Star Trek Into Darkness
Directed by J.J. Abrams. Starring Chris Pine, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Alice Eve, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Peter Weller, Anton Yelchin. (2013, PG-13, 132 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., May 17, 2013
J.J. Abrams doesn’t seem to have the itch to start from scratch. He rebooted Star Trek in 2009 with a narrative loophole that gave him free rein, and yet he still seems hesitant to test just how much rope he has. A franchise all his to play with, and all he wants is to run a familiar plot through a funhouse mirror? The galaxy at his fingertips, and he imagines a far-flung planet populated with ... Japanese cherry blossom trees? (They’re lovely, very nearly fragrant in 3-D.) Abrams’ space isn’t the final frontier: The landscape reads more like, “Haven’t we been here before?” Well, yes, but a whirligig doesn’t go anywhere, either, and it’s still fun to watch it spin.
Star Trek Into Darkness’ sprightly cold open reestablishes the Enterprise family dynamic: Kirk (Pine) is the incautious captain with a rascally smile, devoted to his crew and total crap at following orders (even his own orders); cerebral Spock (Quinto) is all logic, to the ire of his girlfriend, Lieutenant Uhura (Saldana); medic Bones (Urban) corners the market on exasperation; and so on. All of the reboot’s recastings are terrific, even if a few of the actors, like Anton Yelchin (as Chekhov), have little to do but master the tics of their predecessors.
There’s new blood, too. Kirk gets a kicky blond science officer, played by Alice Eve, to spar with; RoboCop (er, Peter Weller, still minus a human heart) comes on as a growly admiral; and the magnificently monikered Benedict Cumberbatch plays a Starfleet officer gone rogue for intriguing reasons I won’t divulge here. Cumberbatch is the star of BBC’s Sherlock and an object of intense fascination, with his face and affect a shoo-in for prom king of Area 51. (While he is demonstrably homo sapien, you’d be forgiven for suspecting a more exotic taxonomic rank.) Abrams was smart to cast an honest-to-god thespian as his morally complicated villain, but who knew he’d be such aces at hand-to-hand combat, too?
Screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and fanboys’ favorite whipping boy, Damon Lindelof, keep the film moving at a quippy clip; there’s really no fat here until the film feints a climax only to lurch the coaster-car back up the hill again. The tentpoles are famous for tacking 20 minutes too long onto their summer cine-spectacles, and Abrams’ is no different. He just does it better.