Saturday, May 18, 2013


J.J. Abrams' sequel to his 2009 "Star Trek" may not be brimming with the originality and awe of his initial creation which worked as a unique and clever pop culture reboot, but "Into Darkness" still makes for fine summer blockbuster fare. Now that Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have been firmly introduced into their roles of Captain Kirk and Spock filling the shoes of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, Abrams and his screenwriting team (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof) can settle in and have some fun with the franchise.

The rest of the crew is back, too, and the interplay between all the characters is the best part of the film's writing where a bunch of disparate personalities butt heads. In the frantic opening, Spock is caught in the depths of a volcano, which forces Kirk to break Starfleet regulations to save his life. The half-Vulcan, unable to express full emotion, seems ungrateful for the heroic act instead harping on the rules broken; crewmate and girlfriend Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is equally upset with his lack of reaction. Abrams makes sure to keep us emotionally invested in these characters which work together like a dysfunctional family. Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) all bicker, joke and really pop with a whole new dynamic and then ultimately join forces on the Enterprise now under Kirk's full command. The volcano incident is a hick-up that gets Kirk temporarily demoted by Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood).

A much larger threat, however, brings immediate attention when an attack on Starfleet from a mysterious rogue agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) begins a galactic manhunt. The team flies to the world of the arch enemy Klingons to find the culprit who turns out to be Khan, the story pulling its inspiration from 1982's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." The casting of the British actor mostly known as Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, has beefed up and is brilliant as he brings a cold, calculated and ruthless unpredictability to the role. What's most exhilarating about this villain is the way, once captured and placed in a cell, he burrows his way into Kirk's mind forcing him to question his every action.

The villainous Khan brings real world implications to 9/11-style terrorism creating a tension-filled morality play. In that effect, Abrams manages to bring "Into Darkness" onto a grander, more menacing scale without sacrificing any brains or brawn. And yet, even with as faultless as Abrams' second outing is, it already feels too familiar. The action sequences are muted and uninteresting save for a harrowing sequence where Kirk and Khan shoot like bullets from one spaceship to another. The mild frustration comes from not escaping the feeling of being a sequel for the sake of a sequel and only occasionally soaring to greatness.

My 4-star review of J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek"

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