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Does JJ Abrams lie awake at night sweating over the fact that he holds the future of Hollywood's two best known science fiction sagas in his hands? On the evidence of the 30 minutes of footage from Star Trek Into Darkness shown to UK bloggers and critics on Friday at the BFI Imax in London, you suspect not. The long-awaited sequel to 2009's reboot smacks of dazzling confidence and bravado: this is a bigger, bolder but not necessarily slicker Star Trek movie – once again one with the emphasis on bombastic, heart-in-throat action and the developing bromantic tension between James T Kirk and Mr Spock, rather than the TV show's mix of science geek intrigue and melodrama.
Without giving too much away, there's more packed into the first half-hour of the movie than an entire season of Lost (and more than the suggestion that the island mystery show's creator continues to be a film-maker with a fondness for spectacular set pieces that don't always entirely fit the storyline). Everyone is waiting to see how Benedict Cumberbatch fares as villain John Harrison, and whether he has any connection to Khan, the famous antagonist of the last Star Trek II film. Let's just say that the new bad guy in town certainly shares his predecessor's fondness for theatrics, though he appears to prefer committing dastardly deeds on the surface of the Earth rather than up in space.
Much of the beginning of the new Star Trek is set in future London, and if you ever wondered what the capital will look like in the 23rd century, the answer is much the same as it does now, except with about a thousand high-rise buildings that all look quite like the Shard gleaming among the older architecture. Into Darkness's sizeable budget – it is rumoured to be costing $185m (£123m) – means Abrams and his team are not forced, like their forebears, to keep the action mostly on the Enterprise, and they take full advantage. One bravura segue in which Spock and Harrison leap like butterflies on a hot plate from hovering cargo transports through the skyline of a huge metropolis while smacking the living daylights out of each other made the spectacular opening of recent Bond movie Skyfall look like an episode of Doctors.
When the crew of the Enterprise do get off the planet, as they do in the opening scene, there's no letting up on the frantic fireworks. Teased in the nine minutes of footage that screened before The Hobbit in many Imax cinemas last year, it's a devastatingly effective chase scene involving Kirk, Bones and a gaggle of screaming, spear-throwing, flap-mouthed natives. Meanwhile, Spock is trying to stop a volcano erupting and blowing everyone to smithereens while lava swirls threateningly around him.
Since this is the introductory scene, I hope it's safe for me to tell you at everyone gets back to the Enterprise safely, and that it's the fallout when the crew return to Earth that's ultimately the greater narrative driver.
The 2009 Star Trek had more than its fair share of plot holes, but no-one minded too much amid all the jaw-dropping space-thrills. Into Darkness throws so much preposterous theatricality at the screen that it remains to be seen whether there are parts of the jigsaw that won't fit together by the time the credits roll. One scene in which Harrison fires into a crowded complex from a helicopter-like aircraft, meticulously taking out the occupants one by one, had me wondering why he didn't just bomb the place and get the hell out of there.
Such misgivings are unlikely to matter much if the rest of Into Darkness is as gripping as this early footage, and there's the small matter of the 3D retrofit. Producers are promising to take the technique into new territory; whether that's just hype remains to be seen, but this Star Trek sequel certainly looks set to live up to (and quite possibly surpass) its killer predecessor. As for Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII, on this evidence it certainly won't be short on drama. A certain rumoured-to-be-returning trio of elder statesmen might want to start getting in shape now.
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