Review: Abrams energizes brilliant 'Star Trek Into Darkness'

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When the filmmakers behind "Star Trek" decided to go with "Into Darkness" for the latter half of the new film's title, they weren't a-kiddin'.

"Star Trek Into Darkness" -- the long anticipated sequel to director J.J. Abrams' blockbuster2009 reboot of the classic sci-fi franchise -- is dark, full of action, adventure and awe-inspiring visual effects from beginning to end. Better yet, it's stacked with the sort of thought-provoking emotion you get with most great dramas, yet frequently loops in the type of humor that helped energize the first film. In a rare instance, it's a brilliant sequel that outdoes an already brilliant original.

The entire crew of the Starship Enterprise is back for "Star Trek Into Darkness," which kicks off with a thrilling scene reminiscent of the Fertility Idol chase at the beginning of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

With the scene, filled with bright colors, music, action and a tone reminiscent of the classic television series of the 1960s, Abrams and his trio of writers, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci show they are very much in touch with the sensibilities of the series that launched the franchise nearly 50 years ago.

The scene is punctuated, though, by a haphazard decision by Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) involving Spock (Zachary Quinto) that not only calls their friendship into question, it gets the Kirk into serious trouble with Starfleet.

Even though Kirk is on the outs with his superiors, they're left with no choice to rely on him after John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a former member of Starfleet, carries out a deadly terrorist attack at the organization's London headquarters, and follows up with an ambush that shakes Kirk to his very core. In one fell swoop, Kirk has turned from explorer to a would-be executioner, as he's ordered to retaliate against the perpetrator with extreme prejudice -- leading to a moral dilemma that could change the face of Starfleet.

See my review of "Star Trek Into Darkness" on KARE 11 with Diana Pierce below.

While Eric Bana's Nero proved to be a worthy villain in "Star Trek," Cumberbatch outdoes him in every way in "Star Into Darkness." With a commanding voice, ethereal presence and mysterious past, Harrison commands your attention every time he steps on screen and is a great addition to an already terrific cast. Fans of the franchise will be pleased with the direction Abrams and his collaborators take with the character; and there are numerous nods throughout to the classic series that even includes an memorable appearance by the Klingons, albeit briefly.

While the film is often on the move, Abrams never forgets that it's his characters that are at the heart of "Star Trek Into Darkness." The crew is like a family now, as Abrams has clearly moved past the introductory phase into the more complicated aspects of their relationships. The bulk of the tension is between Kirk and Spock's allegiance to Vulcan logic; but Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is given a lot to work with as her growing romantic relationship with Spock is put to the test after the pivotal opening scene.

Interview: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' star Zoe Saldana

Interview: 'Star Trek Into Darknness' filmmakers Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof

Simon Pegg, who has become a staple in Abrams' "Mission: Impossible" films as well, is back and an even bigger hoot as Scotty, even though his working relationship with Kirk has become contentious. On the flip side, it's the always contentious relationship between Kirk and Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban) provides for a laugh nearly every scene they have together.

Not all the crew gets as much to play with: Sulu (Jon Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) are more side-players here as two more high-profile characters -- science officer Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) and her Starfleet commander father (Peter Weller) are worked into the fold. The charismatic Bruce Greenwood is also back Kirk's mentor and superior, Commander Christopher Pike.

Naturally, "Star Trek Into Darkness" has an ending that begs for another sequel, and one can only hope that Abrams and his creative team aren't completely absorbed by his new commitment to directing "Episode VII" in the "Star Wars" franchise.

Abrams is clearly the captain of the ship here, and it's hard to imagine the "Star Trek" franchise without him. If this is the end of the line for him, fans can at least take comfort in know he's propelled "Star Trek" into a bold, new direction. "Star Trek Into Darkness" is not only a great film, it's one of the best films of the year so far.

"Star Trek Into Darkness," rated PG-13, 4 stars out of 4.

See the trailer for "Star Trek Into Darkness" below.

What other critics are saying …

Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press mostly praises Cumberbatch in his 2 1/2 star review of the film, saying he's a "dandy villain" and a "dastardly manipulator who is at least as interested in messing with Kirk and Spock as he is in taking over the world."

Colin Covert of the Star Tribune gives the film 3 1/2 stars, calling it "a note-perfect blend of escapist fun and thought-provoking commentary, ensemble drama, comic relief, daredevil action and senses-shattering spectacle."

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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