I attended a preview of the movie on Wednesday night in Cleveland; and was utterly satisfied, as I will explain below, but the screening ended too late to get into today's print editions. So take these online thoughts.
I did look back at the saga of "Star Trek" for today's paper, and you can find that piece online here. One of the things I said there was:
When J.J. Abrams and his team revived the Trek franchise in 2009, they went back and forth in time — showing us the younger versions of Kirk, Spock and friends; bringing back the old Spock, and balancing their elaborate, contemporary special effects with nods to vintage Trek elements like Christopher Pike and the Kobayashi Maru.
The result was at once an adventure young viewers could come to without needing any background, a prolonged “hello, old friends,” to people steeped in Trek lore AND — because its events changed the Trek time line — a guarantee that, even for diehard fans, wonderful surprises could await.
And that all applies to the new film.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" continues what 2009's "Star Trek" began, letting us see how the young Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) evolved into the characters played by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Kirk has proven himself to some degree, but he's still a hothead; Spock embraces his logical Vulcan side, but has not figured out how to balance it with his human feelings -- and that perplexes not only Kirk but Uhura (Zoe Saldana), who is romantically entangled with Spock.
We see all those aspects in play during an opening sequence which also invokes the old Prime Directive, but that's mostly prologue to a bigger crisis beginning with a terror attack on a Starfleet facility in London. It soon becomes clear that a powerful new villain (Benedict Cumberbatch) is on the loose, and that he is going to draw Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew into a conflict that echoes strongly in old "Star Trek" history. (I am trying not to spoil things too much for those of you who have managed to avoid the considerable discussion of this movie's surprises.)
There follows a story that is a combination of high adventure (including some space chases that make clear why director J.J. Abrams is also getting the "Star Wars" revival), character development, meditations on both the roots of terrorism and how to respond to it, contemplations of father-and-son relationships, multiple references to old characters and conceits (there's a Tribble!) -- and, through it all, a sense that this is not a retooling of TV and cinematic history but a real freshening of it.
Even when the film reboots specific scenes from older efforts, it does so in a way that gives them new life and energy -- as well as making you think again about the old stuff. If there's anyone seeing this movie who has not dipped into the DVDs and Blu-rays of the older material, "Into Darkness" repeatedly encourages you to do so.
Pine is an able Kirk, but it's Quinto's Spock who is the real foundation of the movie, and the best screen foil for the icily frightening Cumberbatch. There are little flaws; Bones, played by Karl Urban, is more caricature than he was in the previous film, and two jokes about red uniform shirts pop up, and closely together.
But I smiled almost from the first scene, laughed plenty, choked up a little and was kept attentive during the action sequences -- even though the 3D is always a little problematic because I perch the lenses over my regular glasses. Plenty of story is set up for another movie, which I gleefully await. And I give this one 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.