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"Star Trek Into Darkness"
In the world of sci-fi action thrillers, the Star Trek prequel series has one thing going for it: characters who are well developed as iconic individuals with endearing qualities and an effective new cast to carry on the adventures. What this sequel to the prequel has going for it is a villain whose threat to mankind requires no prosthetics and/or makeup to freeze you in your seat.
A subplot spat between romantic couple Spock (Zachary Quinto, "Margin Call") and Uhura (Zoe Saldana, "Avatar") breaks out when First Officer Spock is rescued after nearly dying at the hands of primitive natives on a Niburu planet. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, "Unstoppable") decides that Spock's life overrides the Prime Directive for the ship to remain hidden in the ocean of the strange planet so as not to arouse the natives. Which he does by taking off for home and revealing the ship to the stunned men who look like they're born of the volcanic soils.
Furious, Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, "Flight"), Kirk's superior in the Starfleet hierarchy, relieves Kirk of his command, reducing him to First Officer. Pike assumes command of the Enterprise, but it's here that the main storyline begins. During a high-level Starfleet meeting about the bombing of a secret installation in London, rogue starfleet agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, "War Horse," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") attacks from a small gunship and gets away.
Kirk is immediately returned to his former status as Captain of the ship and secures special permission from Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to hunt Harrison down where he's known to be hiding on the Klingon Planet Kronos. The Enterprise is fitted with 72 new photon torpedoes. Turning the ordinarily peaceful research vessel into one of war, Scotty (broadly excitable Simon Pegg) is horrified and he's forced to resign. But the peculiarity of this development has its purposes.
Brought in to maintain the torpedoes is specialist Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), the hot blond daughter of Admiral Marcus. Director J.J. Abrams wastes no time to show off her... physical attributes... in a brief sequence in which she commands Captain Kirk to "turn around, please." If I'm right about the primary audience for this film, it'll be a moment that will inspire much hormone-exciting conversation.
Also aboard is Bones (Karl Urban), the medical officer who gathers up a considerable amount of screen time; Sulu (Jon Cho); Chekov (Anton Yelchin) as the rest of our crew "regulars."
[Warning: some readers might consider plot details in this paragraph
SPOILERS. They occur in the early part of the first act.]
As with almost all the big tentpole films these days (barring the animated ones), this one runs well over 2 hours. The problem this creates is to keep the pace and original ideas up through the second act so that the audience maintains their engagement to the climax itself. This is hard to do and only rarely achieved. Director Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman try to do it with an almost drumbeat regularity of big action sequences and trips through hyper-space every ten minutes or so--the action formula that the target ticketbuyers demand.
Clearly, this standard practice is for the purpose of giving audiences their "money's worth." What with boxoffice prices these days, you can see how important that is for the studio's bottom line.
Before I began to grow weary, Pine's acting became a highlight by his ability to express a lot with an eye contact, a held look. This helped a comic strip character turn into a man with a dramatic sense of urgency and tension. He and Quinto played well off each other as they did in the first prequel. We're not talking awards here, but a satisfaction level for the fan base and Saldana, Yelchin and the rest put in their contributory bits for that same sense of inside pleasure.
In the realm of the outstanding, however, is Cumberbatch. As an evil force of supernature, his portrayal elevates the dynamics to a higher level. I daresay, we're not prepared for the creature-from-hell sense of danger he emits through every pore of his existence. If Cumberbatch was trying to reach the intensity level of Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs" (for which Hopkins received an Oscar in 1991), he comes close. He, alone, could account for the "Darkness" of the title. As said, no awards this time, but you can see this guy's potentials and how there could to be an Oscar nod for a future role.
He's not the only villain in the piece and the ship crew is in for a surprise or two by the last act. As for visual elements and their design, call it state of the art. The 3-D was added in post editing. It adds an effect of seeing the characters through glass, with reflections of light sources in the soft foreground. A too much, I have to say. A version was made for IMAX.
On the whole, it's entertaining enough to want another ride aboard Enterprise though not right away. This is open-ended enough to expect one. On the movie calendar horizon.
~~ Jules Brenner