The first rule of “Star Trek Into Darkness” is that you do not talk about “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
There is so much cool stuff in director J.J. Abrams’ second film based on Gene Roddenberry’s beloved science-fiction series, and information that should not be divulged, that a moviegoer should go in cold, if such a thing were possible in the age of Internet spoilers.
So the next two paragraphs are as much synopsis as you’re getting from me.
The movie begins with Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) getting in trouble with Starfleet for violating the Prime Directive, the United Federation of Planets’ top rule against interfering with a primitive culture. (It’s a rule William Shatner’s Kirk violated in roughly half of the original series’ 78 episodes.) But Kirk is let off the hook because Starfleet has bigger problems: a rogue agent, named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), is attacking Federation facilities on Earth.
Admiral Markus (Peter Weller) orders Kirk to kill Harrison, who’s been tracked to the Klingon homeworld, Kronos. But as Kirk and his first officer, the logical Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), warp toward the Neutral Zone separating Federation space from the Klingon Empire, they discover that nothing about this mission — including the identity of the fugitive Harrison — is what it seems.
OK, that’s it for plot details, except to say that Abrams and his screenwriting crew (regulars Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof share credit here) name-drop enough classic “Trek” characters, place names and alien species that a Trekkie or Trekker will be hooting and laughing while those who are less “Trek” literate will be going “huh?” (Again, to give examples would spoil the fun.)
But this isn’t a Trekkie-only experience. Abrams & Co. pile on enough excitement and action to keep any moviegoer, whatever their “Trek” IQ, on the edge of his or her seat.
Abrams was criticized in his 2009 reboot, and will be again here, for mucking about with “Star Trek” canon. For example, in the first film, Spock’s homeworld, Vulcan, is destroyed. But here, Abrams stays true to the main virtues of the series: The camaraderie of the Enterprise crew, the bond of friendship among Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), and the way the old series created science-fiction allegories to explore current dilemmas.
Abrams draws nice moments of tension and comedy from the Enterprise crew, with actors Zoë Saldana (as Lt. Uhura), Simon Pegg (as Cmdr. Scott, the ship’s engineer), John Cho (as navigator Lt. Sulu), Anton Yelchin (as helmsman Ens. Chekov) and Bruce Greenwood (as Kirk’s mentor, Christopher Pike) taking a second ride. Newcomer Alice Eve joining the crew as … sorry, another spoiler.
Pine brings a decent amount of swagger to Kirk, breaker of rules and horndog of the galaxy. And Quinto finds both the humor and emotional intensity within Spock’s struggle to balance logic and emotion.
But both of them have to work overtime to stay even with Benedict Cumberbatch. The British star of “Sherlock” beefs up for this role, bringing muscle and old-school Shakespearean fire to the villain’s role. You’d have to think back to “Star Trek’s” classic characters to find someone to match him.
‘Star Trek Into Darkness’
Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock and the Enterprise crew fly into new adventures, with a formidable enemy in their sights.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Tonight in IMAX theaters, Thursday everywhere else.
Rating • PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Running time • 132 minutes.