Master of sci-fi fantasy J.J. Abrams presents the second instalment of his rebooted Star Trek series, Into Darkness. Abrams’ 2009 prequel to the cult franchise opened to widespread acclaim reinventing the Star Trek universe for newcomers and Trekkies alike.

This time, our sleek villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) – who looks more like the milk tray man than the prequel’s more typically attired Romulan bad-guy – declares in the movie’s trailer that ‘darkness is coming’. As its name suggests, Into Darkness follows the widespread trend towards a darker tone for rebooted franchises. It’s a mood here that emanates largely from the deep vocal prowess and forbidding on-screen presence of Benedict Cumberbatch. Paralleling last year’s 007 success story, Skyfall, Cumberbatch gives us a vengeful ex-colleague in a memerizing performance to top that of BAFTA nominated Jarvier Bardem. As Cumberbatch chillingly declares ‘I will walk over your cold corpses,’ there’s no doubt that Harrison is a fearsome adversary. As John Harrison blows up London’s star fleet archives before launching a more menacing assault on star fleet itself, the familiar theme of terrorism that has pervaded numerous recent fantasies, from The Dark Knight Rises to Iron Man 3, rears its head again.

“Into Darkness dazzles with comedic interjections from Scotty and Bones”

Yet despite its early terrorism overtones, Into Darkness is not nearly as dark as similar franchise reboots. Instead, Into Darkness dazzles with comedic interjections from the excitable Scotty (Simon Pegg) and the sarcastic Bones (Karl Urban). The bromance between Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) also flourishes with tensions between the pair fast becoming the lifeblood of the reboot.

With backstories already established in Abrams’ prequel, this second offering lacks much of the earlier film’s charm but enables some interesting character developments. Kirk and Spock test each other’s boundaries, unwittingly learning from each others vastly differing attitudes. As Spock, Zachary Quinto continues to exploit his character’s internal conflicts – between logic and emotion – to stunning effect, proving to be the reboot’s best asset.

“This offering truly excels in its striking visuals and dizzying 3D”

Less accessible to newcomers than Abrams’ prequel, Into Darkness still makes considerable effort to assimilate first-timers, with some pretty significant nods to earlier Star Trek outings working well as stand-alone story points. Yet where this offering truly excels is in its striking visuals and dizzying 3D. The movie opens on the stunning planet of Nibiru, alive with a forest of red vines, an active volcano and a sea of crashing waves. The 3D works brilliantly here, with flying arrows apparently bursting from the screen to jump inducing effect. From this gorgeous and fertile realm we return to a futuristic London that’s equally well conceived. Visually spectacular, Into Darkness raises the bar for sci-fi visuals with the crew’s arrival on Kronos making particularly impressive use of 3D.

Into Darkness is not without flaws. A barrage of information dominates the midway point and the film propels into a third act dominated so heavily by action that plot is virtually obliterated.

Yet with stunning visuals, a menacing bad guy and dextrous character development, it’s hard to feel disappointed by Into Darkness. With this intense and gripping second helping that finds just enough time for comic diversion, J.J. Abrams re-affirms the merits of his reboot. As Abrams now turns his attention to Star Wars VII, here’s hoping his efforts there are just as successful.

VERDICT:  ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✩    4/5

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