Star Trek Darkness ✮✮✮1/2
Set to Stun
by Glenn Lovell
Let the summer movie sweepstakes begin! “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the 12th installment in the durable sci-fi franchise, is everything and more Trekkers have been clamoring for. It’s funny, reverent, suspenseful, heartfelt, and chock-full of dazzling deep-space effects. Shoot, why beat about the intergalactic bush? “Darkness” strikes me as one of the best in the series. Right up there with “Wrath of Khan,” which receives more than a few cross-references in the new starlog.
The second in J.J. Abrams’ proposed trilogy, “Darkness,” per formula, begins mid-sprint a la a Bond or Indy Jones adventure. Kirk (Chris Pine again) and Bones (Karl Urban) are being chased through a crimson jungle by an aboriginal tribe. We’re on Bibiru, a volcanic planet about to erupt and render all life forms extinct. Spock jets to the rescue in what appears a one-way mission. Will Kirk and the Enterprise leave the pointy-eared one to cook? Will the recently smitten Uhura (Zoe Saldana) have to wave a teary adieu? Not to worry. “Darkness” does not forsake Gene Roddenberry’s original directive. We may be racing about the outer reaches of the universe, but, hey, it’s still all about loyalty and sacrifice ‒ and timely allegorical subtext. (Are you listening, George W.?)
Of course there’s hell to pay. The headstrong Kirk, in putting his ship at risk ‒ and breaking the Starfleet mandate of observing without meddling in the natural course of things ‒ is relieved of duty and told to return to the Academy. Hitting below the belt, Kirk’s mentor, now-Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), charges, “You don’t respect the Chair!”
Kirk is exiled from the bridge for, oh, about 10 minutes, or until sabotage and personal tragedy strike. Behind what is described as this “one-man war against Starfleet” is a disgruntled agent (Benedict Cumberbatch), now hiding out on “the one place we can’t go” ‒ Chronos, home to the Klingons. The reinstated Kirk’s orders: park on the edge of the neutral zone and take out your target with a prototypical torpedo so lethal Scotty (Simon Pegg) refuses to go along for the ride ‒ at least at first.
Much easier to navigate than Abrams’ first installment, which wrapped Kirk and the gang’s backstory in an alternate-reality scenario (i.e. the usual space-time continuum goobledygook), this installment fairly rockets through its 132 minutes, juggling new characters, old nemeses, lingering resentments … and just enough in-jokes to please the devotee without leaving the unindoctrinated scratching his head. Pine as the smug, feet-of-clay captain remains an improvement on previous Kirks; Quinto, though saddled with the usual Vulcanisms (“Vucans cannot lie”), makes a kinder but hardly gentler Spock; and Pegg again nails the comic relief as the muttering, undervalued engineer with the cartoon brogue. The laser-intense Peter Weller, who you’ll know from “RoboCop” and “Dexter,” appears as the new commander of Starfleet, and Leonard Nimoy once again beams in from the future as Spock Prime, this time dispensing information on how to combat a super-villain whose preferred method of dispatching an enemy is making like a human vise.
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ✮✮✮1/2 With Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anton Yelchin, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Bruce Greenwood. Directed by J. J. Abrams; scripted by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof from Gene Roddenberry characters. 132 min. PG-13 (sci-fi violence, slight profanity)