"Star Trek Into Darkness" is exactly what a summer blockbuster should be.
It's a nonstop thrill ride, with plenty of action and lots of humor, and you don't have to be a "Star Trek" fan to appreciate it.
"Into Darkness" is the follow-up to the 2009 reboot, a sort of prequel to the original television series and early films. The story begins with James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) demoted to first officer of the Enterprise after violating the Prime Directive during a mission to a remote planet.
Kirk gets a chance at redemption, however, when former Starfleet officer John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) orchestrates a series of attacks against his former employer.
Kirk is reinstated to captain and given the chance to take his crew, which includes Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho), on a mission to find Harrison and bring him to justice.
Director J.J. Abrams has crafted another impressive science-fiction adventure that balances smart writing with entertaining action sequences. It all starts with a rousing opening sequence that is more enjoyable than most of "Iron Man 3." Abrams clearly understands the balance between appeasing the "Star Trek" fan base and crafting a film that will have broader appeal. He's been chosen to reboot "Star Wars" as well, and from the looks of these two films, it seems that franchise is going to be in good hands.
"Into Darkness" is also perfectly cast -- with each actor giving a fresh spin on an iconic character. Cumberbatch is a nice addition as a rather memorable villain.
I'm a casual "Star Trek" fan, but I appreciated the nods to the previous material -- including a finale that really spins the franchise's lore on its ear.
It's just one of many clever elements in a film that sets the bar high for the rest of 2013's summer blockbusters.
DVD dandy of the week
This week's dandy is "The Last Stand" (B), Arnold Schwarzenegger's first starring role in eight years. "The Last Stand" barely made a blip at the box office when it was released in January.
Here is a second chance to see this entertaining piece of fluff that has its tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, a former Los Angeles homicide detective who is now the sheriff in a small Arizona town on the Mexican border.
The quiet town gets an unexpected jolt when drug kingpin Eduardo Noriega escapes from the FBI and makes a run for Mexico, headed straight for Owens' town.
Director Jee-woon Kim keeps the film moving at a brisk pace, with a bare-bones story that is more focused on action than plot. A couple of the sequences are pretty fun, especially the kingpin's elaborate escape in Las Vegas.
The 65-year-old Schwarzenegger shows he still has action chops, but he's also willing to poke fun at the fact that he isn't exactly a spring chicken anymore.
"The Last Stand" also benefits from a good supporting cast that includes Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman and Harry Dean Stanton.
"The Last Stand" isn't without its flaws and predictable moments, but I enjoyed it. It's a fun piece of escapism that action fans will appreciate.
"The Last Stand" is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, and language and is now available on DVD.
-- To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton's up-to-the minute thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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