As a diehard Star Trek fan, I've seen Science Fiction evolve over the years, with the very good Star Trek: The Original Series leading the way in my early youth. To me, the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and Bones were the epitome of human drama in space, with The Enterprise hosting this trio of bold brave men exploring the universe. Their interactions and debates were as enjoyable as every Vulcan Nerve Pinch by Spock and high-flying drop kick that Kirk ever made. To Kirk, the Enterprise was a living thing, with as much emotion as its chief engineer Montgomery Scott. Spock and Bones were living representations of his morals and values, and their friendship bound the three together as this soap opera set amongst the backdrop of deep space paved the way for Star Wars, and later a successul string of Trek movies and television series. But, Trek was never so good after TOS, with the could-have-been (The Next Generation), the blah (Deep Space Nine and Voyager), and the disastrous (Enterprise). But as of late, there's been a glimmer of hope: 2009's Star Trek successfully rebooted the franchise into an alternate reality, even though its plot had holes as big as a temporal displacement. With the release this week of the nearly perfect Star Trek: Into Darkness, old fans like me can finally rejoice that the franchise is triumphantly back.
Set several months after their encounter with the futuristic Romulan Nero, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, Rise of the Guardians) and crew attempt to save a pre-industrious civilization from the imminent destruction of a massive volcano. When his first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto, Heroes) is placed in mortal danger, Kirk ignores The Prime Directive to rescue his Vulcan friend, exposing their massive starship to an unsuspecting people who soon begin to worship it. Although he's saved the people of Nibiru, Kirk has angered Starfleet Command, including Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, Young Justice), who is forced to demote Kirk. Meanwhile, a mysterious explosion destroys a London archival building, courtesy of the terrorist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock). He's a former Starfleet officer whose incredible strength, intelligence, and dark intentions make him public enemy #1. After a second attack leaves most of Starfleet's commanders dead, Kirk is reinstated to hunt Harrison down, only to learn later that the terrorist's name is just a cover, and that he is instead a very popular character from the Star Trek universe. As news of 'Harrison's' capture reaches Starfleet, another starship arrives to attack the Enterprise, sending its crew on a high-speed chase back to Earth. With 'Harrison' promising to help, Kirk launches a last desperate mission to defeat the Starfleet traitors and Harrison, whatever the cost.
Based on the alternate timeline universe created by Director JJ Abrams (Mission Impossible III), Darkness is at once a rip-roaring action-packed adventure, but also excels as a smart and character-driven story about friendships, family, and the steps we're willing to take to protect them. In so many ways, we see those TOS friendships ignite once more, with spirited debates, wise-cracking jokes, and a genuine feeling of camaraderie that feels like an old shoe. Quinto, Urban, and Pine fit seamlessly together on screen, strenghtening these classic characters by turning the tables on our expectations and delivering a higher level of drama that hasn't been seen since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But, it's also the emergence of Cumberbatch who steals so many scenes, proving that he's ready for a big moment in the sun. His brilliance and darkness is encompassing, as he attempts to manipulate Kirk and crew before finally turning on them. Frnakly we haven't seen a bad guy of this sort in the franchise since Khan, and Cumberbatch fits nicely into that role. Credit this deep character development to Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Transformers series), who continue to hone their craft while complementing Abrams' incredible eye for sprawling and impactful space scenes. If Abrams can do this to Star Trek, what reimaginings will he bring to Star Wars?
Composer Michael Giacchino (Up) crafts a soundtrack filled both with fast-paced war pieces as well as tender ballads, especially near film's end. And yes, the familiar TOS theme by Alexander Courage comes out to play just enough to remind us veterans of the series' pedigree. Abrams is also a master at casting, and his additions of Carol Marcus (Alice Eve, The Raven) and former Enterprise baddie Peter Weller (Robocop) are perfectly suited. This all adds up to a film that feels remarkably quick (even though it's 130 minutes long), but only because it's so well made, locking us in from the start and refusing to let go until either 'Harrison' is finished with us or Kirk rules the day. I couldn't say that about 2009's Star Trek, but I can emphatically call this mission a total success.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is one of the best Summer films of 2013, and could see a long run through the season. With its perfect casting, immersive story, and top-notch directing, audiences will be hard-pressed to make a case against seeing it. At last, we have the Trek we need and deserve. It's rated PG-13 and is playing in IMAX and 3D everywhere.
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