When it was announced that J. J. Abrams would be directing Star Wars Episode VII I was a bit worried.  I was not worried about Abrams being selected to helm one of cinema's most beloved franchises; I have supreme confidence in Abrams as a filmmaker.  I was worried because, despite loving Star Wars, I also love Star Trek.  The direction in which Abrams led 2009's Star Trek completely reinvigorated the Star Trek brand, a brand that had been left languishing since the cancellation of the Star Trek: Enterprise television series and the release of 2002's less-than-beloved film, Star Trek: Nemsis.  With Abrams diverting his future attention to Episode VII, what would that mean for the future of Star Trek on film?

These questions still remain to be answered, despite Abrams hinting that filming Episode VII does not necessarily mean he will not be back in the director's chair for a third Star Trek film.  The fact that so much remains a mystery about this franchise's future means that Star Trek Into Darkness could very well be Abrams' last Trek film.


Oh, what a shame that would be.  Star Trek Into Darkness is an incredible experience.

Picking up some time after the events of 2009's film, Into Darkness finds the crew of the U. S. S . Enterprise much more closely resembling their roles from the original television series.  Having gotten the origin story out of the way in the first film, Into Darkness is able to utilize these characters in a way that longtime Trek fans will find instantly recognizable.  The plot centers around a bombing in London carried out by new villain John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), with the Enterprise crew being tasked with bringing him to justice.  Giving away any more details of the plot would ruin the experience, so I will leave it at that.

The impeccable cast from the first film all return here and with a renewed focus on character development the actors are able to shine much more than they could in the first film.  Where Star Trek often felt like "The Kirk and Spock Movie," Star Trek Into Darkness feels much more like an episode of the television series.  Despite the fact that Kirk and Spock may be the two most important characters in the fiction, the show (especially The Next Generation series) was always great at finding things for all the characters to contribute and, most importantly, those contributions always made sense.  Into Darkness accomplishes this task admirably.  Every character gets ample screen time and is allowed to really make a lasting impression on the audience.

Everyone but these guys, thankfully.

Chris Pine once again channels Kirk's youthful recklessness but the events of the film temper that rash behavior to a strong degree; the character once again has a strong arc in that by the end of the film, Kirk has learned what it truly takes to sit in the captain's chair.  Zachary Quinto perfectly portrays Spock once more as well; in my personal opinion, I think Quinto may be the best of the bunch in terms of resurrecting his role and making it feel familiar while also distinctly his.  That said, Simon Pegg's Scotty might give Spock a run for his money, as Pegg easily harnesses his comedic sensibilities to make Scotty the eccentric character we know from the original series. Zoe Saldana has really owned her portrayal of Uhura almost in a way that the others have not; Saldana has turned Uhura into an incredibly strong female lead for this franchise, someone who can hold her own in the face of certain danger (which she does a couple times in this film).  As Leonard "Bones" McCoy, Karl Urban seems permanently exasperated while somehow also managing to provide the film's best one-liners.  Even John Cho (as Sulu) and Anton Yelchin (as Checkov) are given more to do this time around, a credit to the strength of the film's script.

The scene-stealer here, of course, is Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison.  For those used to seeing Cumberbatch as the heroic Sherlock Holmes on the BBC's Sherlock, it is pretty wonderful to see Cumberbatch playing a menacing villain for a change.  With that deep voice of his, he delivers his lines in such a way as to further advance the notion that he portrays someone that the general population would be wise not to mess with.  Unlike the previous film's villain, Eric Bana's Nero, Harrison is also incredibly well-developed and becomes a real and (more importantly), believable threat to the crew.  Hopefully this film raises his profile in the United States beyond the people who have devoted hours to watching Sherlock on the BBC and Netflix.

This is how you do a villain properly.

I would be remiss if I failed to discuss the script and why it is so strong.  The story takes a few twists and turns that audiences may not (or may) be expecting, presenting the characters with challenges that they must overcome and then providing solutions that do not break from their historical behaviors.  What I mean is that Scotty is still a wiz with machines, Uhura knows languages and communication, Spock is logical, and McCoy is a doctor, Jim, not a _______.

Speaking of callbacks and references, this film is stuffed full of them.  Trek fans will see a lot in this film that either directly or indirectly references people, things, and events from Star Trek's history.  Personally, as a Trek fan, I really appreciated seeing the references because they provided new context around elements that I love from the franchise.

The visual effects here are (unable to avoid the pun, sorry) stellar.  The CG effects in space, as well as the ship animations, look incredible.  One sequence involving a jump through space between two starships is particularly exciting from both a narrative and a visual standpoint.  Of course, I love that the interior of the Enterprise is composed of actual, physical sets.  Some of the interior locations we have not seen before (such as the area around the Warp Core) look really unique and stand apart fai.  rly well from the source material.  Of course, how could one talk about the visuals in a J. J. Abrams film without mentioning the lens flares?  To be honest, the lens flares are far less rampant in Into Darkness than they were in the previous film; I did not even notice them for the first 45 minutes, before I remembered to watch out for them.  Part of that has to do with their decreased prominence, I am sure, but most of it has to do with my being totally engrossed in the film.

Yes, yes it does, sir.

Of course, the film is not totally perfect.  There are definitely a few plot holes that could be nit-picked about, such as the crew's sudden neglect of the first film's concept of trans-warp beaming despite it being mentioned (and put to use) by others during this very film.  In the interest of avoiding spoilers I will refrain from going into further detail about plot holes; it's important to note, however, that they do not bring the rest of the film down.

J. J. Abrams' biggest success in taking on the Star Trek franchise is definitely how accessible he has made these films to non-Trek fans while still managing to deliver two films that Trek fans can embrace and enjoy.  While many of the nods to the television show may go over the heads of the general audience, they are not exactly meant for them anyway.  Despite a heavier focus on action than the television series, Abrams' films still manage to entertain audiences and bring Star Trek back to the big screen in supreme style.  I truly hope that the next Star Trek film manages to live up to the high bar set by the two Abrams directed, whether he is behind the camera or not, because I would hate to see this franchise slide back into near-irrelevance.

As far as summer blockbuster's boldly go, it will be hard to clear the high bar set by Star Trek Into Darkness.

It's definitely better than, you know...watching the 1920s set to a hip-hop soundtrack, I guess.


Let me know what you all think.