Star Trek: Into Darkness a surprisingly bright summer blockbuster

Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-PosterThe second installment of sci-fi king J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the credits roll.  It achieves what few sequels do: it is better than its predecessor.  Into Darkness picks up shortly after the events of 2009’s Star Trek, following on-again-off-again-captain Kirk (Chris Pine), calm, cool commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise as they travel to distant worlds both known and unknown, seeking the truth and fodder for some really great-looking explosions.

Design and artistry aside, the story does support itself without relying on the visual spectacle of deep space and futuristic sets to distract its viewers.  At its core, the film is the logical progression from where Star Trek left off.  Where the former set the scene, throwing our characters together and getting them acquainted, Into Darkness tells the story of how the Enterprise, with Kirk at the helm, establishes itself as one of Starfleet’s best: a strong, capable family that is damn near undefeatable.

With this film, we learn more about the politics, both domestic and interstellar, that shape the world we’ve been transported to. We are introduced to these new complexities by the film’s villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).  He’s not the first terrorist-with-a-heart-of-gold to grace our screens of late (take note of Loki – The Avengers, and Raoul Silva –Skyfall), but he is perhaps the most interesting and well-developed of his type.  Breaking from his usual posh, academic typecast, Benedict Cumberbatch (of the BBC’s Sherlock, and Spielberg’s War Horse) steps into his first true action role flawlessly: action and villain both work on him.  Kirk and Spock work hard to smooth out their bumpy start in the first film and finally become the dynamic duo Trekkies know and love.  Pine and Quinto’s wit and chemistry is electric and paced perfectly, qualities echoed by the entire supporting cast’s performances.

In addition to the well-acted character development and plot, there are plenty of lines and references to classic Trek, to keep the die-hards pleased. (After all, what is a Star Trek film without a Leonard Nimoy cameo?)  This film’s script is easier to follow than Star Trek, but not completely predictable, because as with every J.J. Abrams production, Into Darkness has both lens flares and plot twists in spades.

Speaking of lens flares, this film is a study in cutting edge CGI and the latest film technology can offer. Abrams went for the best and the brightest to create his world, and create they did—this Star Trek universe is so complete, so well-designed that one can’t help but search for a pause button just to look at the details a little more.  Abrams does what James Cameron (Titanic) failed to do with Avatar: create a universe that is tangible and that doesn’t look like it just jumped off the pages of a children’s picture book.  Non-humans are integrated seamlessly with Earthlings, new species and civilizations appear to have cultures and histories of their own even if Abrams doesn’t slow down to explain them.  This universe is as vast as our own and this film delivers that sense of enormity while still keeping us engaged in the very personal plot that is unraveling very quickly.

Star Trek: Into Darkness is the perfect summer blockbuster that proves that one doesn’t have to be a fan to wholeheartedly enjoy something as steeped in fandom and lore as Star Trek.  All you need to love this film is a sense of fun, of humor, and maybe a pair of 3D glasses.  Come for Pine (or Quinto, or Saldana, or Cumberbatch, or Pegg), stay for the story, and as Captain Kirk advises near the close of his first installment: “Buckle up.”

Star Trek: Into Darkness opens today, and is available in IMAX as well.

Photo: Rene Walter via Flickr

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