Re­sis­tance is fu­tile . . .

JJ Abrams’s se­quel to his Star Trek reinvention is a cos­mic tri­umph, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

STAR TREK INTO DARK­NESS

★★★★★ Di­rected by JJ Abrams. Star­ring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Sal­dana, Karl Ur­ban, Si­mon Pegg, John Cho, Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, An­ton Yelchin, Bruce Green­wood, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Leonard Ni­moy 12A cert, gen­eral re­lease, 132 min JJ Abrams’s cos­mi­cally tri­umphant se­quel to his own Star Trek reinvention be­gins with a gag that neatly es­tab­lishes the film’s near-per­fect blend of know­ing al­lu­sion and breath­less mo­men­tum.

Cap­tain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his team are evad­ing hu­manoids on a brightly coloured planet. The cam­era swerves to­wards their pur­suers and in­vites us to duck as spears are flung di­rectly into our ner­vous faces. That’s what 3D is for. The early pi­o­neers of the medium knew it. Abrams con­firms it. Get an­gry na­tives to chuck stuff at us.

The film is full of such know­ing winks. But Abrams’s bril­liance lies in his abil­ity to fold the ref­er­ences to clas­sic Star Trek – and to con­tem­po­rary pol­i­tics – into a thrilling, pulpy struc­ture that de­mands no fore­knowl­edge of the an­cient fran­chise. It is hard to be­lieve that Da­mon Lin­del­hof, who spilt too much nerd juice into Prometheus, had a hand in the zesty, funny screen­play.

It would be a shame to give too much away. We can, how­ever, re­veal that, af­ter break­ing the rules once too of­ten, James T Kirk is smartly busted down to First Of­fi­cer. It looks as if the En­ter­prise team is des­tined for dis­so­lu­tion to the four so­lar winds. But a sur­prise at­tack on Lon­don by John Har­ri­son (Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch), a Machi­avel­lian ter­ror­ist, up­ends all the Fed­er­a­tion’s strate­gies, and Kirk finds him­self back on the old tub with his menagerie of dif­fer­ently tal­ented of­fi­cers.

Mr Scott (the er­rat­i­cally Cale­do­nian Si­mon Pegg) is the only one to refuse ser­vice on the En­ter­prise – Scotty ad­judges the Fed­er­a­tion’s gung-ho plan to an­ni­hi­late Har­ri­son too risky. Mr Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also wary, but the Vul­can blood in his veins per­suades him to re­spect au­thor­ity.

The con­flict be­tween Kirk’s im­petu­ous­ness and Spock’s cere­bral cau­tion has al­ways been at the core of Star Trek’s ap­peal. The first TV se­ries, con­ceived in the sup­pos­edly em­pa­thetic 1960s, tended to favour hu­man­ity over com­i­cal ma­chine logic.

The new film is very much on Spock’s side. Whereas Quinto plays the science of­fi­cer as a colder ver­sion of No-drama Obama – he even rea­sons his way to­wards hu­man­is­tic moral­ity – Kirk man­ages to com­bine the dis­so­lute boozi­ness of early Ge­orge W Bush with the bel­li­cose ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity of the later ver­sion. Peter Weller turns up as a ver­sion of Dick Cheney to urge Cap­tain Jerk to­wards ever- greater out­rages, be­fore, in­evitably, our Jim re­con­nects with his in­ner so­lid­ity.

Cum­ber­batch’s sin­is­ter Har­ro­vian poise and end­lessly twisty face scare up more than enough men­ace to jus­tify Kirk’s head­long rush to­wards the nu­clear op­tion. The film may be at home to post-mod­ern jok­i­ness, but Cum­ber­batch is to be con­grat­u­lated for em­brac­ing all the old-school, un­com­pli­cated val­ues of the English vil­lain in Hol­ly­wood. We hope to see his Sher­iff of Not­ting­ham be­fore the decade is out.

Ded­i­cated Trekkers will greatly savour the way Har­ri­son’s arc echoes those in ear­lier sto­ries. In­deed, the neat con­ceit that drove the first film – we move through an al­ter­na­tive uni­verse to the canon­i­cal story – al­lows Abrams to lit­ter

Into Dark­ness with creative in­ver­sions of themes from the fran­chise’s glory days. A sharp blow to the head still ren­ders all en­e­mies un­con­scious. Men in red shirts look wor­ried. There is a wel­come, sig­nif­i­cant ap­pear­ance by a Trib­ble.

For all the jum­ble of quo­ta­tions, this strain of Star Trek still man­ages to carve out its own dis­tinc­tive area of space. The pro­duc­tion de­sign has a clin­i­cal sheen that fairly strips the mois­ture from your eye­balls. Abrams pushes his taste for lens­flare to­wards agree­able self-par­ody. The per­sonal re­la­tion­ships have a weari­ness that con­trasts markedly with the op­ti­mism that char­ac­terised the orig­i­nal se­ries.

In short, it’s ut­terly fa­mil­iar and absolutely orig­i­nal. We couldn’t have asked for more.

Light fan­tas­tic: Zoe Sal­dana, Si­mon Pegg & Karl Ur­ban in Star Trek Into Dark­ness

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