‘Star Trek Into Darkness’: Benedict Cumberbatch Winning Raves

Bryan Enk
Movie Talk

The first reviews of "Star Trek Into Darkness" have emerged upon the film's UK premiere today, and the good news is that it appears that J.J. Abrams and his team have done a bang-up job on following up their much-beloved, game-changing 2009 reboot. Several critics are proclaiming the "Trek" sequel as a solid piece of summer blockbuster entertainment, if not exactly a true classic in either the sci-fi action genre or the long-running "Star Trek" franchise itself.

While Abrams is receiving plenty of notices for his usual whiz-bang showmanship, it's Benedict Cumberbatch, the new kid in the "Star Trek" galaxy, who's getting the lion's share of praise for his performance as the villainous -- and maddeningly mysterious -- John Harrison.

Indeed, Dave Calhoun at Time Out London says that Cumberbatch is so good that he makes the rest of the cast seem better, as he "runs with an imperial theatrical haughtiness rather than trying to bury it" and "succeeds in showing real ice running through his veins and bringing some weight to a cast that generally offers more geniality than gravitas." Mark Adams at Screen Daily was also impressed with the "excellent and often mesmeric" Cumberbatch, with Jordan Hoffman at ScreenCrush saying he's "a terrific villain; cold and calculating with hints of the chaotic sadism bubbling just beneath the surface."

Cumberbatch's current number-one fan, however, is Kate Muir of The Times, who claims that the British actor "boldly goes where no American actor has gone before in this franchise." Sheesh!

Cumberbatch makes for a great villain in what sounds like an at least mostly-great sci-fi action extravaganza. Jordan Hoffman at ScreenCrush says the film "moves, dazzles and delights" and claims that director J.J. Abrams has "solidified his position as a master of propulsive, visceral filmmaking ... Dude knows where to put the camera, when the music should swell, when the characters should zing each another or when they should project pathos to the cheap seats." Mark Adams at Screen Daily is even more enthusiastic, praising Abrams for "delivering a film that will quite simply have audiences desperate for more."

Andrew Pulver of The Guardian says Abrams' oft-parodied trademark visual flourishes are on full display here, with the film "slathered in so much lens flare it looks like a Kylie Minogue video." He also says "the real grit is provided, as ever, by the emotional politics, always 'Star Trek''s strength" that give the film "a palpable air of world-weariness ... it's as if Abrams and his writers concluded they couldn't replicate the cockiness and bounce of the first film, and opted instead to allow their characters to grow up a little."

Perhaps the most enthusiastic review so far comes from Matthew Leyland at Total Film, who calls it "the most thrilling 'Star Trek' since 'First Contact.'" Leyland even prefers it to the 2009 "Trek," which he says was filled with "origin-story, world-building, slightly tortuous parallel-universe-establishing stuff" and that the sequel allows Abrams to "make 'Trek' viable, vibrant and cool again." It might be too much of a good thing, though, as Leland says it's a film that "doesn’t bog down in exposition or sag in the middle" though "at a certain point peril-fatigue starts to creep in, putting the story (like the overtaxed Enterprise) at the risk of burning out." Leyland also praises Chris Pine's performance, saying the actor has "a more likeable, vulnerable, humble take on Kirk" in the sequel.

"Star Trek Into Darkness" is not without its flaws, though, according to some critics. Dave Calhoun at Time Out London says it's ultimately a competent film that can't quite escape the shadow of its predecessor, a "brisk, no-nonsense sci-fi action sequel" that serves as "a stop-gap tale that's modest, fun and briefly amusing rather than one that breaks new ground or offers hugely memorable set pieces." Kate Muir of The Times finds it an agreeable trifle, a film that "wavers entertainingly between the silly and the Shakespearean."

The convoluted screenplay -- heavy on both fan service and plot holes -- seems to be the major issue. Jordan Hoffman of ScreenCrush warns that "woe be to anyone who gets caught in a conversation afterwards trying to explain the overly complicated and, at times, silly plot." Emma Dibdin at Digital Spy feels that "some of the heavier-handed humor clunks awkwardly alongside the heightened dramatic stakes," and Jon Lyus at HeyUGuys points out that "several characters are lost as the story hurtles to its conclusion; others fall too easily into their familiar selves."

The film's biggest detractor so far is Robbie Cullen of the Daily Telegraph, who says that "Star Trek Into Darkness" feels like a "reprocessed version of an earlier film in the series" and that one's enjoyment of this new "Trek" film "depends almost entirely on your ability to spot links to the old one." He claims that Abrams has subsequently "devised a new and exciting concept in filmmaking: the unboot."

Cullen goes on to say that screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof have "come up with a very clever sleight-of-hand: all of the narrative cracks are papered over with references to old 'Star Trek' characters and episodes," a work of "malevolent genius" that is "best appreciated in a cinema filled with confirmed 'Star Trek' fans, who will dutifully whoop and applaud a familiar alien while the film quietly pulls off another dubious plot manoeuvre under their noses."

"Star Trek Into Darkness" opens in the U.S. on May 17.