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By Shane M. Dallmann

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Okay… fandom recap. I’m a long and loyal fan of STAR TREK: TOS and have that and the animated series on DVD. I’m a “GENERATIONS never happened” guy, but I did see the rest of the TNG movies, which I enjoyed to varying degrees. Saw a handful of TNG episodes but never collected them… and never saw a single installment of DS9, VOYAGER or ENTERPRISE.

And I really and truly enjoyed the J.J. Abrams “reboot” movie, filled as it was with inspired casting, great humor, effects, action and food for thought. So I was, naturally, greatly looking forward to the second installment. And… it maintained MOST of what I liked about the first, although “action” did its best to upstage everything else.

Take the opening, which is a setpiece straight out of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, etc. That’s fine, though, because it leads immediately to a great moral conflict that sets the stage for the rest of the adventure. Long story short, Captain Kirk blatantly defies Federation regulations out of personal loyalty (and recklessness), and there are consequences waiting for him on Earth. Immediately afterwards, a fresh series of terrorist attacks carried out by a renegade known as “Harrison” (Benedict Cumberbatch, he of the name people love to say out loud the most these days) necessitates immediate action and puts Kirk back in the driver’s seat at the behest of Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller). But the proper method of response and retaliation is more than debatable–and of course it’s a none-too-subtle parallel to our own “foreign policy” dilemmas.

And Harrison? I roll my eyes at the scramble for secrecy over this character’s “true identity.” The fact that they told you ahead of time that he even HAS one is all you need to know. He’s KHAN, okay? KHAN, KHAN, KHAAAAAAAAN!!! You were expecting maybe Harry Mudd? But Cumberbatch doesn’t even try to channel Ricardo Montalban… he’s got his own take on the character and he’s one of the best things about the movie as he challenges the vulnerable Kirk to yet another round of loyalty/morality tests.

The special effects are absolutely perfect from beginning to end (and I didn’t bother with the extra expense of 3-D, either). The cast is as terrific as ever… there’s just so much fun to be had watching Christopher Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as the truly uncanny McCoy, Simon Pegg as Scotty, etc. etc. that I could even forgive some ridiculously overwrought and gratuitous contrivances geared to extend suspense even when you KNOW how certain scenes simply have to turn out.

In fact, I didn’t have a single problem with INTO DARKNESS until we reached the climax… up to this point, Abrams and company have cleverly and respectfully reinvented TREK mythology without resorting to out-and-out mimicry, but they took a major chance when they tried to recreate (and hopefully outdo) what stands as perhaps THE most powerful of all ST movie sequences: well, it certainly works better than what became a mere throwaway moment in IRON MAN THREE (though deep down it’s no less believable for too many obvious reasons)–the problem here is that it sets the stage for the film to completely jump the rails and indulge in a final fifteen minutes of high-speed chase and fight material that (in my view) does not provide the proper payoff for the story we’ve been given.

The film still rates a recommendation in my book for the cast, effects, soundtrack and pacing… but it’s still a step down from the Abrams original.

Oh, and one more thing. I knew well in advance that Heather Langenkamp was in the cast, but I spent the entire movie trying to spot her with no avail. Where the hell was she? And don’t say “She was Moto.” I know she was Moto because it said so in the credits. Where WAS Moto in the movie? Am I missing something here?

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