WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE FILM STAR TREK (2009)
The major question on many viewers’ minds after the 2009 Star Trek was could the sequel top the first? The honest and simple answer is: yes. Star Trek Into Darkness follows the Enterprise crew as they carry out Starfleet missions, until their world is shaken by the appearance of the shadowy terrorist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock, The Hobbit).
All of the same principal cast return, with the screen time being evened out this time around. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are still contrasting characters, but there relationship has developed and isn’t as prevalent as in the first film. This is good, as it avoids treading down the same routes as its predecessor, allowing their fragile friendship to grow. The other crew members get expanded roles: Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Zoe Saldana and Karl Urban return as Chekov, Sulu, Uhura and Bones respectively. And one of the best things of the first film, Simon Pegg comes back as Scotty, whose subtle humour and comic timing is even funnier in Into Darkness. Even the new addition to the crew Dr Carol Marcus (Alice Eve, Men in Black 3) fits right in naturally.
But easily the highlight of the entire film is Benedict Cumberbatch. His layered performance is mesmerising, and coupled with a superb script, makes it hard to tell if anything the character says is truth. Harrison’s motives are unclear, and the audience is kept in the dark about his history until about half-way through the film, when there is a nice, fan pleasing twist. He is chilling, yet compelling both dramatically and physically, and Harrison easily matches the performance of other great contemporary blockbuster villains, like Heath Ledger’s Joker, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Javier Bardem’s Silva.
Plot-wise, it is an intriguing and twisting story that refers back to a certain other Star Trek film. I thought it was full of fan-service, but without compromising the plot. But since I’m not a huge Trekkie, I felt that most of the references were probably wasted on me, but I managed to get some of them thanks to background research and The Big Bang Theory.
Star Trek Into Darkness improves on the already high quality of action scenes. From full-on space battles to close hand-to-hand combat, they happen exactly when necessary. It’s not light on set-pieces either, kicking off by opening in an active volcano, Into Darkness starts at a high pace and barely stops for breath. A particular highlight was a scene towards the end of the first act, set on the Klingon home world. Even the over-the-top lens flares were cut back to a tolerable level, being used as a great visual technique, rather than a distraction.
Into Darkness easily corrects the few faults made by the first film. Cumberbatch creates an excellent villain, the entire crew feel important, and it’s a visual spectacle. It is one of those rare sequels that is better than the first, and one of the contenders for best film of 2013.