‘Star Trek’ Shows Us the Light

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Breathlessly barreling out of warp on time for the summer movie season is “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the 12th film installment in the popular sci-fi franchise. Though the film doesn’t quite fulfill the series’ hallmark phrase, it’s still a sleek and rousing voyage that’s certainly worth taking.

Some short time after the conclusion of the last “Trek,” rogue Starfleet agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) conducts several attacks that leave his former organization vulnerable and in disarray. Seeking revenge, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) aggressively follows in pursuit, engaging in a manhunt that will test his leadership and place the lives of his crew at stake.

One significant contribution that director J.J. Abrams has brought to his two “Trek” films is making them enjoyable for all audiences, and not just the Trekkies/Trekkers. That said, “Into Darkness” is incredibly action-packed, features snappy, witty dialogue and moves along quickly yet coherently, making it perhaps the most broadly entertaining film in the series.

“Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry had intended the original show to contain allegories of contemporary issues and realities, and “Into Darkness” is no different, as the events it portrays are metaphors for America’s post-9/11 militarization, drone controversy and the nature of terrorism, to name a few. Occasionally, it becomes a story about morality within that context, providing for some of its strongest moments.

Although this rather recently-established Kirk and crew don’t have the longevity that William Shatner and co. had over a decades-long run, the current cast members emphasize the multifaceted camaraderie and chemistry they share with each other, ensuring emotional resonance (that is, until the final 15 minutes, in which the drama culminates in a somewhat cheap payoff) in this harrowing journey.

And all of them make their characters engaging. Pine confidently balances cocky bravado with imposing solemnity, and Zachary Quinto effortlessly communicates all of his emotions through Spock’s steely gaze. Karl Urban and Simon Pegg provide refreshing humor, and Zoe Saldana brings forth a tenacious performance. Although John Cho and Anton Yelchin don’t have much screen time, each gets his moment to shine.

Most welcome here is a strong, well-rounded villain, which was sorely missed in the last film. Cumberbatch, whose gravelly voice and menacing screen presence yield a sinister, one-man threat, coldly stands — with great relish — head and shoulders above everyone else.

A combination of a thrilling score by Michael Giacchino, sharp sound design and excellent visuals robustly bolsters this kinetic film, which makes for a perfect IMAX viewing. Better yet, Abrams has even toned down those damn lens flares.

Now, the purpose of “Trek” is, as part of its famous phrase states, “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Arguably, “Into Darkness” doesn’t really achieve that, because there are instances that suggest it is trying to emulate — or even top — an earlier film in the franchise. Is the film bold? For the most part, yes. But does it go where no one has gone before? To say that it doesn’t, holds some credence. Indeed, it seems as though Abrams treads in familiar waters to move forward, not yet ready to “seek out new life and new civilizations,” as another part of that phrase goes.

While “Star Trek Into Darkness” doesn’t really go exploring beyond already familiar territory, it demonstrates that the Abrams-helmed series is maturing emotionally and constantly growing in excitement. The voyage continues boldly and in stride.

Recommended. The latest “Star Trek” installment is a must-watch summer flick.