Star Trek: Into Darkness       
Directed by J.J. Abrams     
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Pegg     
133 minutes    

Star Trek: Into Darkness revisits the rookie crew of the fledgling starship Enterprise as they prepare to ‘boldly go…’ again, this time up against vengeful villain Kahn (a brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch). Harbouring hatred for Starfleet, Kahn’s vendetta reveals him as a man on a mission, endowed with superhuman strength, superior intellect and an uncompromising will.

Earth, divided and ready for war, feels the weighty wrath of an enemy of perverted principle without the inconvenience of conscience to temper his utilitarian tactics. The young James T. Kirk (a charismatic Chris Pine), self-styled space cowboy, is stripped of his captaincy when he risks the lives of his crew on a whim, violating every Starfleet protocol in the process.

Disillusioned and disgraced, a cavalier Kirk is left to count the cost of his devil-may-care attitude as a new terror emerges, reawakening in the young renegade a dormant sense of duty and perspective. As humanity winds up for a war it can’t win, Kirk and his cronies must fight the good fight, exposing the darkness within.

Benedict Cumberbatch seems to relish playing what he calls a ‘sympathetic’ baddie. In an interview with Click magazine the Sherlock actor (the voice of Smaug in The Hobbit movies) said he couldn’t think of a villain in recent Hollywood history that hasn’t been sympathetic. Being the “bad guy” doesn’t necessarily make you a bad guy.

Kahn is likewise more identifiably human: the impassioned idealist, now a familiar fixture of the sci-fi genre, plugging the vile villain’s empathy gap with rogue ideologies and a rationalised resentment. Kahn’s actions are clearly reprehensible, and yet, “he believes in what he’s doing” and feels no need to justify it. “The means may be disgusting, the level of violence and death and destruction and distress caused. But often the intentions are noble – and I mean that in the broadest sense.”

In the J.J Abrams Star Trek universe there is an undeniable pseudo-political subtext, a thematic black hole towards which everything in the vicinity inexorably gravitates. Into Darkness playfully proposes that — whether in Gaza or a galaxy far, far away — however noble your intent, the means employed are often ignoble and symptomatic of a modern malaise which seeks to justify the unjustifiable.

Thematically Abrams gets ten points for ambition, despite biting off more than he chews. Given the buoyant build up, the film’s climax is really more of an anticlimax, disappointing as much as it dazzles. The film is primarily pre-occupied with the messy moral psychology of warfare and revisits the question of conscience in the context of modern militarism, wondering how we distinguish between terrorist and victim. 

Star Trek: Into Darkness is very much a character piece in which the action, a satisfying spectacle in all of its IMAX enhanced glory, admirably strives to serve the story and the characters who tell it. At its heart is the friendship of Kirk and Spock. Particularly interesting is how their duet develops throughout, defining them both in relation to the mission and to each other, affirming that true power is nourished by service and sacrifice.

Problematic content: Intense action scenes with brief, intense bursts of violence as well as an implied sex scene and a scene in which a woman is seen in her underwear.

Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity.

Ronan Wright is a graduate in Film Studies from The Queen’s University of Belfast. As well as contributing to MercatorNet as a film critic since March 2011 he has run Filmplicity, a Belfast-based film...