So, all the fanboys (and girls) have been to the midnight and opening day screenings and had their fill of JJ Abrams' latest adventure into a galaxy far, far away. Hang on, wrong future scenario – into the final frontier. OK, I admit it, I'm not a big Star Trek fan. Not because there is something wrong with it, but because I've never really watched it, in any of its incarnations. That way damage my credibility as a sci-fi geek, but that's the way it is. However, it is such an ingrained part of popular culture that I am aware of it and its various tropes, but that's about it. To a certain extent, this was something of an advantage when watching Abrams' first cinematic outing with the novice crew of the USS Enterprise. There were no expectations or prejudices. What made it great was discovering these revitalised iconic characters and their world for a first time, and Abrams did a great job of bringing them to life.
Fast forward to its sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness. From the outset it was cleverly marketed with a trickle reveal of the new baddy, John Harrison, played by Brit actor of the moment, Benedict Cumberbatch - yet again Hollywood casts a well-spoken Brit as the villain. Basically, Harrison blows stuff up and kills people, and Kirk, Spock et al try to stop him, which is about all the plot you'll get from me because if I tell you any more you want need to go and see it. Of course, other reviews may reveal more, or even give spoilers, but they are not to be trusted, much like Harrison.
However, what you will get from me are some spoiler-free arguments about why this film isn't as good as its predecessor. I'll preface that with: if you are a Trek fan you'll love it, and you will need to be a Trek fan to fully appreciate it because it relies on a certain amount of knowledge of the Trek mythology to understand what is going on. It is filled with insider jokes (such as red shirt references), and many other things that mostly went over my head, that I was aware of because of the better-informed audience's reactions. The main problem with this film is its unrelenting action, from the slightly incongruous Indiana Jones opening onwards, there is very little time for character development that allows for even a modicum of background info or exposition that doesn't come from convenient dialogue explanations.
I'll happily watch a vacuous action movie devoid of character and plot development if I know that's what it is, but one expects a bit more from Star Trek, which is renowned for its speculative science and moral stories. Into Darkness seemed to sacrifice these aspects for action and gags (and there were some good ones), and on the rare quiet moments it lapsed into sentimentality rather than real emotional impact.
There is no doubt that Abrams can deliver spectacular, action-packed, effects-driven cinema, as can Roland Emmerich, and Abrams is known for his intelligence. Unfortunately, the smarts were missing from this one. It was further let down by the 3D conversion. We already know that fast-paced action films are not best served by 3D, but in this case it also suffered with other problems, such as perspective distortion, that was a distraction rather than an enhancement. Another bugbear was Abrams' now trademark use of lens flares. I'm sure he must have hired the best cameras and operators he could get, and yet all these digitally added aberrations kept appearing throughout. Lens manufacturers have spent millions developing coatings and glass configurations to prevent these artefacts, and DoPs spend hours setting up lights and flags to avoid them, only to have Abrams have them added in post on a 3D layer.
All those personal complaints aside, for fans of that particular genre of films, there will be plenty to enjoy. However, in comparison, SFL's own feature production The Search for Simon, which cost about the same as two frames from ST:ID, was a lot more fun.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is in cinemas (2D & 3D) and IMAX now.