By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The big-screen Star Trek franchise has long since lived long and prospered. So if it's into darkness at this point, then so are we.
Star Trek Into Darkness, the twelfth entry (to say nothing of the 29 television seasons) in the high-quality science fiction series, comes from director and producer JJ Abrams, who also directed the wondrous reboot, Star Trek, in 2009, which did nothing less than revitalize the brand name.
That makes this latest adventure, as a followup to Star Trek, the sequel to a prequel.
But, in terms of quality, is it an equal? Absolutely. This is as good as Star Trek gets, the equal of any of the previous chapters. And that's saying something.
Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto return as Captain Kirk and Commander Spock of the USS Enterprise, and they're joined by crew returnees Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, Zoe Saldana as Lt. Uhura, Anton Yelchin as Ensign Chekov, John Cho as Lt. Sulu, and Simon Pegg as Chief Engineer Scott.
Bruce Greenwood also turns up as Rear Admiral Pike, Alice Eve as a new science officer, Peter Weller as Starfleet's Admiral Marcus, and Benedict Cumberbatch (of TV's "Sherlock") as futuristic terrorist John Harrison.
Harrison, a Starfleet officer hellbent on defying if not destroying Starfleet, triggers the 23rd-century narrative by developing a weapon of mass destruction and using it.
Thus is the Enterprise dispatched to stop Harrison, who connects satisfyingly to a much earlier entry in the movie series in a way that will not be detailed here.
The layered, character-driven script by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof includes betrayals, reversals, witty repartee, and its share of contemporary relevance.
But it leans on the dilemma that brings military regulation into conflict with personal loyalty: thus does Kirk violate the Prime Directive, which dictates that there can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations.
However, it's the ever-deepening friendship (okay, bromance) between emotional Kirk and cerebral Spock that remains the literal and figurative heart of this impressive enterprise.
The cast is surehanded, with Pine and Quinto especially fine in the key roles, and Cumberbatch contributing a resolute and intimidating villain for the ages.
But everybody we're already familiar with gets to shine.
Like its immediate predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness is smart and riveting, thoughtful and serious without being preachy or esoteric, and bursting with dazzling but seamless special effects.
All of which establishes Abrams (Mission: Impossible III, Super 8, TV's "Lost" and "Felicity"), if he's not there already, as a master moviemaker. He opens the film with a breathless and brilliant action sequence that virtually dares what follows to live up to the promise.
Which it does.
On his way to the helm of the next Star Wars film, Abrams has created a Star Trek flick that not only tweaks the Star Trek mythology without betraying it, but expands the already established galaxy in ways that should please both Trekkies and civilians alike.
Even those seeking little other than pure action will remain engaged: the film is that relentlessly aggressive, achieving what can only be described as warp speed in a number of exciting action sequences.
So we'll transport 3½ stars out of 4 for the sparkling, thoroughly enjoyable Star Trek Into Darkness. Set your phasers on stun: this is another stunning achievement.
for more features.