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Heart of Darkness'

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Star Trek Into Darkness' raises the bar

There's always a level of risk when a beloved work of popular culture is reworked. Striking the proper balance between loyalty to the source material and creating something fresh is difficult. With the possible exception of Christopher Nolan's work with Batman, no filmmaker has managed to walk that tightrope as deftly as J.J. Abrams has with the world of 'Star Trek.'

The 2009 reboot of the series was handled brilliantly, keeping true to the spirit of the original Trek mythos while still allowing this new crew to follow its own unique path. So there were high hopes for 'Star Trek Into Darkness,' the second installment of this new Trek voyage.

Rest assured: those hopes are met. And then some.

After violating Starfleet's Prime Directive during a mission, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, 'People Like Us') has found himself relieved of his chair on the U.S.S. Enterprise. He has been demoted to First Officer and separated from trusted advisor Spock (Zachary Quinto, 'Margin Call').

Alas, adventure and intrigue can't help but find Kirk. Before long, he finds himself thrust back into the action. A rogue Starfleet officer named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, TV's 'Sherlock') has committed treasonous and deadly acts against Starfleet and fled to enemy territory. The hunt takes on a personal flavor as Kirk along with the rest of his crew take off into space to track down this deadly enemy.

However, all is not as it seems. The crew of the Enterprise is confronted with uncomfortable truths and forced to make decisions and unlikely alliances that will impact the Federation going forward. Battles must be fought and sacrifices must be made in order to maintain peace and save the future.

This is an outstanding piece of entertainment. As someone who considers himself a 'Star Trek' fan though not a particularly hardcore one I feel like Abrams has done a masterful job here. He has captured the Trek spirit beautifully, with characters that are true to their original versions while still moving forward in new directions. He has a clear respect for the source material without being trapped or intimidated by it; that's what makes the movie so good.

(No spoilers, but there are some particularly fantastic homages and nods to previous works in the 'Star Trek' universe and they're aimed at people all along the fandom spectrum.)

And of course, the performances. Pine does a fine job channeling the attitude of James Kirk, while Quinto is exceptional as Spock his performance is a striking homage to his predecessor while also informing everything with a sense of deadpan wit. They aren't alone, either Karl Urban ('Dredd') is a spot-on McCoy, gravelly voice and all. Simon Pegg ('The Adventures of Tintin') is excellent as Scotty, while Zoe Saldana ('The Words') and John Cho ('Identity Thief') do fine work as Uhura and Sulu respectively.

But it's Cumberbatch who really sets this film apart. One of the minor weaknesses of the first film was a villain who was a bit ho-hum. That is most assuredly not the case here. Cumberbatch oozes a malevolent magnetism every time he is on the screen. His combination of cold calculation and occasional outbursts of white-hot rage is thrilling to watch. There is an otherness about him that suits the role perfectly; it is one of the best 'bad guy' performances I've seen in years.

The action sequences are thrilling and there are laughs to spare, with neither aspect infringing upon the other. It's a well-executed two hours that feels like much less. The movie isn't perfect Abrams has a predilection for lens flare effects that borders on obsessive, to the point where it is distracting at times. And the movie doesn't wear its 3D retrofit particularly well; it is clearly an attempt to inflate the box office numbers.

But those are relatively minor criticisms. 'Star Trek Into Darkness' is the best kind of sci-fi romp it is fast-paced with clever writing and strong performances. Anchored by a cast and crew who clearly get it, it's safe to say that we'll probably be seeing more from the bridge of the Enterprise in the years to come.

5 out of 5

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 September 2016 16:12

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