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"Star Trek Into Darkness"

Back to the past via the future


Decades after the famous TV show and its several sequels, after numerous feature-length adaptations, after wearing out generations of crew members, including the most famous captains, Kirk and Picard, the "Star Trek" franchise continues to boldly go where it has gone many times before. For the latest addition to the franchise, "Star Trek Into Darkness," the director, J.J. Abrams, chooses the easiest route to other galactic destinations by simply repeating a good deal of the original show and some elements from previous entries in the series, a very bad decision indeed.

Most of the cast from the last film, released in 2009, returns for the new one, which continues the prequel's story of the young James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his friend Spock (Zachary Quinto) teaming together to fight some new enemies. Those enemies in fact look strikingly familiar — the chief antagonist is a genetically engineered superman named Khan, originally played by Ricardo Montalban back in1982, now impersonated by Benedict Cumberbatch. With the assistance of a traitorous admiral (Peter Weller), Khan attempts to resurrect his crew, all supermen cryogenically frozen 300 years earlier, and of course wage war on the Federation and rule the galaxy or some large area of outer space.

That situation grows increasingly complicated when the script dusts off some old material, like problems with the starship's core reactor, which naturally might blow up at any minute, an encounter with those nasty Klingons, and all the internal wrangling between Kirk and Scotty (Simon Pegg), Kirk and Bones (Karl Urban), and Kirk and Spock. The relationship between the captain and his first officer follows the usual dialectic of friendship versus duty, emotion versus logic, humanism versus Vulcanism; the new element from the previous movie, the unlikely romance between Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana), continues to develop.

The strangest feature of "Star Trek Into Darkness" stems from its blatant appeal to nostalgia. All the cast not only plays all our old friends — Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, Bones, etc., — but they simply imitate the actors who played them in the original series. Simon Pegg plays not only Chief Engineer Scott but also James Doohan; Karl Urban plays not only Dr. McCoy but also DeForest Kelley; Anton Yelchin plays not only Chekov but Walter Koenig, and so on, resulting in a weird, extended exercise in impersonation.

Naturally the two major actors also attempt a kind of impersonation, so Chris Pine, who looks a little like the young William Shatner, utters Shatneresque lines and strikes Shatneresque attitudes. Zachary Quinto, who looks very like young Leonard Nimoy (the original pops up in an odd cameo, by the way), simply keeps his face frozen and speaks in the Spocky dry, cold, affectless manner.

Beyond their appearance, the behavior of the two principals follows a predictable path, with Spock insisting constantly and tiresomely on the logic of his actions and reactions, while Kirk warmly endorses the primacy of human feeling: most touching. Otherwise Kirk remains a horny young man, boldly going where few have gone before with a number of attractive young women, landing in trouble through insubordination, and violating the Prime Directive all over the galaxy.

The director's fidelity to the original extends not only to the appearance of the starship "Enterprise" and the interior design, but even to the cast's uniforms. The male actors all wear those cheesy pajamas first modeled back in 1968, while the females dress in very short miniskirts that look like the costumes of high-school cheerleaders.

Since this "Star Trek" is filmed in 3D, the director shows various objects flying at the audience — starships, equipment, space debris, and crew members — and a long fight between Spock and Khan with the two characters jumping off high buildings and battling in midair on flying platforms. The vocabulary remains the same, however, with the usual references to photon torpedoes, phasers set on stun, dilithium crystals, and so forth, which may comfort the huge body of fans around the globe and perhaps the galaxy.

Like most Hollywood blockbusters of whatever level of quality, "Star Trek Into Darkness" will probably succeed at the box office, pleasing Trekkies and Trekkers; it may also induce in many others a kind of Trekinosis.