It’s official: Director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise was no fluke. Star Trek Into Darkness extends the altered universe that Abrams’ Star Trek created, with the confidence of a mature talent that knows where it’s going. Actually, giving due credit, there are several talents at work here: Abrams is joined again by writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, with Abrams’ Lost colleague Damon Lindelof along for good measure. The result is a seamless entertainment that’s about as good as space opera gets.
The seamlessness extends to the casting, of course; all the stars from the last movie are back, plus new additions that are just as perfectly matched to their roles. Chris Pine is again Captain James T. Kirk, and he seems to be growing into the role in a way that William Shatner never did (Shatner—heresy! Heresy!—just got hammier). Zachary Quinto’s Spock was already so full-formed back in 2009 that he could naturally share the screen with Leonard Nimoy as his “original” self, a relic from before the skewing of the universe that opened the earlier movie. (Nimoy makes another cameo appearance this time, at just the right climactic moment.) Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard McCoy again barks, “I’m a doctor, damnit, not a [fill in the blank]!” to the delighted chortles of an indulgent audience. (Will this be a permanent feature of every Star Trek from now on, like Alfred Hitchcock’s cameos in his own movies?)
Others in the ensemble cast—Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and Pavel Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) and Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Simon Pegg)—all have their moments to shine. It’s a sign of the care that’s gone into the script, ensuring that they all contribute to the success of the Starship Enterprise’s latest mission beyond mere background support for the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. This crew is a unit; all these people belong together.
New this time is Alice Eve as Carol Marcus—ardent Trekkers will remember her and anticipate her and Kirk’s future. She first boards the Enterprise under an alias, but Spock quickly sees through that ruse, rightly deducing that she’s the daughter of Starfleet Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), who has dispatched Kirk and the Enterprise on their latest mission.
The mission involves a Starfleet agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has turned rogue, destroying a Starfleet weapons lab in London and ambushing a meeting of top Starfleet brass in San Francisco with appalling loss of life. Harrison has fled to a remote region of the Klingon home planet, just as relations between the Klingons and the Federation are about to melt down into hot war. Marcus assigns Kirk to sneak into Klingon space and destroy Harrison with a barrage of the latest photon torpedoes. At the urging of Spock, however, Kirk decides to capture Harrison alive and return him to Earth to stand trial.
When Harrison is found, he surprises Kirk by immediately surrendering. Back aboard the Enterprise, Kirk and Spock both sense something fishy. Harrison reinforces this feeling, craftily disclosing information that doesn’t fit the picture Admiral Marcus gave Kirk of his mission—for example, the fact that his name isn’t really John Harrison.
That’s as far as I should go with Into Darkness’s plot, even though its surprises may have been spoiled by this time. Suffice it to say Benedict Cumberbatch makes a classic villain for this new Star Trek franchise, echoing (as so much does) the underpinnings of the original series, yet giving them a new spin that rejuvenates even as it invokes them.
Must I nitpick? Very well: The retrofitted 3-D was a mistake. It adds nothing, while fuzzying up a picture that should be razor-sharp. Cinematographer Dan Mindel overdoes the lens flares, turning them into a kind of fetish. And as with Star Trek, director Abrams tends to place his camera too close to his actors—a holdover, perhaps, from his TV experience.
But never mind all that—as I said, nitpicks. Star Trek Into Darkness is fast, fun, dramatically sound and emotionally right, reviving our affection for the original series, making the old and familiar new and surprising again.