The sequel to JJ Abrams 2009 reboot hits the ground running. It kicks off with a noisy flashy action sequence where the Enterprise crew break the Prime Directive in order to save a primitive species from a planet-devastating volcano. Anyone familiar with classic Trek would know that the Prime directive is a non-interference policy which would have them stand-by and watch the pre-warp civilization perish, rather than interfere in their culture in anyway. The sequence is reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which Kirk and McCoy are chased by spear-throwing tribesmen through a lavish red jungle. The 3D looks spectacular and almost makes you feel like you should duck, as each spear appears to lurch from the screen into the gripped audience.
The action then moves to Starfleet HQ, and I should warn that beyond this point, there be spoilers!
Kirk receives a grilling from Pike and a demotion to First Officer for not letting a whole world die a scorching hot death, following Spock’s liberal grassing-up of Kirk in his report. Spock is reassigned to the USS Bradbury. Meanwhile, a terrorist named John Harrison bombs a library in Central London. Admirals and Captains convene to discuss the attack, and then Harrison takes them out in an aerial assault of the meeting room. The action comes this thick and fast. There is not a moment’s pause.
From here John Harrison flees to the Klingon Homeworld via Scotty’s enhanced transporter from the 2009 film (negating the need for Starships), and the Enterprise crew are ordered to the edge of Klingon space with 72 new torpedos to fire at the unhabited area of the Klingon Homeworld where Harrison is hiding, executing him without a trial.
None of this seems particularly Starfleet, yet there is a good reason for this. The shadowy Section 31 (from the excellent Deep Space Nine episodes) are behind John Harrison, and are prepared do anything to preserve the Federation way of life. They have a warship, the Dreadnought Class USS Vengeance at their disposal, which is 3 times the size of the Enterprise and armed to the teeth.
The John Harrison reveal is handled well. He is a character from the original series, who was discovered in the first season episode “Space Seed”. A genetically engineered tyrant, who posed as Kirk’s friend only to betray him and attempt to take over the ship. He was then marooned on Ceti Alpha 5 and returned with a vengeance in 1982′s The Wrath of Khan. This new take on Khan keeps the character calm, viscious and superior. Benedict Cumberbatch plays it well, keeping him centred, cold, and calculating. He speaks slow and over-articulates every word. He remains devoted to his crew, who remain in deep freeze.
The film has many nods to the classics. There is a reversal of the classic Spock death from Wrath of Khan, which even repeats key phrases, such as “the ship?” “out of danger”. There is also a welcome cameo from an original series cast member, and references to Christine Chapel (the nurse played by the late Mrs. Roddenberry, Majel Barret in the original series). The Millenium Falcon-esque ship they fly to the Klingon Homeworld is revealed to have been confiscated from Harry Mudd (a name familiar to old school Trekkers like myself form the episodes “Mudd’s Women” and “I, Mudd”). We also see Sulu in the Captain’s chair, as a nod to his future from The Undiscovered Country.
There are space battles, and stunning set-pieces. Some feel like an audition tape for Star Wars, but each remain fun and exciting enough to entertain the masses.
The film has its flaws of course. A huge starship crashes into a heavly populated Starfleet Command, and yet the death toll is n0t even mentioned. There didn’t even appear to be an attempt to beam people away from the crashing ship. Also there is Scotty flying a shuttlecraft to Jupiter to investigate sinister happenings. He flies by a massive spacestation housing the USS Vengeance, and yet he remains undetected by their scanners, and simply joins a fleet of other shuttle craft. Security in sinister shadowy sectors of Starfleet is really lapse. It was similar to Obi-Wan in Attack of the Clones flying over a fleet of landed Trade Federation ships on Geonosis without so much as an alarm triggered. Indeed both scenes were very similar.
All the characters are well performed. They recall the original performances from the original series. Simon Pegg’s Scotty in particular, has some great comedic moments that prevent the film from being too heavy.
It’s a fun film in the Star Trek canon. Sure it is still missing something, but these new Trek films are akin to new Battlestar Galactica, in that they are removed from the originals and not the same entity, they just have a similar starting point. The Summer crowd will be pleased at a fun and engaging film, which whilst full of holes, still makes for an entertaining 2 plus hours. There is also enough for old school Trekkers like myself to enjoy. This is not the Star Trek I grew up with, but it is a fun and entertaining sci-fi blockbuster, and is great to see some space-set action once more.