Cumberbatchweb – Star Trek Into Darkness review

By Naomi Roper – 4 May 2013

JJ Abrams re-boot of Gene Roddenberry’s series blasted onto the silver screen back in 2009 and was an instant hit with fans and critics alike. A fun, fast paced blockbuster with distinctive visuals (cool blue tones and lots of lens flare!) it featured a charming cast who bought a set of very familiar characters to life for a new generation of Trekkies to enjoy. Four years later the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness is about to be released and courtesy of Paramount Pictures I was lucky enough to attend a press screening.

Star Trek Into Darkness starts with footage that you may have already seen if you saw The Hobbit in an IMAX cinema over Christmas (the footage was attached as a special 9 minute preview). Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) are on an away mission to a red planet whose active volcano threatens to wipe out the indigenous species. While Kirk and Bones flee from the natives Spock (Zachary Quinto) is on a mission to stop the volcano from exploding. Things inevitably don’t quite go according to plan…

Kirk and Spock are called back to Starfleet to answer for their actions. Kirk thinks he can talk his way out of trouble and he and Spock merrily trade barbs with Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) in a sparky scene (“Are you giving me attitude Spock? “I am expressing many attitudes at once Admiral to which were you referring?”) but the quips die away quickly as Kirk is demoted and Spock transferred to another ship. The movie then heads into even darker territory as Noel Clarke’s character sets off a chain of events which brings Starfleet face to face with John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) to devastating effect.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a hugely entertaining sci-fi adventure that should delight old and new fans of Star Trek alike. It’s a fast paced, rip roaring adventure that is non stop action from beginning to end – 2 hours and 10 minutes veritably fly past. The cast is hugely likeable and it looks glorious with JJ opting for orange and red tones this time around although his trademark lens flare is still present and correct. I’m not a huge fan of 3D but I thought it added greatly to the film bringing real depth to the visuals and drawing the audience into the action sequences. Although I suspect it pays to see Star Trek Into Darkness on the biggest screen that you can (I haven’t yet seen it in Imax – when speaking briefly to Damon Lindelof at the premiere he strongly suggested that Imax was the format to see it in).

Of course if you’re reading this review you probably have a vested interest in one of the actors so step forward to the Hollywood stage Benedict Cumberbatch. While parts in War Horse and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (not to mention Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for Sherlock) have bought him to the attention of Hollywood it is Star Trek Into Darkness that will make him a household name worldwide. His John Harrison is a truly unforgettable villain. Cool, collected, utterly ruthless, a total bad ass when it comes to hand to hand combat and completely vicious he is introduced to the audience committing acts of such savagery as to make your blood run cold. Cumberbatch uses his superb vocal talents to great effect carefully enunciating every syllable, his deep, sonorous voice taunting Kirk every chance he gets.

The scenes between Kirk and Harrison are some of the best in the movie. After the slightly ineffectual Nero in the first film Kirk needed a strong villain to play off and Cumberbatch is hypnotic to watch as Harrison (who seems almost coldly amused at Kirk and his ramshackle crew) plays mind games with Kirk drawing him ever further into his web. There is an immense stillness to Cumberbatch’s performance. In one sequence Harrison sits surrounded by heavily armed men yet you sense that it is they who are nervous. He sits utterly still as if carved from marble until someone enters at which point his attention turns to them much in the way a rattle snake hisses at you and rears back just before it strikes. Cumberbatch’s blue-grey eyes have never looked colder or more reptilian. It’s an imperious, commanding performance from Cumberbatch that manages to make Kirk and the usually rather regal Spock look like scrappy schoolboys in comparison.

But a one note evil villain would be dull and Harrison is anything but. He does horrendous things but there is an understandable reason behind his actions that toys with your sympathy. Its a tough sell getting us to sympathise with the villain but Cumberbatch pulls it off in a multi layered performance that covers the gambit of tears, insane fisticuffs, heart felt declarations and ice cold threats. Harrison is very much the dark mirror of Kirk – what Kirk could be if he went down a certain road. It is this mirroring of the two that makes the film so interesting on an emotional level.

Cumberbatch is also no slouch in the action stakes. He gets three major fight sequences and is utterly brutal in all of them. Given that he is mostly known for playing more cerebral roles he is completely convincing as a man of action used to using his fists as much as his fierce intellect. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him offered more action roles after this. And ladies yes the beefed up physique looks very fine indeed in the black Starfleet uniform. All in all Harrison is destined to be one of Trek’s most memorable villains.

Harrison aside Pine and Quinto are completely charming as the central duo of Kirk and Spock. They bicker like an old married couple and their chemistry is fun and sparky. It is a bromance so epic you can pretty much ditch the “b”. Harrison aside one sequence between Kirk and Spock was the standout of the movie for me (you’ll know it when you see it). Both actors embrace the challenge set by the higher stakes and more emotional material in Star Trek into Darkness and raise their games considerably. Quinto is amusing and quietly touching as Spock struggling to reconcile the human and Vulcan sides to his personality. He also gets the opportunity to be completely bad ass and you can really tell that he relished the fight sequence between him and Harrison.

I was hugely impressed with Chris Pine who takes Kirk to a whole new level of heroism in this film. If Star Trek was about putting Kirk in the Captain’s chair Star Trek into Darkness is about showing that he completely belongs there. Kirk visibly grows up in this film – he moves beyond the charm and the swagger, learns a little humility and becomes the Captain he was always meant to be. It’s a true leading man’s performance and I very much hope we get to see further Trek movies with him at the helm.

Karl Urban continues to try and steal every scene he’s in as the perpetually grumpy doctor who has a cute metaphor for every occasion and Simon Pegg’s Scotty is very funny and hugely likeable in a much expanded role this time around.

The whole cast very much gives it their all – even Noel Clarke in his briefest of cameos gives a performance of real emotional heft.

If I were to nit pick I wasn’t hugely overwhelmed by the female roles this time. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is awesome and completely bad ass in every sequence she’s in – she’s just not in very many of them. Uhura rather gets short shrift this time around. Alice Eve is charming as Carol Marcus and gets a very entertaining sequence coping with an outrageously flirting Bones but her character is very much in the mould of an old school Who companion. She’s there to look amazing in her underwear (utterly unnecessary sequence which doesn’t really jibe with the rest of the film – it’s like the marketing bods panicked that there wasn’t enough to draw the fanboys in) and to scream very loudly. Also poor Sulu and Chekov get little more than cameos. The ending is also slightly anti-climatic from an action perspective although hugely satisfying emotionally. If you’re familiar with your Trek the film also delves into outright homage at one point.

Overall Star Trek Into Darkness is a hugely satisfying blockbuster with a likeable cast giving it their all and one truly terrifying villain. See it on the biggest screen that you can and don’t be shy about booking multiple trips- Cumberbatch fans are sure to want to see it more than once!