Film of the Week: Star Trek: Into Darkness (12A, general release, 132 minutes)
Director: JJ Abrams Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Alice Eve ****
JJ Abrams' second Star Trek juggernaut opens up at a fair old pelt and, before you've had time to settle back and crack open the heaving bucket of WeightWatchers' popcorn, Kirk and co are knee-deep in another seemingly insurmountable crisis.
Still smarting from witnessing the destruction of his home planet, Vulcan Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) has persuaded Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) to fly the Enterprise to an obscure planet where a primitive but promising species is about to be obliterated by a massive volcanic eruption.
While Kirk and McCoy (Karl Urban) are being chased through a psychedelic-looking forest by said species, Spock has himself dropped into the mouth of the volcano in a protective suit and almost dies while activating a freezing device that averts the cataclysm.
Kirk saves him, but in doing so reveals the gargantuan Enterprise to the planet's people, which is strictly against Starfleet regulations. When they get back to Earth, Kirk is hauled over the coals by his mentor, (Bruce Greenwood), stripped of the Enterprise's captaincy and sent back to Academy.
Kirk is not best pleased when he finds out that Spock gave him away in a rigorously honest account of the operation, but their hostilities must be sidelined when London is rocked by a terrible explosion.
A resourceful villain called John Harrison has attacked a Starfleet weapons base and, when the top brass gather in San Francisco to discuss a response, Harrison attacks them too, in a flying gunship. A shaken Kirk emerges from the wreckage and vows revenge.
When Harrison is tracked to a remote corner of the planet Klingon, Kirk is reappointed captain of the Enterprise and dispatched to kill the criminal. But Spock thinks everyone deserves a trial and, while he and Kirk are bickering away about the rights and wrongs of their mission, it soon becomes clear there's a lot more to this John Harrison character than meets the eye.
After speeding through that hectic opening sequence, Star Trek: Into Darkness barely pauses for breath thereafter during an action-packed and effects-laden two-and-a-bit hours. That might make Abrams' film sound a bit frantic, but somehow he manages to hold a potentially lopsided plot together and infuse it with regular doses of wit, and human drama.
As in his first film, the on-again, off-again bromance between Spock and Kirk forms Star Trek: Into Darkness's emotional core: both Quinto and Pine were brilliantly cast, and Pine again skillfully channels the heightened and slightly hammy delivery of a young William Shatner into his portrayal of the hotheaded but brave and profoundly loyal Kirk. The romance between Spock and Lieutenant Uhuru (Zoe Saldana) was a good idea and nicely complements the bickering of Kirk and Spock.
Simon Pegg is perfect as Scotty, and how clever of Abrams not to have chosen a real Scottish actor who would have ruined it all with a proper accent. Appropriately, Benedict Cumberbatch throws the kitchen sink at his portrayal of John Harrison, a villain with more than a few tricks up his sleeve, and Urban's McCoy gets a lot of laughs spouting hopelessly convoluted metaphors.
Above all, Star Trek: Into Darkness is fun. The old Star Trek films and TV episodes were at their worst when they took themselves too seriously.
Here, as in Abrams' 2009 reboot, the tone is determinedly jovial, but this is more a loving tribute to the tropes of the original series than a skit, and Abrams' gets the balance just right – as always.