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Star Trek into Darkness (***)

It may not be as surprising, but this sequel is nearly as good as its predecessor…

star_trek_into_darkness_ver2With Star Trek into Darkness, director J.J. Abrams has not only made one of the most action packed Star Trek films to date, he’s also made the most compelling case yet for him to successfully cross over into the world of Star Wars. This is a space adventure, pure and simple, so Trekkies may take issue with certain things, though regular audiences members are likely in for a rollicking good time at the movies.

Abrams is his normally reliable self here, and if he shows some extra confidence behind the camera after a successful first time out with this franchise, so does the entire returning cast, as well as writers Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Damon Lindelof. Armed with raised stakes and not having to waste time introducing all the characters, the minds behind this flick are able to drop you right into the thick of things and rarely put on the brakes. This is a pretty tense two hours and change, and I’d even make the argument that the film could stand to be a little longer. Though hardly perfect by any stretch, this is one of the most fun things I’ve seen in 2013 so far.

The film opens up with the crew of the Enterprise on what was supposed to be a simple observation mission to a primitive planet. Of course, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew of Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) violate the Prime Directive and intervene to save the planet’s inhabitants. This decision by Captain Kirk, one opposed by First Officer Spock, gets Kirk demoted by his mentor/superior officer Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). That’s short-lived however, as a Federation officer turned terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has seemingly launched a one man war against his own. After suffering some losses, Kirk is allowed by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to go after Harrison as he hides out on an enemy planet. Kirk is driven to avenge the deaths at the hands of Harrison, but does he truly know what he’s getting into? Of course not, and before long his brash decisions have put everyone’s lives at risk. He’s underestimated his enemy, and that could lead to his undoing. It’s a story that’s both familiar and new to fans of this franchise (in more than one way), but it delivers in all the ways that count.

star trek into darkness jailAt this point, no one needs to compare Chris Pine to William Shatner, as his interpretation of Kirk is different enough to stand on its own. Pine is very comfortable in the role and if he gets to reveal a little less about himself this time around, he does get to grow more as a character. Considering the plot centers heavily around the cause and effects of Kirk’s behavior and the potential consequences of such, it’s important for him to be strong in this part. Pine shows solid range and did exactly what I wanted him to do. Ditto for Zachary Quinto, who shows his half human side nearly as much as his Vulcan one. This time around, we get to see a bit more from Simon Pegg and Bruce Greenwood, though it winds up coming at the expense of Zoe Saldana, who gets the short stick after a real solid role last time. Karl Urban is great again in his supporting role as Bones McCoy, and Anton Yelchin and John Cho do their things quite well while dealing with limited screen time. As for Peter Weller, he’s very solid, though the newcomer most worth discussing is Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s a terrific villain, relishing the part and doing some very interesting things with it. Alice Eve shows up as a new crew member as well with a quick visit from a certain old friend, but this is really about seeing the old gang interact more and watching Cumberbatch cause his chaos.

J.J. Abrams gives you more of the same this time around in terms of his direction, though he does emphasize action more here and lens flares a little less. I’d even argue that his directing is slightly better than in the last Star Trek (2009), if only because he’s coming from a more confident place with the franchise. The film looks really good in the IMAX format, though that’s to be expected, and the 3D rarely called attention to itself. On the other hand, the script isn’t as good as last time. It’s not as clever, and if Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, and Roberto Orci had given a few more things their attention, this might have been a really classic sci-fi flick. It’s still quite good, but they  don’t reinvent the wheel in any way and take the easy way out a few times too many, especially in regard to the ending. They don’t do a bad job or anything, but at times the writing keeps the film from really taking off, as it were.

Star Trek into Darkness is most definitely darker than its predecessor, though this is hardly a bleak film in any way. It’s a lot of fun and really enjoyable, so if its handful of small flaws make this only a very good movie and not a great one, that’s a small sacrifice. I really do hope that J.J. Abrams is able to continue his work on this franchise going forward, as he’s a terrific fit for it. With perhaps a slight change in the writers, the next film in this franchise could really be something incredible. I know I’ll be eagerly awaiting it. For the first time in ages, the series has put together two top-notch entries in a row. My fingers are crossed that they can successfully make it a trifecta in a few years time.

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72 points
Film Lover

Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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