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STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
(***)
Reviewer:   Jim "JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
J.J. Abrams
Written by:
Screenplay by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof. Based on the tv series “Star Trek” by Gene Roddenberry
Starring:
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana
Length:   132 minutes
Released:   051613
Rating:
PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence
“A highly polished piece of pop cinema with cliffhanger sensibilities..." 

J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek was about restoring a moribund franchise. His sequel is about taking it for a spin. A highly polished piece of pop cinema with cliffhanger sensibilities, Star Trek Into Darkness moves at warp speed as it pits Captain Kirk and his crew against a cunning adversary of unparalleled strength and intellect. For as much as screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Damon Lindelof focus on action to keep this sequel moving along, they smartly remember that it’s the characters and their relationships that keep the fans coming back for more.

London: 2259. A mother and father are tearfully bidding farewell to their dying child as a mysterious stranger offers to save her -- for a price. Soon after, a blast rips through a Federation library in the city, resulting in an emergency meeting headed by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) where it’s revealed that John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has been identified as the man responsible for the attack. Kirk (Chris Pine), having just been demoted for violating the Prime Directive in an effort to save Spock (Zachary Quinto), prepares to track down the villain under the command of Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) when Harrison launches a surprise attack that wipes out some of the Federation’s top leaders. Thirsting for revenge, Kirk volunteers to take the Enterprise into Klingon territory, where Harrison is hiding out, to terminate him with extreme prejudice. When the mission threatens to result in all-out war between the Klingons and the Federation, however, Kirk follows his instincts and decides to take Harrison prisoner instead so that he may face justice back on Earth. Kirk then discovers the secret identity of his captive as the Enterprise comes under attack, prompting the captain to team up with the very man he was dispatched to kill in an effort to protect the integrity of the Federation and save his crew from certain death.

Despite its spot-on casting, playful chemistry, and eye-popping action, the one factor that seemed to weigh down Abrams’ otherwise satisfying 2009 reboot was the lack of a truly memorable villain. For the second installment, Kurtzman, Orci, and Lindelof work to rectify that oversight in a big way. And with Cumberbatch as the antagonist, their noble efforts pay off handsomely. A fast-rising star thanks largely to his memorable turn as the lead in the hit BBC series Sherlock, Cumberbatch (with an impossible baritone) is a commanding presence here as he plays with our sympathies while maintaining an imposing air of deep-rooted menace. The writers also have fun with that as an unexpected threat pops up in the midsection of the film. For as much flack as Lindelof gets for raising more questions than he’s willing (or able) to answer as a writer, the presence of Kurtzman and Orci as co-scribes seems to bring out the best in him.

That isn’t to say that Star Trek Into Darkness doesn’t occasionally play things fast and loose when it’s convenient (it only takes one stun blast to bring down Cumberbatch’s character early on, but six barely slow him during the climactic fight), but honestly at this point anyone seeking perfection in a Star Trek script may consider a trip to sick bay for a brain scan. By maintaining the alternate timeline conceived in the original film, the writers construct a bridge between nostalgia and evolution that’s strong enough to appeal to both the hardcore Trekker fanbase and the casual moviegoer. Though observant viewers will note the eerie echoes of 9/11 and its dark legacy woven into the fabric of the plot and its imagery, Abrams smartly (and somewhat ironically) offsets this with a vibrant color palate courtesy of returning director of photography Dan Mindel.

For fans of the 2009 reboot who enjoyed the chemistry and camaraderie of the new Enterprise crew, the good news here is that all of the major players have returned to their roles as well. As before, their comic timing is impeccable, though occasional levity courtesy of Karl Urban’s Bones, Simon Pegg’s Scotty, and the playful banter between Kirk and Spock never takes precedence over drama when the story calls for it, especially in a heartfelt scene that brilliantly echoes one of the original film series’ most memorable moments.

At one point in this sequel, an incensed Scotty hands Kirk his resignation after refusing to sign for 72 torpedoes to be loaded onto the Enterprise, lamenting that they’re being dispatched on a military operation rather than a space-exploration mission. “Is that what we are now?” he asks dejectedly. Given the emphasis on action over futuristic philosophy in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek universe, some die-hard Trekkers may ponder the same question. It’s a hard one to dismiss, too, but it’s even harder to deny that much like Kirk and his crew, Abrams and his team still manage to get the job done despite the criticisms that they’ve drifted from the Enterprise’s original mission.

Star Trek Into Darkness has flaws, and I am sure they will bother some viewers more than others, but there is no doubt in my mind that the good dramatically outweighs the bad. This is not the best Star Trek has ever been, and at times, it does not even fully feel like Star Trek, but where it counts most – in the characters and themes that define them – Into Darkness serves as a powerful reminder of why I fell in love with the Star Trek franchise in the first place. It all goes back to a brilliant Captain named James T. Kirk and the wonderful, talented crew of the USS Enterprise, and as long as this new series continues to understand and experiment with what makes these characters great, it will continue to excel like few other blockbuster franchises out there. While Abrams departs the series — perhaps for good — to direct the next Star Wars installment for 2015, he leaves Star Trek in much better shape — healthy, vibrant, and made for the mainstream — than when he took over.
 

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS © 2013 Paramount Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2013 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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