Star Trek Guide

DC Area Film Critics Assoc.

Back in 2009 when J.J. Abrams was tapped to do the impossible; namely satisfying a bunch of Trekkers who had watched their beloved Star Trek turn into a mummified corpse on the big and small screen, expectations weren't really all that high. Even after a couple of bigger-than-expected successes, rebooting Star Trek was a proposition fraught with potential failure. But he did it, largely by doing the unthinkable and turning Gene Roddenberry's beloved creation into Star Wars lite.

But now it's four years later, and before Abrams shuffles off to actually take on Star Wars, he's got some unfinished business with Star Trek Into Darkness. The long-awaited sequel is bigger, faster, and slicker than ever, and Abrams has fixed many of the problems that dragged down the first one. Both paying homage to the past while inventing something entirely fresh, the clunky alternate timeline nonsense has been given a mighty trim, and the film never slows down for a moment. You'll hardly have time to catch a breath as it cuts in typical Abrams fashion from one awesome lens flare-filled action sequence to the next. There's only one thing that keeps it from being a complete and utter success, and unfortunately it's the aspect of the film that has received the most attention.

Dropping us right into the frying pan as the Enterprise and her crew are on a primitive alien world, we see James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the ever-grumpy Bones (Karl Urban) on the run from its inhabitants. The plan is for Spock (Zachary Quinto) to prevent a volcanic eruption from wiping out the burgeoning civilization. But at the same time there's that pesky Prime Directive which oversees how they can relate to new races. Kirk is still an arrogant, rule-breaking sort and basically wipes his butt with the Directive in order to save the day. Spock wasn't so happy, but hey, that's why they're Sci-Fi’s own little Odd Couple.

There are consequences to Kirk's actions, though, and he soon finds himself relieved of command and his crew dispersed. Not before getting one of those "I'm so disappointed" lectures from his predecessor, Captain Pike (a fatherly Bruce Greenwood), who still sees a true leader behind Kirk's attitude. The team is quickly reunited when a devastating terrorist attack destroys London. The culprit is one of Starfleet's own, the mysterious and seemingly invincible John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a superhuman whose motivations are murky to say the least. Is he truly a villain? Is he just misunderstood? Or is there something even more behind Harrison's icy cold stare, booming voice, and unimaginable battle acumen?

Abrams and his trio of screenwriters have done a remarkable job keeping many of the film's biggest secrets under lock and key, so don't expect to see any of them revealed here. There are plenty of mysteries dying to be solved, some small, and others that are "holy crap" levels of huge. Whereas the first outing felt a little insular, we're treated to a broader view of the universe this time around. A certain fan favorite warlike race turns up for a memorable encounter that will surely lead to interesting things down the road.

It's the camaraderie of the crew that is the heart and soul of any 'Trek', and the cast instantly clicks like no time has passed at all. Pine is still serviceable and uninspiring as Kirk, while Quinto makes for a pitch-perfect Spock. Their instincts vs. logic ideological battles are as fun now as ever. Even new addition Alice Eve fits right in, joining the cast as Dr. Carol Marcus, a character with her own share of secrets. She's good to have around if only to take some of the pressure off Zoe Saldana as Uhuru, who isn't given quite as much to do this time around, perhaps because she's no longer part of a potential love triangle. On the other hand, Simon Pegg is a riot as Scotty (Simon Pegg), and he plays a much bigger part this time around. Basically that means he gets to spend half his time racing down hallways and through tunnels, and it's never less than hilarious.

Make no mistake, Benedict Cumberbatch is every bit the magnetic, frightening villain we'd expect
him to be. He's terrific as Harrison, and commands the screen every single moment. The problem is that the character isn't all that compelling beyond being able to kick a lot of butt and look really cool in his futuristic trench coat.  There's one obvious reason why Harrison turns out to be underwhelming, and it has to do with one of the film's biggest secrets. In some ways it's probably preferable that we weren't subject to a load of exposition about his motivations, but at the same time it feels like something crucial has been left out.

The action is simply unbelievable, and Abrams pulls off the finest work of his career. Whether taking place on the ground or in deep space, Star Trek Into Darkness is an incredible, jaw-dropping spectacle that will fulfill all of your blockbuster needs. Abrams has taken the creative freedom granted him by Paramount and run with it. While not everything he's dreamed up is a success, the fact that he's willing to boldly go where no other has gone before makes Star Trek Into Darkness one of the most satisfying films of the summer.