Kirk, Spock and the other officers of the starship Enterprise are back for another adventure in "Star Trek Into Darkness", a consistently exciting follow-up to J.J. Abrams' spectacular 2009 reboot of the sci-fi franchise. While the dynamic between Kirk and Spock isn't quite as compelling this time around – they were better as rivals than friends – the sequel gets a considerable boost from Benedict Cumberpatch's performance as one of the series' most formidable villains.
Thanks to the impeccable casting decisions Abrams made for his reboot, the performances remain rock solid, not to mention deeply amusing to those familiar with the franchise. Zackary Quinto is once again a standout as Vulcan first officer Mr. Spock, who favors logic over emotion so heavily that, when he's in danger of being melted by lava in the film's opening scenes, he seems unfazed at the prospect of his own death. Like he did the first time, Chris Pine brings an infectious sense of fun to his performance as starship captain James T. Kirk, who's more hot-tempered and less brainy than Spock but is nevertheless a natural-born leader.
Unfortunately, Zoe Saldana has less to do in this installment as Uhura, Spock's fellow officer and love interest. In one of the movie's more strained plot developments, she's reduced to a pouting secondary character as Uhura begins to doubt Spock's love after he shows so little emotion in the face of death. The hilarious Simon Pegg made the engineer Scotty one of my favorite characters of the 2009 movie. At first, when Scotty failed to board the Enterprise, I was worried Pegg would be underutilized like Saldana is here. Luckily, the filmmakers quickly assuaged those doubts.
The real showstopper is Cumberpatch's fiercely intelligent performance as the mysterious John Harrison. If there was a complaint to be made about the previous movie, it's that Eric Bana's villain was kind of weak. Abrams and company don't make that mistake this time. Harrison is immediately terrifying as he approaches a desperate mother and father and claims he can save their terminally ill daughter. Such an offer comes with a heavy price, and we soon learn that Harrison subscribes to some of the most barbaric tactics of the 21st century, including suicide bombings.
After Harrison blows up a security operations building in London, Captain Kirk meets with other members of the Starfleet Command, and what follows is one of the coolest action scenes of any "Star Trek" movie or TV show. Harrison stages a brazen assault (the scene seems inspired by the helicopter attack in "The Godfather: Part 3"), and before Kirk destroys Harrison's ship, the mystery man beams away in mid-flight to the planet Kronos. The Enterprise tracks him down, and Kirk is ordered by his superior officer to fire torpedoes at the planet, which is bound to start a war with its inhabitants, the Klingons. Thus begins a crisis of conscience and a period of "darkness" for the Enterprise, hence the movie's title.
Page 2 of 2 - Even after his true identity is revealed (which I won't give away here), Harrison remains a fascinating character. We're not sure quite what he's up to when he appears to join forces with Kirk and Spock to stop a power-mad Starfleet commander. Some of the magic is missing from Kirk and Spock's relationship this time around; they were so much more fun to watch when they were constantly trying to one-up each other. But, as much as I missed the previous movie's team of rivals, the scenes between Kirk, Spock and Harrison more than made up for it. The film is never better than when Spock and Harrison are trying to outsmart each other.
As terrific as much of "Star Trek Into Darkness" is, we're not seeing anything new here. Abrams excels at repackaging the past in an appealing way, which may explain why Hollywood has entrusted him with some of its biggest franchises: "Mission: Impossible", "Star Trek" and, in 2015, Disney's first "Star Wars" movie. The question is, in trading bold new material for an endless array of cinematic nostalgia trips, have we lost something in the bargain? All I know is that nostalgia trips seem here to stay, so they might as well be brought to us by Abrams, whose last movie, "Super 8", consisted entirely of references to the work of Steven Spielberg. Abrams may not be willing or able to boldly go where no man has gone before, but that doesn't mean I won't follow.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" is playing at the Augusta Historic Theatre, 523 State Street. Show starts at 7:30pm on Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and 2pm on Sunday and Wednesday. Tickets are $6.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. His favorite movie of the series is "Star Trek: First Contact". He lives in Wichita.