To look back on the controversy circling around J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise is like trying to remember a distant dream: you vaguely recall that the fans of the long-running sci-fi franchise were freaking out about the idea of new actors slipping on the uniforms of James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, but so many Trekkies came to embrace Abrams’ “Star Trek” so quickly that it’s almost like the controversy never happened. Y’know, like pretty much everything that ever happened in the original “Star Trek” series and movies. Or have you forgotten how Nero (Eric Bana), the villain in the 2009 film, went back in time on a mission of vengeance and proceeded to change the course of history?
Of course you haven’t forgotten. And you can be damned sure the Trekkies haven’t, either. Ever since Abrams’ film effectively wiped the slate clean on “Trek” history, theories have been flying by at warp speed about whether the next film would find Kirk and company on an all-new voyage or if the storyline might feature new takes on more classic characters. The answer? A little from Column A and a little from Column B. Thing is, we can’t really tell you much about the bits from Column B. Or, rather, we could, but we don’t want to spoil the fun…even if at least one of those fun bits has been bandied about as a plot possibility for the sequel from the very beginning.
Like its predecessor, “Star Trek Into Darkness” more or less starts off at full throttle, with the crew of the Enterprise in the midst of a mission to a strange new world which hasn’t yet reached the level of technology as the worlds within the United Federation of Planets, putting it under protection of the so-called Prime Directive. If you’re unfamiliar with the “Trek” mythos, this basically means that the planet is supposed to be left alone to develop at its own pace, but even if you barely know “Trek” at all, you still probably know that Kirk’s never been a big fan of following the rules, and as a comparative youngster in Starfleet, he’s still learning that there are significant consequences when the rules are broken. What he’s also learning is that not every officer is cut from the same cloth as Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood); some tend toward the hard-ass method of command, like Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller).
Come to think of it, Kirk learns a lot of lessons in the film, most of them the hard way, but, hey, those are the lessons that tend to stick the strongest. In fact, the newly forged bonds between all the members of the Enterprise crew are tested profoundly over the course of the film, with Kirk and Spock struggling to find the friendship history tells us they are destined to have, Spock and Uhura still attempting to make their unlikely romance work, younger crew members like Sulu and Chekov trying to make their mark, and Scotty testing his boundaries as the ship’s engineer and learning how far his new captain is willing to trust him.
And then there’s the film’s mysterious villain, John Harrison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch of “Sherlock” fame. He is, to put it simply, a badass, and he’s definitely one of the most intimidating “Trek” villains since…well, gosh, I think you’d have to go all the way back to Khan. Harrison’s acts of terrorism unabashedly bring 9/11 to mind, but given the history of “Trek” paralleling present day events, this is hardly surprising.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” handily breaks the curse of every other “Trek” film being lackluster, with Abrams offering at least as much action, humor, and small character moments as he did the first time around. Mind you, it’s possible that diehard Trekkies could be split down the middle on their opinion of the film – torn between whether they like the various homages to past “Trek” adventures, some of which are extremely overt, or if they wish they’d left well enough alone and just created something completely new. In the end, though, the film proves so fast-moving and infectiously fun that they’d be better off just sitting back and enjoying the ride.