When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.
A good portion of Trekkies (or Trekkers, depending on one's level of Star Trek obsession) have special affection for episodes of the original TV series that related to Earth and other-Earth cultures visited by the crew of the Enterprise, version 1.0. Some of the shows unfolded in distorted forms of the past, some in the present day of Star Trek's future reality. Director J.J. Abrams recognized the importance of this relationship in his origin-story reboot of the franchise in 2009, and in Star Trek Into Darkness he has made it an even greater touchstone to the roots of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's defining philosophy from nearly 50 years ago. The human home world is key to the plot of this spectacularly bold leap into Star Trek lore, which cleverly continues along the alternate path that was established as separate from the "original" Star Trek universe in Abrams's first whiz-bang crack at advancing the mythology. But it's not just Earth that is cool and imperiled in this rendering of adventure in the 23rd century; Into Darkness also plays with the original conceit that Earthlings were member to a multi-species United Federation of Planets ruled by a "Prime Directive" of noninterference with other civilizations. The conflict comes when rogue elements in the Earth-based Starfleet Command hunger to shift focus from peaceful exploration to militarization, a concept that is anathema to the crew of the Enterprise and her ongoing mission. The new cast is again inventively reunited, each of them further investing their characters with traits that reveal novel acting choices while staying true to the caricatures that are ingrained in our popular culture. The interplay between Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock is deeper, and Zoe Saldana as Uhura is a solid third in their relationship. John Cho (Sulu), Simon Pegg (Scotty), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), and Karl Urban (McCoy) all have standout roles in the overall ensemble mystique as well as the plot-heavy machinations of this incarnation's narrative. Fortunately, the burdens of the story are well served by some important additions to the cast. Benedict Cumberbatch's Shakespearean aura, ferociously imperious gaze, and graceful athleticism make him a formidable villain as the mysterious Starfleet operative John Harrison. Harrison has initiated a campaign of terror on Earth before leading the Enterprise to even greater dangers in the enemy territory of Klingon-controlled space. That his background may make dedicated Trekkies/Trekkers gasp is just one acknowledgment of the substantial and ingrained legacy Star Trek has borne. There are many references, nods and winks to those with deep reverence for the folklore (some of them perhaps a little too close to being inside-baseball), though the fantastical and continually exciting story stands as an expertly crafted tale for complete neophytes. Another new face is Peter Weller--iconically famous in sci-fi-dom as RoboCop--here playing a steely, authoritative Starfleet bigwig who may also be following a hidden agenda. Not only is he running a covert operation, he's also at the helm of a fearsome secret starship that looms over the Enterprise like a shark poised to devour its prey. Which brings us to the awesome CGI effects driving the dazzling visual style of Into Darkness and the endlessly fascinating cosmos it makes real. The wow factor extends from the opening set piece on an alien world of primitive humanoids, garish vegetation, and a roiling volcano to the finale of destruction in a future San Francisco that is elegantly outfitted with gleaming-spired skyscrapers and all manner of flying vehicles. (London also gets a breathtaking 23rd-century makeover). With a coolness that glistens in every immaculately composed shot, the movie never forgets that humanism and creativity make the myriad design details and hyper-technology pop out as much more than eye candy. The biggest achievement of Star Trek Into Darkness is that it hews to the highest standard of a highly celebrated tradition. Though Kirk and co. may bend it a little, the Prime Directive remains unbroken. --Ted Fry