When J.J. Abrams took over the Star Trek
universe in 2009, he managed the impossible by taking decades of mythology and boiling it down to something accessible to everyone. Abrams' Trek
was a hyperkinetic, rowdy, ass-whomping blast of smartass banter. In his second outing in the captain's chair, Abrams hammers down on the throttle right in the opening, when we find Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) getting all Raiders of the Lost Ark
on a distant planet, where they're being chased by primitive, clay-painted natives, while Spock (Zachary Quinto) dives deep into a volcano to prevent an apocalyptic eruption. But things get dark with the arrival of Benedict Cumberbatch, who launches a one-man war of terror on Starfleet before taking refuge in an isolated section of the planet Klingon, with which Earth is on the precipice of war. Naturally, a pissed-off Kirk heads out for some righteous retribution. As with much of founder Gene Roddenberry's work, there are echoes of current political sentiments spattered throughout Into Darkness
, and the film slows down considerably when characters unleash cookie-cutter debates on duty and morality. Still, the cast elevates the proceedings. Pine brings the requisite swagger to the role made famous by William Shatner, while Quinto's Spock manages multiple layers of humor, stoicism, intellect and badassery (yes, Spock gets to beat some ass). But it's Cumberbatch who, unsurprisingly, steals the show. The actor, a superstar across the pond for his charismatic role in Sherlock
, slips into the skin of a snake with ease, wrapping his tongue around each snarled threat with calculated menace. Into Darkness
can't match the verve of Abrams' first outing, but it eclipses it in terms of character development and humor. Missteps aside, Abrams boldly goes where no Trekkie would dare by beaming in a wider audience to the cult of Trek
—luring viewers in with the spectacle but keeping them salivating by pulling back preconceptions to reveal real humanity.