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‘STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS’ ★★★

Kirk Chris Pine

Spock Zachary Quinto

Khan Benedict Cumberbatch

Scotty Simon Pegg

Bones Karl Urban

Spock Prime Leonard Nimoy

Uhura Zoe Saldana

Pike Bruce Greenwood

Paramount presents a film directed by J.J. Abrams. Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, based on the TV series created by Gene Roddenberry. Running time: 132 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence). Opening Wednesday at IMAX theaters and Thursday elsewhere.

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Updated: June 16, 2013 6:07AM



Note to hardcore Trekkers and non-Trekkers alike: multiple but mild spoiler alerts just ahead! Trust me, I’m holding back on the big surprises.

At times “Star Trek Into Darkness” plays like a buddy cop movie set in the intergalactic future.

Rousing opening sequence in which the rogue anti-hero (one Capt. James Tiberius Kirk) disobeys directives and breaks the law in order to save lives? Check.

Subsequent scene where the superior chews out the hero and tells him he thinks the rules are for everyone else, and even though our hero has the potential for greatness, he’s been given the equivalent of a desk job? Check.

Maddeningly strait-laced, by-the-book good guy (Spock) constantly butts heads with his rebellious partner? Check.

Psychopathic but ever-stylish villain who possesses far superior strength and firepower than our heroes? Check.

Of course, this being the second entry in the “Star Trek” film series that got such a rousing reboot in 2009, we also get state-of-the art visual effects, some amusingly weird alien beings, at least a half-dozen references to touchstones from previous “Star Trek” movies and TV episodes — and 3-D glasses for the audience if you’re so inclined to pay the extra freight.

My advice: As was the case with “Iron Man 3,” the 3-D in “Star Trek Into Darkness” is at best 2½-D, and you’ll be just fine watching this in a regular old theater.

One of the numerous strengths of “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which probably won’t be known as “STID” because that looks too much like an acronym for something you don’t want to catch, is that it works as a stand-alone film. Director J.J. Abrams is a true talent, and he’s also a pop-culture savant who has great respect for the legacy of this franchise as well as a keen understanding of the mega-importance of box-office figures. There’s no better choice to make the best, the purest AND the most accessible big-budget “Star Trek” movie possible.

Looking a bit like an aging boy band lead singer, Chris Pine is once again solid as Kirk, who’s still serial-womanizing (at one point he has a threesome with two beautiful creatures with great tails, and I mean they literally have tails) and still at odds with the ever-logical Spock (Zachary Quinto), who’s having a rocky romantic go of things with Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Kudos to Quinto for pulling off a legitimately moving performance, even though he’s sporting those ridiculous bangs and those pointy ears — and most of the time he’s not conveying anything resembling human emotion.

After the aforementioned opening sequence leads to Kirk’s demotion and Spock’s reassignment, Starfleet is rocked when one of their own turns on them in a big way. The ridiculously deep-voiced Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a near-campy but effective performance as that rogue officer who goes by the name of John Harrison. At first he seems like an off-the-rack sci-fi villain, but the more we see of this guy, the more interesting he becomes.

Abrams and his visual-effects wizards create a 23rd century version of London that’s so arresting, I wish they’d spent more time on Earth. It looks like a really cool place, what with all the flying machines and fun toys and the seeming prosperity.

Not to say the scenes aboard the Enterprise or in the vast spaces of the great unknown are lacking in visual splendor. This is one great-looking film, yet there’s still time for the likes of Scotty (Simon Pegg), Bones (Karl Urban) and Sulu (John Cho) to have their moments. (Though I could have used less of Bones. What a drip.)

Even if you’re a “Star Trek” virgin (and no, that’s not the first time “Star Trek” and “virgin” have appeared in the same sentence), there’s enough exposition explaining the rules of this universe and the players occupying key roles in the story.

If you are a Trekker, there’s plenty of inside baseball as well. Some of the references are so obvious even I got them; I’m sure I missed others that will have hardcore fans either chuckling or groaning (or pointing out perceived injustices).

Yet with all the futuristic splendor and the suitably majestic score and the fine performances, “Into Darkness” only occasionally soars, mostly settling for being a solid but unspectacular effort that sets the stage for the next chapter(s).

I’ll leave it to the lifelong Trekkers to rank this movie in the canon of a franchise that may last so long, it’ll eventually be set in the present day. What we’re doing here is talking about THIS movie, and of all the stars in the galaxy, it deserves three.



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