BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA
Four years ago, J.J. Abrams sat in the captain’s chair as he rebooted the “Star Trek” film series, providing an action- and character-driven space epic to audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with Gene Roddenberry’s mythology. Having directed two films based on the franchise and being chosen to direct the next “Star Wars” film, Abrams can be considered a cinematic astronaut, flying through space to discover grand and dangerous new worlds that can only be found in space adventures.
His second film in his reboot series, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” continues his dependable delivery of thrilling special-effects sequences mixed in with adventurous and secretive stories. With the introduction of new characters and locations, Abrams brings audiences back aboard the USS Enterprise on a voyage with heightened risks, bigger sacrifices and the director’s talent for rousing sci-fi.
Starfleet is in danger. Following attacks at the secret Section 31 in London and the Starfleet Command, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and their crew realize that they are up against a villain named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who’s as mysterious as his motives. The crew’s pursuit of him brings them to Kronos, where they capture and bring him on board their ship. After John is interrogated, Kirk and Spock understand that there are bigger and more threatening plans at play, and John isn’t the only person they have to worry about.
While Pine and Quinto keep the wittiness of their bickering from the first film, their characters’ relationship evolves significantly into that of an even stronger brotherhood than it was before. This is seen early in the movie when Kirk must choose between saving Spock from an erupting volcano and following his orders to leave. Both characters go through noticeable changes, with Kirk having matured greatly and taking on the responsibilities of someone who must make difficult moral and ethical decisions that compromise his duty as captain of the Enterprise.
Meanwhile, Spock is further developed as he grapples with expressing and not expressing his feelings. Similar to the scene in the 2009 “Star Trek” where the viewer sees bursts of emotion in Spock when he unleashes anger on Kirk, this film has Spock reveal his reasons for choosing not to feel, following the death of a major character.
Cumberbatch is a suitably sly and cunning antagonist whose true identity is the major secret of the film. There are certain scenes where he almost seems robotic, which is effective because of how cold and unfeeling his persona is towards his victims. He has a seeming lack of emotion that’s reminiscent of David the android in last summer’s “Prometheus.” The way his character is written causes the viewer to have different feelings towards him throughout the film.
Before his motives are made clear, there’s the obvious disliking of him. Once his reasoning behind the attacks is revealed, there is a weird sympathy projected onto him as he provides a monologue while imprisoned behind a glass barrier, wearing a ponderous expression while describing what he has lost in his life. As the film goes on, there is then the reversion back to disliking him as he plans to annihilate the crew of the Enterprise and all of Starfleet.
As in the last installment, there is some grand special-effects imagery to be admired that matches the bigness of the story. The most striking image is that of the Enterprise rising from the ocean towards the beginning. It’s an image of such majesty that welcomes the audience back to the universe of this long-living franchise. Abrams provides this huge imagery throughout the film, such as showing the Enterprise going up against the significantly bigger USS Vengeance, as well as the calamity that follows as the damaged Enterprise begins to plummet to Earth.
The screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof does what the previous film did so well, which was disperse the action sequences at good intervals throughout the movie, so as to devote the time in between to the characters, both old and new. It also includes some famous elements from the television show that fans will love. The film commences with a thrilling action sequence that gets the audience excited to be with these classic characters again, and then moves into the growing relationships between said characters as their morals conflict during their manhunt for John Harrison.
In terms of the action scenes, there is a fun similarity between the two films. Compared with the dynamite “space jump” scene in the last installment, this film has a comparable scene when two characters (I can’t reveal who they are without giving away other important plot points) are launched through space from the Enterprise to infiltrate the Vengeance. Being one of the film’s most memorable scenes, these two characters must fly and dodge their way through a dangerous amount of floating debris to get to their destination, and it is pure J.J. Abrams exhilaration. The screenplay’s only weak spots are some clichéd dialogue in certain scenes, and a little too much comic relief with the character of Scotty (Simon Pegg).
Director Abrams has an apparent specialty when it comes to science fiction, seeing as his films include two “Star Trek” installments, “Super 8,” while his sci-fi television credits include “Lost.” When it comes to these stories, he can handle special effects and big casts with equal dexterity to weave a narrative that is both visually splendid and focused on its characters. He makes summer movies that are both fun and intelligent, just like Christopher Nolan.
If “Star Trek Into Darkness” is any indication of how Abrams will direct the next “Star Wars” film, there is every reason to be excited.
Final grade: A-