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Star Trek: Into Darkness ****

Is it worth $15 (3D)? Yes 

“Star Trek Into Darkness” is a true film-going experience, and an awesome one at that. If you thought director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot to the sci-fi franchise was a fluke, think again: Any movie that can have me genuinely laughing, then give me sweaty palms during tense moments and goose bumps during emotional high points, is a substantial accomplishment.

This movie is fun. It starts on a remote red planet on which Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) are fleeing a group of primitive natives. On the starship Enterprise first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), communications specialist Uhura (Zoe Saldana), pilot Sulu (John Cho), chief engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) and young ensign Chekov (Anton Yelchin) keep a close eye on the proceedings.

Once back at Star Fleet headquarters in San Francisco, in the year 2259, Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) chastises Kirk for not following orders. Meanwhile, a madman named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) is waging war against Star Fleet, prompting Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to send the Enterprise after him. Marcus’ daughter Carol (Alice Eve) is a science officer along for the ride.

If the above summary reads a bit vague, it’s on purpose: The less you know going in, the better. The surprises are numerous, often shocking, sometimes fated by “Star Trek” mythology we’re already familiar with, sometimes not. Do yourself a favor and avoid all spoilers – there’s true joy to be gleaned from the riches this film offers, and being too eager in advance diminishes the novelty of surprise.

It’s hard to believe what Abrams is doing with the “Star Trek” franchise, let alone that he’s doing it so well. This is a first-rate production from top to bottom: The visual effects are crisp and impressive, the costumes and production design are appropriately bold and futuristic, the script is smart and void of missteps, the rousing musical score punctuates intense moments, and the pacing/editing is brisk but never feels rushed. It runs 132 minutes, which is the right length. See it on as big a screen as you can – it is showing in IMAX – and in 3D if possible.

As for the cast, Pine and Quinto have nicely settled into their lead roles, and Pegg once again gets the most laughs out of Scotty’s distinct Scottish brogue. Making a real impact, however, is Cumberbatch as the villain. His character, with his thick, dark voice and chilling eyes, is a haunting nemesis who is also extremely intelligent and manipulative. Smartly, as he interacts with the Enterprise crew no action that subsequently occurs is illogical, which spares us contrived moments of stupidity that we know are solely there to set up moments of heroism later. No, this movie is too good for that.  

This will read as hyperbole, but it cannot be overstated: What Abrams is doing in combining established Trek lore with his own vision is nothing short of brilliant. As a result, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is a great film in its own right and an especially awesome achievement for anyone familiar with the “Trek” universe. See this – it’s one of the best films of the year.

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