On paper, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” is one of those movies that should have crashed and burned. A reboot of a beloved franchise with younger, lesser-known actors stepping into the shoes of an iconic cast of characters. The fact that Abrams went on record stating that he was never a huge “Star Trek” fan didn’t bode well either. Against all odds, though, Abrams not only produced a great “Star Trek” picture, but quite possibly the best “Star Trek” ever made. That’s right, even better than “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
Of course that’s a personal preference. A fair deal of Trekkies, or Trekkers to be politically correct, might argue that Abrams’ film betrayed the essence of the original “Star Trek” series. The film’s epic action sequences felt more like something you’d see in a “Star Wars” movie than in a “Star Trek” movie. Regardless, it’s hard to complain when the action set pieces were some of the most dazzling and intense of modern blockbusters. Plus, it’s not just the colorful eye candy that made Abrams’ “Star Trek” so outstanding, but also the rich collection of ideas, characters, and philosophies. Isn’t that what “Star Trek” has always been about? Just about everything that made Abrams’ film great is on display in it’s follow-up, “Star Trek: Into Darkness.”
Chris Pine continues to do an ideal job as James T. Kirk, who has learned much as captain of the USS Enterprise. The only thing Kirk has yet to learn is how to handle defeat. It doesn’t help that Zachary Quinto’s always-logical Mr. Spock undermines Kirk’s reckless tactics around every corner. Kirk and Spock are forced to put their differences aside when Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison, a Starfleet agent gone bad, bombs a branch of the United Federation of Planets. It’s up to Kirk’s crew to track Harrison down and boldly blow stuff up in the process.
Like William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy before them, Pine and Quinto share a heartfelt, funny, and intriguing dynamic that’s equal parts friendship and rivalry. Quinto in particular does a first-rate job at giving a lot of depth to a character that at times appears completely emotionless. Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin meanwhile persist to shine as the supporting characters we all know and love. There is a dull romance subplot and a couple new characters that are somewhat underdeveloped. “Star Trek: Into Darkness” more than makes for those minor shortcomings, however, with its villain. Cumberbatch is perfectly menacing and complex as John Harrison, who will play a key role in the destiny of our heroes. For all those that haven’t already read the spoilers online, I won’t ruin the big twist regarding this character.
Once again, Abrams has done for “Star Trek” what Christopher Nolan did for Batman and what various directors have done for James Bond in recent years. Creating a reboot that’s true to a franchise’s roots and presenting it in a fresh light. The chemistry between the actors is unparalleled, the story is inventive, the stakes are high, the in-jokes will appeal to die-hard fans, and the action sets the standard for this summer movie season. If you loved Abrams’ first “Star Trek,” you’re going to love this one, too. If you have issues with the direction Abrams has taken this franchise, then there’s an Internet forum for you to complain on.
On the heels of his success with “Star Trek,” Abrams is now set to direct “Star Wars: Episode VII.” If Abrams’ new “Star Wars” is half as good as these two “Star Trek” pictures, it will more than make up for George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. Who knows? Maybe somewhere down the line Disney will acquire the rights to “Star Trek” and Abrams will get to direct the ultimate fanboy crossover.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.