By STEVE PERSALL
Tampa Bay Times
Never dreamed it could happen, but there’s a chance that I’m becoming a Trekkie. Or perhaps I should say Trekker. This is all so new and confusing.
It’s happening after a lifetime of purposefully dodging the original “Star Trek TV” show and movies it inspired, brushing up only because this job and “Next Generation” sequels forced me. I still reserve the right to ridicule anyone who believes learning to speak Klingon is a useful social skill.
But I’m starting to understand the fascination, and it’s all J.J. Abrams’ fault.
After successfully rebooting the franchise with 2009’s youth-infused prequel, Abrams keeps the pattern intact of even-numbered superiority in Shatner-era sequels with “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Yes, this one is even better: funnier, brawnier and ingeniously constructed for appeal to both devoted fans and reluctant converts. There’s a rare air of inclusiveness in Abrams’ vision, unlike other franchises demanding full allegiance to and awareness of their sources before buying a ticket.
But if you can recognize a Vulcan homily here or a Harry Mudd reference there, the fun multiplies like Tribbles. (As V’ger is my witness, I never thought I’d type such a sentence.)
“Star Trek Into Darkness” doesn’t give anyone time to reconsider attending, starting at warp speed with Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) racing through the leafy, volcanic planet Nibiru, and not slowing down through a fisticuffs finale high above San Francisco. As with the best sci-fi fantasies, there are contemporary corollaries to the futuristic fantasy: terrorism, drone warfare, WMDs and corruption in high places not unlike today’s headlines, despite being set in the year 2259.
For all of its skillful plotting and production design, the key to the new Star Trek franchise’s success is still its uncanny casting. You can easily imagine Pine maturing into William Shatner and Zachary Quinto into Leonard Nimoy, and the same holds true with the entire crew list of the new USS Enterprise and their older predecessors. Each actor gets a chance to shine, but this movie’s standout is John Cho as Commander Sulu, who takes a spin in the captain’s chair and makes the most of it.
It’s fairly common knowledge by now — because Trekkies can’t help prying and spoiling online — that “Star Trek Into Darkness” is somewhat inspired by the first franchise’s second chapter, The Wrath of Khan. Yet Abrams and his screenwriters are ingenious imitators, fashioning a reversed variation on Wrath of Khan’s best-known scene, coupled with an equally signature sound emitted by another character.
Which brings us to Benedict Cumberbatch, an actor who, like Star Trek’s appeal, I’ve carelessly reduced to cheap jokes in the past.
Not anymore, not after watching him tear into a villain’s role with a cold-eyed intensity that’s scary. Cumberbatch is a tougher cookie than his name alone suggests, and a more-then-worthy adversary for Kirk and his crew. May he live long and flourish, or do well or … I mean … sorry, still learning this Trekkie lingo.