/

‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

by Kaori Shoji

Perhaps the biggest blockbuster this summer, “Star Trek Into Darkness” nonetheless throws more than a few curve balls: It is pensive, frosty and often curt, and comes elegantly and aptly dressed in several shades of black. Though there are many moments of humor and thrilling adventure, the story seems enshrouded in a dark cloud of sadness.

After a lighthearted opening set piece (recalling something from “Pirates of the Caribbean”), the first act is mired in death: A terrorist attack in London leads to a blood-soaked assault on Star Fleet headquarters just as the commanding officers are holding an emergency meeting. Kirk (Chris Pine) loses his mentor and admiral (Bruce Greenwood) in the carnage and is subsequently sent on a politically sensitive manhunt mission.

You don’t have to be a Trekkie to derive satisfaction from this “Star Trek,” though director J.J. Abrams stuffs the entire package with geek-pampering details, enough to fuel hundreds of hours of heated online discussions. (Apparently the Trekkie convention held in Las Vegas in early August saw more than a few Enterprise devotees in spasms of sheer delight.) Ultimately, “Into Darkness” is prophetic and profound, vying for a place in the sci-fi Hall of Fame that houses “Blade Runner” and, well, the original “Star Trek.”

Star Trek Into Darkness
Rating
Director J.J. Abrams
Run Time 132 minutes
Language English

Instead of taking cues from Philip K. Dick, however, the writing team headed by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman draw their inspiration from real life, and let’s face it, there’s no shortage of material. Star Fleet’s war on terrorism turns out to be something more complicated, and Kirk discovers how quickly the rhetoric of justice and ambition can change to the rhetoric of power-hungry destruction.

Abrams’ assembled cast is excellent, and Pine shows himself considerably matured since he last sat in the captain’s chair. Going against the trend of recent superhero action extravaganzas, “Into Darkness” is very much a character-driven film, especially focusing on the evolving relationship between Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto), and inviting the audience to engage with the crew, watch their expressions and savor every line.

Everyone will have a favorite — mine is Sulu (John Cho), who comes off here as an Everyman Asian or a space-age salaryman. Karl Urban as Bones wields ever-more-mangled metaphors. And as chief engineer Scotty, British comedy actor Simon Pegg — who after “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” has become the official Hollywood blockbuster tech guy — gets a welcome expanded role.

Pegg is joined by compatriot newcomer Alice Eve, who plays beautiful and brainy weapons expert Carol, obviously destined for a fling with Kirk in a later franchise installment (indeed the character bore Kirk’s son in her previous incarnation in 1982′s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”).

But the real scene-stealer is fellow Brit Benedict “Sherlock Holmes” Cumberbatch as the villain John Harrison, who oozes the British public schoolboy thing from every pore while wreaking absolute havoc on the universe. Like Holmes, Harrison has no interest in worldly pleasures and lives only to practice his chosen art. “Cool” doesn’t begin to describe him — and nor does the titular “darkness.”

For a chance to win one of three exclusive “Star Trek Into Darkness” smartphone game joysticks, visit jtimes.jp/film. The deadline is Sept. 2.