Star Trek Into Darkness
Director: JJ Abrams.
Cast: Chris Pine, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Peter Weller, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Alice Eve, Bruce Greenwood, Anton Yelchin.
IN 2009, director JJ Abrams did the seemingly impossible - he managed to semi-reboot a four decades-old franchise and appeal to the die-hard fans in the process while simultaneously making one of pop culture's unsexiest properties cool again.
It's no wonder that Abrams was tapped on the shoulder to direct Star Wars VII. If he could work such box office magic with Star Trek (generally considered the nerdiest thing outside of playing Dungeons & Dragons), then imagine what he could do George Lucas' lightsaber-wielding baby.
In fact, the announcement that Abrams was to takeover from where Lucas left off has somewhat overshadowed his return to the universe created by Gene Roddenberry in the '60s.
If that's the case, and if nothing else, then Star Trek Into Darkness should serve as evidence that the Star Wars saga is - theoretically, at least - in good hands.
Abrams' Star Trek was a success because it understood the characters and resisted making them cliches. It had brains to go with its blockbuster brawn, it was perfectly cast, and it was reverent without being slavish.
The same is true again here in the sequel to the reboot which was actually a prequel (yet somehow sort of in an alternate timeline to the other 10 movies and five live-action TV series apparently).
All of that's irrelevant to the casual viewer. What matters is Kirk (Pine) and his Vulcan first mate Spock (Quinto) and multicultural crew are back in charge of the USS Enterprise, charged with a secret mission to bring in a terrorist on the loose (Cumberbatch).
It will take them face-to-face with the warlike Klingons for the first time in the reboots and lead to some fairly impressive CG set-pieces, notably a mid-space ship-to-ship transfer involving jet-packs, an attempt to stop a volcano erupting, and a spaceship crash landing.
It's further proof the series has come a long way since Captain Kirk's fisticuffs and a few phaser shoot-outs. This is action writ large, with as many pixels as possible.
But deep down Star Trek has always been about the head and the heart, not so much the hands, and Abrams and his screenwriters don't forget that.
Between the cold logic of Spock and the impulsive morality of Kirk we get to explore the rights and wrongs of revenge and the importance of one over millions.
That thoughtfulness and thematic intrigue mostly goes out the space window once Into Darkness hits its middle point and the action really takes over, but in its quieter moments, between the frustrating amount of lens flares and deliberate CG camera wobbles, there is a graceful intelligence to the film. A wordless scene in the opening minutes that introduces a couple and their sick child is a perfect example of Abrams being about more than just explosions.
One impressive feat of Into Darkness is that it might actually make you want to go back and watch the original movies. Into Darkness touches on some important mythology that will be intriguing to newcomers and probably pants-wettingly exciting for Trekkies (I did see at least one fist-pump during one of the movie's big reveals).
This is a true testament to Abrams skill. Whereas Star Wars has always seemed openly appealing to the masses, Star Trek has been a closed door - a sci-fi world too dense and basement-dwelling to allow easy entry.
Star Trek Into Darkness and its most recent predecessor open that door a crack by being explosively entertaining, without leaving their brains or heritage behind.
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