‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ review: Emerging from the darkness

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‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ a stellar sequel

‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ engaging, entertaining

When we were reintroduced to the Star Trek universe back in 2009, there was initial skepticism, which was understandable. How could you possibly try to relaunch such a cultural icon? However, what director J.J. Abrams produced was nothing short of fantastic. So with the bar set so high, there again was concern whether its sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” would reach the ever-towering ideals we would expect. We weren’t disappointed. With breathtaking visuals, the return of the Enterprise’s engaging crew and the introduction of a worthy adversary, “Into Darkness” takes us to worlds both new and familiar in spectacular fashion.

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“Into Darkness” continues to introduce us to the still-emerging crew of the starship USS Enterprise and throws us right in the pit of fiery chaos (literally).

Right off the bat, we see our protagonists — Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Sulu (John Cho), Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) — on a planet about to be destroyed by a volcanic cataclysm. The issue here is the Prime Directive, which forbids Starfleet from interfering with developing worlds or their internal politics. That, however, is completely ignored by Kirk, which is typical fashion for him, as the Enterprise rises from the sea in plain sight of the planet’s white-painted natives as it takes off into space.

The tension builds from here, as breaking the Prime Directive causes a multitude of cascading events to unfold, mainly involving Kirk’s comeuppance and Spock’s role in it. (Adm. Christopher Pike, played by Bruce Greenwood, does his best to speak some sense to Kirk, but its effectiveness is questionable.) Kirk’s and Spock’s divergent fire-and-ice personalities — along with the rest of the highly personable crew — clash again and again as the plot moves forward. These fights — these examples of loyalty and friendship, anger and ethics — are compelling on an emotional level.

Because emotion, and sometimes the lack thereof, creates the atmospheric tension, whether it’s the bromance between Kirk and Spock or the romantic relationship between Spock and Uhura. It’s these connections, one of the most basic of human instincts, that gives us the desire to connect with this crew. That connection — between us and the crew and the crew members with each other — proves vital when the villain, John Harrison (a deeply brooding and intense Benedict Cumberbatch), comes on the scene, bringing maddening and sometimes confusing chaos to the forefront.

Harrison, a Starfleet commander gone rogue, proves a formidable opponent, thanks in no small part to his superhuman intelligence and strength. And Cumberbatch’s portrayal is sinisterly captivating, especially when he stares you down. So, it’s not completely unconvincing when Kirk teams up with him later in the film to accomplish yet another insane mission.

Directed by Abrams from a script penned by Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, “Into Darkness” does have some flaws, most revolving around its less-than-fresh take on the subject matter. But to expect it to be uniquely fresh would be categorically unfair. “Into Darkness” can’t be as noddingly funny as the 2009 version, because this outing introduces a crisis at the very heart of Starfleet (and the meaning behind Star Trek in general). Harrison pushes Starfleet into militarizing itself, which runs counter to the historic mission of the Enterprise: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. The TV show had its fights, of course, but the ideal of peaceful space exploration was never far off. Here, the violence is neverending, whether it’s blowing up buildings or having fistfights on moving platforms.

Even though “Into Darkness” shows us a future we should strive for — one in which we see a beautifully advanced San Francisco and London (in 3-D if you so choose) — some still will lament this militarization.

But, still, in the simplest of terms, Star Trek deals with emotion and connection. And here, “Into Darkness” shines. Our half-human, half-Vulcan Spock is considered legend in American pop culture, so it’s heartening to see Quinto pay due respect to his character while making him his own, as he did in the first film. Pegg’s scene-stealing Scotty is hilarious and perfectly timed, adding a needed counterweight to Spock’s stoic personality. (Urban’s Bones also provides some needed humor, mixed with some understandable exasperation.)

Yes, “into Darkness” was closer to a Michael Bay film than it should be, but that doesn’t stop it from being an excellent addition to the Star Trek canon. Because even with its flaws and violence, if this is anything what our future might look like, we should be excited for what’s to come.

Four intergalactic stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.

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