There’s a scene in Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams’ second installment in his reimagining of the voyages of the starship Enterprise, that seems almost lifted from the pages of the most ardent fan fiction. Just as we think Captain Kirk may have set his last phaser on stun, he and Spock have a bromantic epiphany that gets even the emotionless, pointy-eared second-in-command teary-eyed.
It’s the kind of moment that’s going to have longtime followers of the franchise purring like tribbles, and it’s just one of many in this entertaining adventure that doesn’t quite live up to the bleak promise of its title.
Chris Pine returns as the young Kirk, who, as the movie opens, loses his title as captain after violating the Federation’s “prime directive” against interfering with the development of an alien culture. But Kirk had a good reason to reveal humankind’s technology to the primitive souls of the planet Nibiru: to rescue his good buddy Spock (Zachary Quinto) from the inside of an erupting volcano — because that’s the kind of thing good friends do for each other.
Back on Earth, Kirk is nursing his emotional wounds when he’s called back to duty after a terror attack in London. The guy behind it is the cunning if blandly named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who’s got a freezer full of beefs with Star Fleet. And it may not just be madman talk.
Star Fleet Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) is up to something, showing that the Federation — an unstoppable force for good in Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of Star Trek — may be just as riven with politics and power plays as any other human organization.
Faster than you can say “live long and prosper,” the Enterprise is sent to hunt down and kill Harrison, and it’s here — with talk of the Federation’s true mission and summarily killing people without trial — that Star Trek Into Darkness seems ripped from today’s headlines, not those of the 23rd century where it’s set. You half expect someone to mention “drones” or call a planet Gitmo.
But Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman ( Transformers, the last Star Trek movie) don’t really push the political angle too hard and Star Trek Into Darkness ends up being less provocative — and less dark — than it might have been. They make up for that with a rousing sense of action and humor that builds upon what everyone knows about these characters: Kirk’s womanizing, Spock’s logic, not to mention the engineering derring-do of Scotty (Simon Pegg), and the “Damn it Jim, I’m a doctor” stridency of Dr. “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban).
Cumberbatch, a British actor previously seen in War Horse, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the Sherlock TV series, makes for a formidable foe and his character offers a surprise twist — though it’s been leaked all over the Internet by now.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a step forward from Abrams’ initial foray into this universe in the 2009 movie. It will be intriguing to see where he takes it from here though, in between, there’s that other little movie he has to do: Star Wars.