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Star Trek - Into Darkness

Doing the near impossible by eclipsing the warp speed of 2009's Star Trek, J.J. Abrams' sequel is wall-to-wall action empowered by the strong characters set up in the original. Star Trek Into Darkness, from geek-friendly writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof, hones in on the destructive heroism of James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), the Captain's friendship with all-too-logical Spock (Zachary Quinto), and a worthy adversary for the crew: the superhuman terrorist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). The approach leaves the ensemble, elegantly woven into the adventure of the first movie, on the sidelines. Instead of reminding us why we love the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Into Darkness floods the screen with spectacle and relies on memories of the past to fill in the blanks. What's the Klingon word for ''overload?''

From the first notes of Michael Giacchino's rousing score, we're thrust into the middle of the action. A chase scene on a lush planet jumps to an escape from volcanic eruption jumps to Kirk and Spock back on Earth defending themselves against Federation punishment (a dialogue scene that taps snappy dialogue and big emotion to keep the momentum going). Kirk is under fire for going against the ''Prime Directive,'' stating that the Starfleet won't interfere with the internal development of alien civilizations. Standing down isn't his style - and it costs him Spock as his right hand man, the Enterprise, and a career. He's pulled back in by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), who needs Kirk's renegade style to catch Harrison. A format Starfleet officer, Cumberbatch's Harrison is more than meets the eye, but violent attacks against the Federation are enough to light a fire under Kirk's ass. The rage-filled Captain recruits his former crew to boldly go after Harrison.

Into Darkness lacks the camaraderie that made Star Trek pop - and even Cumberbatch's scenery chewing instincts are stymied by surface-level drama - Abrams never blinks an eye when it comes to the direction. He finds tension with the grand CG set pieces (a spaceship chase through the canyons of an alien planet is basically a proof of concept for Star Wars 7) and finds all the right angles for a intensely close-up space jump scene through a field of debris. The movie acknowledges that this is repeat business, essentially the same scene from movie one, but it's expertly crafted and a thrill thanks to Abrams' knowhow.

With all the innovation on display, Star Trek Into Darkness can't escape the shadow of its dramatic cues. It's completely indebted to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan - a foundation that must be bewildering to the non-fan. The movie also functions as a 9/11 allegory. Or, more specifically, the conspiracies surrounding 9/11. With a large portion of action taking place on Earth, trauma strikes among skyscrapers and screaming pedestrians in an on-the-nose fashion. It wrenches the gut, but it's easy. True drama between Kirk and Spock exists thanks to Pine and Quinto's vivid portrayals, but it's all for naught when the inciting incidents are nostalgic riffs rather than freshly born situations.

Star Trek had its fair share of plot holes, but they were swept up in the fun factor of watching a motley crew of young actors figure out teamwork. Into Darkness is missing the team, and missing the fun. Abrams takes a dark turn with his follow-up and promises an epically-scaled sparring match between Kirk and Cumberbatch. The movie winds up moving so quickly, glossing over so much to get to that final clash, that Star Trek Into Darkness fizzles out by its finish.


What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!

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