Star Trek Into Darkness review: Cumberbatch rumbles – but Spock is the heart of the movie

Spoiler-free review: the parallel timeline comes into its own as JJ Abrams makes Star Trek fans whoop with delight

Benedict Cumberbatch/John Harrison


When Benedict Cumberbatch speaks, industrial bass units developed in partnership with Nasa and the US defence department rumble into life at the back of the auditorium, shaking the foundations of the cinema. The destruction of starships and the levelling of cities sound insignificant in comparison with his stentorian tones.

Long, lingering close-ups of his penetrating, ice-blue eyes also help to hammer home from the start that this is a man to be reckoned with…

That said, the voiceovers fans have become familiar with from the copious preview trailers seem far less portentous when they’re heard as lines of dialogue within the context of a conversation (I even suspect some of them were re-recorded especially for those promos).

Harrison is a cut above your standard British-villain-in-an-American-movie, partly because of the ambiguities in his allegiances and intentions (at one point, he has to co-operate with Kirk and co), which Cumberbatch handles well.  He also gives us righteous anger and kickass fight scenes, and even squeezes out a tear or two. 

Very good – but not quite the best character in the movie…

Zachary Quinto/Mr Spock

In one of the promo clips for Into Darkness, Harrison refers to Spock as “the mind of the Enterprise”. In fact, the Vulcan becomes the heart, as much as the intellect, of both the ship and the movie. Spock’s relationships with Kirk and Uhura, the exploration of his Vulcan-Human duality and his significance in terms of the divergent Trek timelines make him the emotional and conceptual lynchpin of the movie.

He’s the character more than any other that you’re rooting for – and also the one who does the most to keep the film anchored to the Star Trek universe. Zachary Quinto speaks volumes with just a flicker – but it’s even more fun when Spock gets angry. You’ll like him when he’s angry. 

Chris Pine/Captain Kirk

We already know from the first movie that Chris Pine doesn’t have the screen presence of William Shatner – but who does, right? And as the film plays out, and the arrogant flyboy learns his lessons, Pine brings an increasing warmth to the Captain which rounds him out, and begins to suggest the charismatic leader he could be. And maybe that was always the intention.

By the end of the movie you’d happily watch Captain Kirk boldly take his crew where no-one has gone before.

The plot

You may well find yourself a couple of steps ahead of the game at times. But this is a pleasingly constructed story and any telegraphed plot points only add to the anticipation of some big moments.

The timelines

In the past, the fact that the new movies were said to be on a parallel timeline to the original TV and film series has seemed to fans like a cop-out or just a plain disappointment. But after Into Darkness, it’s easy to believe that JJ Abrams had at least a two-film strategy – and hard not to feel that the first film was mostly scene-setting for this one.

Turns out, the parallel timeline wasn’t simply a way of avoiding potential criticism for getting Star Trek wrong, or just an excuse to slap the branding on something that isn’t really Star Trek – it’s a device in itself. The new timeline provides satisfying reflections of the original – and serves up several moments which had the fanboy/girl audience I watched it with whooping with excitement. It’s just possible this Abrams guy knows what he’s doing…