When director J.J. Abrams created the alternate timeline for his brilliant 2009 Star Trek reboot, it gave the franchise a chance to construct all-new adventures for Kirk and Spock. It also gave Abrams the opportunity to mess around with variations on characters and adventures we have already seen.
Such is the case with the exhilarating Star Trek Into Darkness, a movie that had Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Space Seed (a classic Trek TV episode) very much in mind during its production.
The film starts with Chris Pine's cocky Kirk getting himself in some more trouble. He ignores Starfleet directives and rescues Spock (Zachary Quinto) from an erupting volcano, allowing a primitive alien species that has never even seen a telephone before to set their eyes on a big UFO in the form of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Kirk gets demoted by Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), but keeps a relatively high rank thanks to pal Pike pulling some strings.
Back on Earth, a bomb goes off in London courtesy of a renegade Starfleet officer, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), with that same officer attacking a gathering of Starfleet commanders soon thereafter. This dude is pissed off, and anybody in a Starfleet uniform is his target.
Kirk and Spock find themselves en route to Klingon territory, where their homegrown terrorist has gone to hide. They have unorthodox directives from Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to target and assassinate the terrorist from the skies using torpedoes (echoes of drone targeting and the U.S. hunt for bin Laden, right?).
So, right there, you have Klingons, terror in London, commanders getting attacked and volcanoes erupting with Vulcans in their belly. That's a pretty damned good start to a sequel, and that's with plenty of movie left to go.
The true identity of Cumberbatch's character might not come as a surprise to you. Heck, his real character name is listed in the cast on IMDB.com. As for me, I remained in the dark until some jackass uncorked a spoiler on the Internet a few weeks ago. Damn you, Internet reviewer. I say damn you.
I seriously hope that many of you make it into the movie clueless. I even hope most of you are reading my review after seeing the movie, because I do drop clues. No doubt, the Internet is a fun thing, but it sure does wreak havoc on those fun movie secrets.
Abrams gets a little heavy handed with the 9/11-War on Terror allegory, but he still keeps his movie effective and even moving at times. As for his use of a tribble, the furry pests the Enterprise contended with in a famous series episode, I would have to call it my least favorite part of the movie. The way the tribble is utilized makes absolutely no sense, and feels like a stretch.
It's the tribble, and a pivotal late scene between Kirk and Spock that is a mirror version of an infamous scene in Khan, where I think Abrams oversteps a bit. I don't mind him messing with the Trek legacy, but keep it original. Bring back some famed characters, hint at moments from the franchise's past, but don't blatantly copy them. There's a moment where Spock yells a particular word that got unintentional laughs from me.
Cumberbatch does a great riff on an old adversary, and his deep voice is one for the ages. He's one of those anything-can-happen movie villains who are frightening, yet oddly virtuous in some ways. Weller gets his best role in years as Marcus, a flawed man with an imperialistic agenda that might have some viewing him as the film's real villain.
Alice Eve is another memorable new addition as Carol Marcus, the admiral's daughter and stowaway on the Enterprise. Some of you might remember a scientist from a previous Star Trek film with that same name. You'll remember Eve, who has an obligatory underwear scene that is right up there with Sigourney Weaver's out-of-nowhere strip in the original Alien.
Pine and Quinto might not have you forgetting Shatner and Nimoy, but they have certainly established themselves in their roles and can probably own them as long as they want. Zoe Saldana has many shining moments as Uhura, especially in scenes involving the character's relationship with Spock and one where she flies into action.
Simon Pegg's Scotty, John Cho's Sulu, Anton Yelchin's Chekov and, especially, Karl Urban's Bones all contribute to the party. The Star Trek franchise gets the award for best reboot casting; all of these players are perfect for their roles.
If you see Star Trek Into Darkness in 3-D, know that this is retrofitted 3-D and not a great use of the technology. It looks OK, but you are probably safe to take in the 2-D. I will say, the Abrams lens flares do look pretty cool in 3-D. The man loves his lens flare.
For a film called Into Darkness, there are many, awesome shots of the Enterprise during the day. It's definitely interesting to see a ship usually cloaked in darkness sailing around in daytime skies, and even going underwater at one point.
There's a pivotal chase scene where Kirk and Spock pilot a ship that has a Millennium Falcon vibe to it. That had me thinking about the next Star Wars, and what Abrams, who will direct, plans to do with it. Abrams currently has a grasp on major geek real estate with these two franchises. He's, like, the godfather of geeks. He could destroy all of us with a bad chapter in either series. He's an extremely powerful man capable of great good or insurmountable evil.
Fortunately, he used his powers for good with Star Trek Into Darkness, a solid piece of summer entertainment. He's a merciful man, that J.J. Abrams.