Second opinion review: Star Trek Into Darkness 3D – Boldly (and excitingly) goes where it has gone before

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When we first meet up with young Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) in Star Trek Into Darkness, he’s running at breakneck speed through a verdant, technicolor jungle on an alien world, the arrows and spears of the not so friendly locals whizzing by his head – and mine, thanks to some finally useful 3D effects – barely slowing a step to exposit as he launches himself, full speed, off a sheer cliff.

And really there is simply no better metaphor for this second chapter of director JJ Abrams revitalized Star Trek: It’s gorgeous to look at, has a relentless pace, and barely skips a beat as it launches you into the next thrilling part of the adventure. Even if said next part is a bit of a misstep.

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Now if there was ever a Prime Directive for film reviews, it would be to not spoil any pertinent story details, but much like Kirk finds out in this film, sticking to that Directive is not exactly easy. I’ll try my best to do better than the erstwhile Captain though, who thanks to his knack for rule breaking – to save the life of his rule book loving best friend, Spock (Zachary Quinto) – finds himself at the beginning of this tale shipless, but definitely not chipless. On his shoulder, that is.

All arrogance and bravado, Kirk is stripped of his commission and suffers an immense personal loss from a devastating attack on Starfleet, orchestrated seemingly by one of their own, a mysterious Commander John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who then ever so inconveniently goes to lay low in the one place Starfleet is not allowed to follow: the Klingon homeworld, Kronos.

But as we’ve already established, James Kirk has never met a rule he couldn’t break, and with a top secret weapons payload and stern words of encouragement courtesy of blustering Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), Kirk is soon back in “The Chair” surrounded by his band of merry men/women/androgynous aliens, on a secret mission to bring Harrison to justice.

And that’s about all the story you’re going to get out of me, thank you very much.

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Now let’s get the bad news out of the way: If I had a phaser to my privates and was forced to pick, I would say that this latest film is just a step behind 2009’s more simpler titled Star Trek. The script from Abrams’ frequent collaborators Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, hits not only the exact same narrative and thematic notes  as its predecessor far too frequently, but often it’s also too busy winking at long time fans instead of just getting on with telling its own story. This last aspect especially may rub some viewers up the wrong way, as instead of striking out in their own direction in this rebooted universe, this second tale sometimes seemed to be a collection of cover versions of the Star Trek Greatest Hits collection. I only found it a mild irritation, but your mileage on this may vary.

Speaking of mild irritations, the script also suffers from a plot hole right at the film’s conclusion, potentially (because it could easily have been explained away with a single line of dialogue) large enough to have a drunk Scotty (Simon Pegg – who is a laugh riot, by the way) pilot a Galaxy Class starship through.

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But I’m almost certain that most fans will overlook these shortcoming for one of two reasons: 1) they’re currently writhing on the floor in a drool spattered seizure brought on by JJ Abrams’ retina searing use of lens flare – in 3D! – or 2) they’ve just been so caught up by the white-knuckled excitement that they haven’t noticed when a movie, that has one of its lead characters mention the advantages of employing logic every other minute, suddenly decides to eschew it.

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Abrams simply sets engines to Maximum Warp and rarely lets off the throttle, providing fans with some of the most geektastically impressive displays of space pyrotechnics that the franchise has ever seen. Also a few of the crew members – like Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho), now all far more comfortable in their roles and uniforms -get their own moments in the spotlight. There are some underwritten roles though with Bones (Karl Urban) especially resigned to merely being a walking fortune cookie, and franchise newcomer Alice Eve’s Dr Carol Marcus’s most memorable contribution being to confirm that yes, she is indeed a very attractive lady.

But essentially this is the Kirk and Spock Show, as Quinto’s still eerily good portrayal of the logic bound half-Vulcan –  who undergoes some of the best character development in the movie – stands as the perfect foil to a brash and gut fueled Pine.

Well, at least it would be the Kirk and Spock Show, if it wasn’t for Benedict Cumberbatch.

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Whereas Eric Bana’s disgruntled miner, Nero, was about as memorable a villain as Tom Hardy in Star Trek: Nemesis (Wait, you didn’t even know Tom Hardy was in Star Trek: Nemesis? Well that’s my point!), Cumberbatch will certainly not be suffering that fate. With a voice like an expensive cognac being poured over a rockslide, he simply commands every single second of every scene he’s in. He’s an intelligently dangerous foe that immediately ups the palpable tension as much as the IQ of every room he enters, and what he can’t achieve through intimidation or manipulation is rendered moot by the brutishly simple solution of crushing skulls like eggshells with his bare hands.

There’s no denying that Star Trek Into Darkness is definitely not as fresh as Abrams’ previous effort. There are also some narrative pitfalls and Abrams is still not really putting any emphasis on the “Trek” part of the name. But with a cast, led by Cumberbatch’s tractor beam like turn as Harrison, who are clearly up for the challenge, 3D effects that are actually not annoying for a change and a polychromatic spectacle like few others, it’s the very definition of a modern blockbuster.

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Last Updated: May 31, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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