mature, canny man he’s growing into as Captain Kirk.

Of the new cast, Alice Eve fits in perfectly as a new member of the crew; her 60s get-up curiously making her at once a throw-back to the old Trek and entirely at home in this shiny, new modern version.

However, the film lives or dies on Benedict Cumberbatch as mysterious villain John Harrison, and thankfully he’s an unmitigated success. Perfectly cast, Cumberbatch’s oddly distinct features and savagely well-spoken, smug delivery make for a fantastic nemesis, and some of the best moments in the film involve him simply interacting with the rest of the cast.

And if the smaller, more personal moments are the most effective, that’s not to say that the set-pieces leave anything wanting – the last hour of Into Darkness is quite simply awesome. The scale of the set-pieces is jaw-dropping, while there are some extremely evocative shots, notably involving the Enterprise itself – this is a seriously beautiful film; the CGI is impeccable. And with Michael Giacchino’s rousing score underpinning the chaos, the action is simply irresistible.

There are appearances from some Trek favourites, and plenty of references to the old series (some welcome, some overly forced), but this is a decidedly new Star Trek, and it’s one that lives up to its title, as the film heads – as every sequel seemingly must these days – into far darker territory than its predecessor.

The plot – or rather the plot motivations – may be a little convoluted at times, but by the time things come to a head in the last hour, you won’t care; you’ll be far too invested in the fates of these characters and their relationships, and far too absorbed in the outrageously thrilling set-pieces. The only real complaint is that there are a few moments and intriguing scenarios that you may wish Roberto Orci’s script had followed through on, rather than settling for a quick fix.

Still, while Star Trek Into Darkness might not be as fun as the first film (but then, this was always going to be a darker affair) – and it’s certainly not as funny – its highs are far higher. Whether it’s in the smaller, personal moments or the bigger, galaxy-wide issues, it’s entirely more affecting.

For a modern Star Trek film, and for a summer sci-fi blockbuster, this is an exhilarating adventure; a rousing triumph of CGI-laden brilliance.

Released in UK cinemas on Thursday 9 May 2013.

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