Zachary Quinto, left, and Chris Pine star in 'Star Trek Into Darkness,' which features superbly crafted action sequences and terrific performances that render it a cut above most summer blockbusters.
(Photo: Zade Rosenthal, Paramount PIctures)
By Claudia Puig
Star Trek Into Darkness may be going not so boldly back to the archives, but it serves up an exhilarating spectacle, with noteworthy moments of intimacy.
Spectacular special effects, superbly crafted action sequences, plenty of humor and terrific performances render it a cut above most summer blockbusters.
Director J.J. Abrams' sequel (* * * ½ out of four; rated PG-13; opens Wednesday on IMAX screens and Thursday nationwide) is only a jot less fresh than his 2009Star Trek, and it continues to re-invigorate the 50-year-old franchise. Four years ago, Abrams made being a Trekkie cool again. And with this follow-up, the cool factor remains staunchly intact. Abrams knows just how much to reference and re-boot from the series and previous movies. Yet he also sets an exhilarating new course in this nimbly twisting feature, which pays homage to 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
STORY: Abrams takes captain's chair again for another Trek
PREMIERE: Spock and Kirk bond
DARKNESS CLIP: Harrison vs Kirk
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Though the focus is on fun, there's a sense of grace amid the excitement. Familiar characters are injected with new life, and there's renewed affection among them - even a bromance.
This gleeful adventure should please both hard-core fans and those unfamiliar with Gene Roddenberry's original mid-'60s TV series. While densely plotted, it manages to be both nostalgic and forward-looking. The adventure takes place in 2259, so the skylines of London and San Francisco look stunningly futuristic. But the uniforms aboard the starship Enterprise look strikingly similar to the mod styles from the iconic show.
While the production design is vividly rendered, the characters are the most enthralling aspect. The youthfully attractive and diverse crew members from 2009 return for this tale. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are spot-on as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, respectively. Zoe Saldana as Officer Uhura makes a wonderfully feisty action heroine. Simon Pegg's a delight as Scotty, and Karl Urban is very funny as Dr. "Bones" McCoy.
Benedict Cumberbatch is a brilliant addition as John Harrison, an elegant but sneering, genetically enhanced rogue Starfleet officer. A top-notch villain, he reveals a coiled menace beneath his glacial calm.
The less said about the twisting plot here, the greater the potential for viewer enjoyment. The USS Enterprise, led by Kirk and first mate Spock, is given a mission to nab a terrorist (Cumberbatch). In the process, the crew encounters warlike Klingons, starship malfunctions and internecine strife. Volcanic eruptions are thwarted, buildings blow up and a great airborne mano-a-mano clash intensifies the excitement. A particularly suspenseful scene involves Kirk and Harrison donning jet packs and transferring to another ship, under Scott's command.
But though it's exciting to see the vessel in intergalactic peril, what makes the story surprisingly moving is the bond between Kirk and Spock as they risk their lives to save each other. (Though in a fit of pique, Kirk snarls that he'd like to rip the bangs off Spock's face.) The ever-logical, half-Vulcan Spock taps into his rarely visible human emotions.
The pace is whip-fast and the action thrilling. But more importantly, justice, vengeance and morality are explored intelligently, as are the bonds of friendship.
Balancing the venerated and the inventive, Abrams is bound, determined and likely to make Trekkies of us all.