“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” says Mr. Spock in “Star Trek Into Darkness.” It’s a momentous line in the annals of Trekkie history, and it comes right after Bones McCoy’s trademark “Dammit, man!” and Scotty’s insistence that he cannot guarantee the Starship Enterprise’s safety. This is a catchphrase cornucopia, but sheesh -- we’re only five minutes into the movie!
For a series meant to inject fresh blood into a nearly 50-year-old franchise, “Star Trek Into Darkness” leans even more heavily on the past than the 2009 reboot “Star Trek.” Directed once again by J.J. Abrams, though with increased confidence and muscle, “Into Darkness” is fast and fun, zipping along on all thrusters while everyone on the bridge settles comfortably into an agreeably lighthearted vibe (and into ever-slimmer outfits). On the path to reinvention, however, “Into Darkness” often feels like a step backward.
Its selling point is still an energetic young cast, particularly Chris Pine as roguish Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto as his logical alter-ego, Mr. Spock. Spock’s romance with Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) has progressed to the bickering stage -- men are from Vulcan -- while Kirk is ogling blond weapons expert Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), whose duties inevitably require disrobing. Karl Urban’s pessimistic Bones and Simon Pegg’s harried Scotty remain the movie’s MVPs; John Cho’s Sulu and Anton Yelchin’s Chekov
Benedict Cumberbatch (the BBC’s “Sherlock”) sneers Britishly as genetically engineered terrorist John Harrison, and at first he cuts an impressively ruthless figure. But Harrison, too, is a ghost from “Star Trek” past. When his true identity is revealed -- I’ll pretend you haven’t Googled this -- it’s less a stunner than a letdown. It’s also a reminder of how breezy this “Trek” feels compared with the grand, operatic, emotionally cathartic originals.
“Into Darkness” does a fine job of carrying a venerable franchise into a flashy, splashy new millennium. It’s slightly empty at its core, but that’s a complaint that only a few old-guard fans are likely to make. The needs of the many must prevail.
PLOT The crew of the Enterprise match wits and brawn against a genetically superior foe.
RATING PG-13 (Bloodless but intense violence; mild language)
BOTTOM LINE Faster and funnier than the first episode, though still trekking in the shadow of the originals. Increased in-jokes and a borrowed plotline may tickle some fans and irritate others.