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'Star Trek Into Darkness' review: What's Klingon for 'awesome'?

***1/2 (out of four)

And down goes “Iron Man 3.”

Touching on similar themes with far greater depth and maturity, “Star Trek Into Darkness” sets the bar for the summer blockbuster movie season. Yes, action and character development can coexist. Yes, expensive movies can embrace moral complexity. Hell yeah, a villain can be both cool and scary.

He’s John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, pure dynamite), a Starfleet officer who goes rogue, unleashing terror on 23rd century London and a major threat to Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine), first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the Enterprise crew. Actually, first Kirk’s penchant for rule-breaking and truth-massaging gets him booted off the Enterprise and Spock reassigned, but his punishment lasts approximately three minutes before the ideological opposites partner back up to track Harrison to the one place they’d never otherwise go: Klingon-land! (It’s not really called that.)

Before I go on: Some have griped that “Star Trek Into Darkness” doesn’t boldly go where the series hasn’t gone before and so forth. Since when do we complain about a richly executed, thrilling and thoughtful franchise installment? Director J.J. Abrams has a really good ship and should feel free to take it on multiple journeys before trading it in.

Once again, Abrams delivers a sci-fi/action film that doesn’t require affinity for the original franchise to enjoy. Anyone can relate to issues of loyalty and the fear of death, or lack thereof, not to mention a moving film that just plain looks great. “Star Trek Into Darkness” hits the right notes of character-based comedy—Kirk tells Bones (Karl Urban) to can the metaphors after spouting two back to back—while wowing visually enough to make the 132-minute running time feel only slightly long.

But freezing a volcano? Questioning the slippery slope of militarization? Two admirable heroes learning from each other while battling over emotion vs. logic? Every blockbuster should be this hefty, with the fleetness of warp.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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