Director J.J. Abrams has never been particularly shy in admitting he didn’t grow up a Star Trek fan.  And as with his magnificent 2009 reboot,
Star Trek Into Darkness continues to fall closer to Star Wars on the sci-fi spectrum than the material it’s actually based on.

Fittingly, Abrams will be moving on to direct that other franchise and Into Darkness is yet more evidence he is the right man for the job.  For
although it may contain the requisite Trek vernacular and characters, this is a big, loud sci-fi action spectacle in almost every way.  And
while some Trekkies may lament the new films’ pure escapism, it’s hard not to appreciate what Abrams has done.

Into Darkness is a frantically paced film with rapid-fire comedy, ratcheted-up emotions and camerawork that borders on being absurd.

But as with the original, Abrams keeps this chaos controlled and his energetic style serves the film well.

Into Darkness matches the original in terms of incredible, visually-stunning action sequences and once again these characters are
absolutely likeable.

Perhaps the most notable addition is Benedict Cumberbatch’s sublimely evil performance as John Harrison, a rogue federation officer who
turns against Starfleet.

Cumberbatch is a phenomenal actor and his ominous delivery and piercing stares give Into Darkness the weight worthy of its name.  He’s
so good that it’s somewhat disappointing he doesn’t have even more screen time than he does.  He nearly steals the entire show as it is.

Of course, the returning cast is once again very good.  Chris Pine is great as Kirk.  His swagger and energy is infectious and he continues
to do a brilliant job in striking a balance between paying homage to William Shatner while making the character his own.

Simon Pegg is also indispensable as Scotty.  Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as ‘Bones’ McCoy get their share of chuckles, but let’s
face it, Pegg could read the phonebook and get laughs.

But for all this Trek gets right in terms of its performances and production values, the screenplay falters in its story structure.  Plot devices
are painfully obvious at times and occasionally nonsensical.  Too much of the story feels contrived in its attempt to setup surprises and
revelations that occur later on in the picture.

Scotty’s abrupt resignation, Harrison’s magical blood and Starfleet’s new torpedo weapons are just a few examples of the screenwriters
awkwardly setting the pieces for the film’s final act.

The film also tries a bit too hard in referencing previous Trek canon.  Leonard Nimoy’s cameo is completely superfluous, there is an out of
place tribble homage and Kirk’s disregard for the Prime Directive would give Captain Picard a heart attack.

Luckily none of these prevent Into Darkness from being a lot of fun.  Abrams as a filmmaker is far more concerned with visuals and emotion
and he delivers well enough on both accounts to overcome the occasional lack of subtlety and intellect.

The visual effects and sound editing are absolutely superb.  In combination with Abrams’ accomplished eye for action, there are some truly
stunning set pieces.

Thematically, one of the strongest elements of Into Darkness is the struggle between duty and friendship.  These viewpoints are illustrated
early and often with the clash between Kirk’s emotions and Spock’s logic.  These elements come together well and contribute to some
genuine drama towards the film’s conclusion.

Adding to both the action and the drama is Michael Giacchino’s fantastic score, which reprises his great themes from the previous film
while introducing some really good new material for the Harrison character.

Despite the bumps along the way, Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun ride.  The visuals and action are spectacular and the characters are as
enjoyable as ever.  Add in an exceptional performance by Cumberbatch and Into Darkness makes for a very solid sequel.  It can’t quite
match the fresh-faced inspiration that made the 2009 reboot such a rousing success, but this Trek is great popcorn fare and solidifies the
franchise’s return to relevancy.

* * *
(out of four)
STAR TREK
INTO DARKNESS
Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Written by: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon
Lindelof

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl
Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Cinematography by: Dan Mindel

Released: May 16, 2013; 132 Minutes