Four years ago, J.J. Abrams reinvigorated the Star Trek franchise with a dynamic, fun take on Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew.
While not marking as significant a step to boldly go where few science fiction sequels have gone before, Abrams makes a very entertaining one with Star Trek Into Darkness.
From the opening act — a “get familiar with the edge of your seat” intro pitting Kirk (Chris Pine), McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) Sulu (Jon Cho) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) in a desperate mission to prevent a volcano from erupting — Abrams promises one of the more exhilarating times you’ll spend in a theater this summer.
Screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof do an admirable job juggling all the characters while working in enough humor to show that science fiction films can be fun, but not at the expense of detracting from the action.
After a series of terrorist attacks perpetrated by the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), the Enterprise crew launches a manhunt to bring him to justice.
Cumberbatch is phenomenal and at nearly the halfway point of the year, he’s definitely the best villain of the year so far.
With one film under their belt, the cast seems much more comfortable in their roles. Pine is absolutely nailing it and he continues his star-making path here, tackling a more challenging story arc for Kirk, who hasn’t magically matured since the first film and is still prone to brash and potentially fatal decisions.
Kirk’s interaction with Spock is a lot more fun this time out too as they’re not so much at odds anymore, but are discovering traits they actually admire in the other. Quinto gets to relax Spock a bit delivering some of the film’s best lines and there’s some funny relationship banter with Spock and Uhura. Saldana has an appreciated larger presence this time and gets to do more than simply “sit behind a desk.”
As with the original, each cast member gets a nice showcase scene, but I’d gladly trade some of Pegg’s goofy, high-strung Scotty screen time for more of Cho’s badd-a$$ Sulu and Anton Yelchin’s Chekov. Alice Eve is a welcome new addition to the cast as Carol — the secretive science officer added at the last minute to the crew — and Peter Weller (The Dark Knight Returns) has a small, but significant cameo.
The first installment established a parallel world separate from the 1960s Star Trek TV series — a brilliant move as it didn’t anger longtime fans by wiping out the original continuity while giving Abrams and company the freedom to mix up the familiar status quo such as the Uhura/Spock romance.
Darkness comes this close to reaching sci-fi classic status, but the screenwriters opt to pay homage to old stories instead of charting their own path making it feel more like a remake and not the fresh start suggested by the 2009 film.
Story decisions aside, Abrams continues staging the most exciting action scenes done in any “Star Trek” property. I’ve never particularly found the dogfights to be all that interesting before, but Abrams provides a sense of danger and immediacy that’s been lacking until he took over the franchise.
You can see a bit more effort was put into the 3D conversion post production, but you don’t need to pay extra for it as the standard 2D conveys the experience just fine.
For rabid Star Wars fans like myself, you may find yourself watching this to get a sense of what Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII could be like and if his vision is half as engaging, we’re in for a thrilling treat.
Star Trek Into Darkness may not be as revelatory as its predecessor, but it’s still among the Top 5 entries in the franchise. Whether Abrams returns for another spin with the Enterprise crew, he’s certainly helped make it a relevant franchise that once again can live love and prosper.
Rating: 8 out of 10
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