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Star Trek: Into Darkness

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This is it, folks.  The best movie of the summer is currently playing at the Stadium 9, and you should go see it.  If you wait until summer actually starts, you’re likely to miss it, and that would be sad.

“Star Trek: Into Darkness” is a hoot.  It’s fun and fast-paced, hurtling from one side of the galaxy to the other and then back again.  It’s both accessible for newcomers to the “Star Trek” mythology and rewarding for fans who know all the in-jokes.  It brings back the best villain of the old “Star Trek” series and movies, though I’m not supposed to tell you that (oh come on, Paramount. His name is in the credits listed on imdb.com.  I’m not giving THAT much away.)

Director J.J. Abrams is perhaps the best handler of big, complicated set pieces this side of Christopher Nolan.  “Into Darkness” throws us immediately into one, as Kirk sprints throw licorice-red vines trying to escape chalky white dudes while Spock attempts to defuse a volcano.  Of course it doesn’t go as planned, and the Prime Directive gets violated.  Spock, of course, issues a full report to Starfleet while Kirk tries to sweep the whole thing under the rug, and as a result, he finds himself relieved of his position as captain of the USS Enterprise.

Note to all Trekkies out there: if you’re ever appointed captain of a ship, particularly the one I just named, and Kirk just happens to be unemployed, do not, I repeat, DO NOT make him your first officer, no matter how tempting that might be.  That’s the mistake Bruce Greenwood makes, and it’s not long before he’s just a red smear on the wall, the victim of a terrorist attack launched by Benedict Cumberbatch, who goes by the name of John Harrison and wears an ominous all-black Starfleet uniform.  Clearly he is not who he seems to be. Ah, but who is he?

So Kirk is back in charge of his ship, sent on a secret mission to bomb the hell out of Cumberbatch on the Klingon homeworld without upsetting the Klingons too much. But something’s fishy here, and Spock in particular objects to the idea of killing Harrison instead of bringing him back into civilized space and giving him a fair trial.  (The Vulcan in him wouldn’t be too happy with Obama’s drone program.) So Kirk decides to capture instead of kill him, and well, that’s where things get messy.

Perhaps overly messy.  If I have one complaint with “Into Darkness” it’s that the plot is awfully convoluted.  There are so many betrayals and reversals, that it’s almost impossible to suss out what certain players had planned before their plans got all messed up.  But like a slick-talking salesman, Abrams make it all look so good and appear to make sense that you’ll be out of the theater and on your way home before you realize that you’re not exactly sure what you just bought.

Some will complain that this isn’t the spirit of “Star Trek,” that it’s not supposed to be about hurtling through space chasing bad guys with no time to slow down and consider the moral and ethical implications of one’s actions. It’s not supposed to be a space western, darnit, it’s supposed to be a space philosophy discourse.  That critique is valid, but who cares?  “The Wrath of Kahn” is my favorite “Star Trek” movie for two reasons: it’s the most action-packed and it has the best villain.  You can keep the killer whales, Spock’s adolescence and Kirk’s search for heaven.  The best moment in all the movies — and maybe all the TV shows too — is when bloody, dying Ricardo Montalban seething, “”From hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee!”  This new “Star Trek” reboot is much more in that vein, and I love it.

Ah, but it ends so well.  The moment Leonard Nimoy appears on the screen, I knew where we were headed, and I was loving every second of it — a whole new set of reversals, including a key one where Kirk does what he thinks Spock would do in his place, while Spock does what he thinks Kirk would do.  “Into Darkness” is still very much about the relationship between these two heroes, one all impetuousness and gut feeling, the other all logic and reason.  Everyone else swirls around them, sometimes unconvincingly — Dr. McCoy has always been the comic relief, but his lines here are so hammy it sounds like Karl Urban is making them up on the spot.  It comes across as parody, but somehow that just serves to highlight the great work Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are doing; they don’t.  These two young actors are playing roles inhabited by two of America’s most beloved actors for the last half century, and they never make us wish for Shatner or Nimoy.  That’s a feat worthy of praise and accolade.

And Benedict Cumberbatch is a great bad guy. He is cool and confident, able to project both supreme intelligence and intimidating physicality at the same time.  He’s built quite a fan base as the center of the BBC series “Sherlock,” but I was first impressed with him as the guy who made stealing a file from a library feel like the most suspenseful and exciting scene of the year in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Lately it’s seemed like all our bad guys are modeled on the Joker — Tom Hiddleston in “Avengers,” Javier Bardem in “Skyfall” — so it’s refreshing to find a bad guy who never so much as cracks a smile.

“Star Trek: Into Darkness” is a movie that had me smiling from beginning to end, and well after, as well.  I’m serious, folks — don’t wait for Superman.  Go see the best movie of the summer before the river runs dry.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

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