Director J.J. Abrams proved with 2009's "Star Trek" that it is OK to boldly go where others had gone before, as long as the journey is exciting, original, entertaining and respectful to legions of loyal fans. His film, which found the balance between reprising and reimagining, was a direct hit.
In his second voyage on the Starship Enterprise, Abrams has perfected that approach. "Star Trek Into Darkness" is the best work since Gene Roddenberry brought the franchise to life in the 1960s.
Abrams shows a deep and passionate loyalty for all of the incarnations of "Star Trek," while also bringing a fresh approach that makes the familiar seem all the more fabulous.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" has the Enterprise crew taking on a threat that has the power to wipe out Starfleet Command. It's up to the impulsive Capt. James Kirk (Chis Pine) to lead a mission to stop the threat. It's a mission that means going against almost every regulation in the Starfleet manual.
The warp power of the film comes from Pine, who has managed to channel the cockiness and swagger that William Shatner used to breathe life into the character a half century ago without going so far as to make Kirk a caricature.
As with the original series, Kirk's brashness has a damper in Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto). It would have been easy for Quinto to play Spock's lack of emotion in a robotic, wooden manner. The original Spock, as a half human and half Vulcan, could control his emotions. This Spock is a few percent more human, which allows for just enough emotion to give Quinto some additional room to play.
The entire cast is just as reverent and original when it comes to taking over the familiar characters. That's why scenes without Kirk or Spock resonate with the same energy.
Action films live or die by their villain. And "Star Trek Into Darkness" gets plenty of life from Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious John Harrison. He has the kind of larger-than-life presence to play the foreboding foe Kirk needs. There's a lot more to the character, but like so much of the film, there are some things that are best discovered during the voyage.
What happens between Kirk and Harrison is delivered at a breath-taking pace. The movie starts at warp speed and never slows until the haunting refrains of the original theme song herald the arrival of the closing credits.
The film moves so quickly, it's hard to pick up the many references to past "Star Trek" offerings. Despite all of these hidden gems, the script by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof can be just as easily enjoyed by those not familiar with the franchise. It's a solid summer movie thrill ride for anyone willing to buy a ticket.
Abrams showed with his original foray into the "Star Trek" world that he had the vision and creative might to relaunch the franchise. With this second turn at the helm, he's taken that groundwork and launched it into a whole new galaxy of fun and entertainment.
As long as Abrams is in charge, the new "Star Trek" movies will live long and prosper.
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
Rated PG-13 for violence, language. Stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Alice Eve, Simon Pegg, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Cho, Anton Yelchin. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes.