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"STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS"
(2013) (Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi: Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise must contend with a new villain and his nefarious plan that threatens the Federation.
PLOT:
The crew of the starship USS Enterprise, led by James T. Kirk (CHRIS PINE), has been sent to a distant planet to observe a primitive tribe but end up attempting to halt dangerous volcanic eruptions that could kill the indigenous beings. During that, Kirk ends up breaking the Prime Directive (not to interfere with other more primitive civilizations, including simply being seen) in order to save the life of First Officer Spock (ZACHARY QUINTO). As a result, Kirk is demoted to First Officer and Admiral Christopher Pike (BRUCE GREENWOOD) is once again given command of the Enterprise. But a terrorist bombing conducted by John Harrison (BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH) kills Pike, and Rear Admiral Alexander Marcus (PETER WELLER) assigns Kirk and the crew on a mission to find and kill the rogue Federation agent.

That sends them deep into Klingon enemy territory under the steerage of helmsman Hikaru Sulu (JOHN CHO), with the ship now equipped with new photon torpedoes. Chief engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (SIMON PEGG) resigns in protest over those weapons, resulting in former navigator Pavel Chekov (ANTON YELCHIN) being promoted to Chief Engineer, while the Rear Admiral's daughter, Dr. Carol Marcus (ALICE EVE), comes onboard under a false identity.

With the rest of the crew, including chief medical officer Leonard "Bones" McCoy (KARL URBAN) still on the Enterprise, Kirk, Spock and communications officer Nyota Uhura (ZOE SALDANA) end up captured by Klingons, with Harrison coming to their rescue but then surrendering to Kirk and the rest moments later.

**SPOILER ALERT**

He turns out actually to be Khan, a genetically enhanced human who once attempted to take over Earth with his similarly enhanced followers, but has spent the past few centuries in cryo sleep, only to be awakened for nefarious, military reasons. They soon discover a conspiracy pervading the Enterprise's mission, a point exacerbated when they encounter a far larger federation starship commanded by none other than Rear Admiral Marcus. From that point on, Kirk and his crew do what they can to survive the onslaught that's headed their way.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Notice: The following contains spoiler alerts for those not yet aware of the big reveal in this film. You have been warned.

The fun and smarts of many of the original episodes of the TV show "Star Trek" back during its short broadcast run on TV was that it put a sci-fi spin on contemporary matters of the 1960s era in which it existed. For example, some of them dealt with cold war matters as well as the conflicting, nation-sponsored military build-up in Vietnam at that time. As kids, we didn't get the motifs and such, and just thought much of that as grand if sometimes heady escapist entertainment. Looking back as an adult, it's interesting to see the parallels and messages that were at play.

Some of that continues in "Star Trek Into Darkness," particularly in regards to terrorism stemming from governments funding certain people to help them in one matter, with that coming around to bite them later in another way. Thankfully, while such thematic material regarding that and others matters (including death) is present, it isn't too heavy-handed or hammered home in its approach.

After all, this big-budget summer popcorn flick is the second installment of the recent rebooting of the series. That began a few years back with director J.J. Abrams' fun, exciting and smart reimagining of and loving homage to the original show, a series that jumpstarted the sci-fi genre both on TV and then later in the six main "Trek" films featuring the main cast.

The best of those was "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," not only because of the superb script and director Nicholas Meyer essentially staging a classic submarine sequence in outer space, but also the performances from the main cast (now freed up from having to be so serious in their earlier film) as well as Ricardo Montalbán as the antagonist. Simply put, he was and still is one of the best villains put on film, with the fun of that being he was recreating his character from one of the show's original episodes, "Space Seed."

All of that's brought up because returning director Abrams and his screenwriting team of Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof apparently watched that film too many times in the past and/or when crafting this tale. I understand the geeky fandom aspect of sci-fi, but when it ends up pervading one's work to the point that you can't seem to break free from it, then it's time to go outside and get some fresh air before returning to the keyboard or director's chair.

The fun of the 2009 film was in how the filmmakers, cast and crew all worked together in creating a fun re-imagining of the origin story of the original TV show's characters and the metaphorical and literal universe in which they operated. With the performers pulling traits, quirks and more from Shatner, Nimoy and the rest, the resultant picture felt both original and fresh. It was one of our highest rated movies of that year.

This time around, however, the novelty is gone, not only in terms of introducing the characters and pairing them up for the first time, but also in regards to the overall plot. After a terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch) has a Federation building bombed and then directly assaults a meeting of the big minds, Kirk (Chris Pine channeling Shatner without...the...melodramatic...readings...of...his...lines) is sent by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to find the culprit.

The only problem is he's fled into enemy Klingon territory, meaning Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto doing a nice, younger version of Nimoy), Bones (Karl Urban again getting the funniest lines like his predecessor so many years ago), Uhura (Zoe Saldana fleshing out her character more than Nichelle Nichols was ever given the chance) and the rest must fly off into danger. They eventually find and capture their man, only to discover that John Harrison is actually -- are you ready for it? -- Khan.

Up until that point, Cumberbatch had created an interesting and formidable if somewhat flat villain and, quite frankly, the revelation does nothing for the story. That is, beyond allowing Abrams and company and various Trekkie/Trekker fans around the world to geek out not only about that tie-in to the '82 film (and thus the original show again), but also how they could then take material from "Star Trek II" and re-imagine it. As in use near exact scenes from that earlier pic and then change elements here and there like some nerds in their basement might do when dating someone isn't in the realm of possibility.

I jest a bit there, but the point is valid. It's one thing to bring back original characters and put some fun spins on them while remaining true to their core elements. It's entirely another to take plot elements and scenes from an earlier work and then redo them. Call it what you will, but I declare it lazy and self-indulgent screenwriting, meaning some pivotal scenes found here have no suspense to anyone who saw "Wrath of Khan" as you know how they're going to play out before they're completed. All of which means the script (that also features some glaring lapses in logic) is the film's weakest point and thus parts of the story simply didn't engage me.

Thankfully, the chemistry is still good between the characters and the performers playing them (those smaller moments are the best the film has to offer, both for those of us who saw the original show back in the day as well as newcomers unaware of that history).

And the special effects, production design and action scenes (that will overwhelm your eyes and assault your ears if seen/heard in an IMAX setting) are handled with utmost aplomb. Overall, it's fun popcorn entertainment, but nowhere as enjoyable and/or brilliant as the 2009 reboot of the franchise. Hopefully, the next installment will get its own story and thus move forward. With its raiding of the past, "Star Trek" Into Darkness" rates as just a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed May 14, 2013 / Posted May 15, 2013


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