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Originally published May 15, 2013 at 12:09 AM | Page modified May 16, 2013 at 12:15 PM

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‘Star Trek Into Darkness’: Action, excitement at warp speed

A movie review of “Star Trek Into Darkness,” one of the all-time best entries in the durable franchise.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3.5 stars

‘Star Trek Into Darkness,’ with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Benedict Cumberbatch, Karl Urban. Directed by J.J. Abrams, from a screenplay by Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof. 132 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence. Several theaters.

Star Trek Into Darkness (Trailer)

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“Star Trek Into Darkness” is ridiculously exciting. Which is to say it’s so exciting it’s ridiculous. But in a good way.

Opening sequence: Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) are fleeing for their lives through a jungle of blood-red otherworldly foliage, dodging salvos of spears hurled by bloodthirsty natives in hotfooted pursuit. Meanwhile, there’s Spock (Zachary Quinto), surrounded by roiling lava and geysering flames in the crater of an erupting volcano. It looks like curtains for certain for the pointy-eared one. It isn’t, of course, but the situation jams the needle deep into the red zone on the old Meter of Peril. Ridiculous! And that’s just for starters.

From there, director J.J. Abrams and writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who all served in the same capacities on “Star Trek,” the 2009 relaunch of the franchise) along with writer Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) ramp up the action to an insane degree. Surprise attack follows sneak attack follows ambush. There are hairbreadth escapes beyond counting. There is much pell-mell running, hyperspace jumping and phaser-fire dueling.

It just keeps coming at you. But while this thing is a pulse-pounder nonpareil, it also has a brain. And a conscience.

Abrams & Co. have made a movie closely attuned to the sensibilities of “Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, who often used the TV series that spawned the franchise to dramatize social issues.

In “Darkness,” the crew of the starship Enterprise grapples with the issues of drone warfare and targeted extrajudicial killings as it hunts for a master terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch) who has carried out a devastating attack on Starfleet headquarters. Hiding out on the home world of hostile Klingons, he can’t be extradited so he must be killed by remote control. Or must he?

Kirk, the impulsive hothead, is bent on vengeance. Spock, cool and rational, finds the drone strike — well, photon torpedo — option morally wrong. The arguments on both sides are persuasively made (that terrorist really is a coldblooded mass murderer and worthy of extermination) but are also made briskly so that they don’t slow the headlong momentum of the movie.

Abrams does a great job of deepening the relationships between the principal characters. Over the decades, from the Shatner/Nimoy-era iterations of the “Trek” crew to the Pine/Quinto incarnations, these folks have become beloved by fans. The impetuousness-vs.-logic dynamic of the Kirk/Spock relationship makes their prickly friendship fascinating and appealing.

That Spock, half-human and half-Vulcan, is now trying to navigate a romance with crew mate Uhura (Zoe Saldana) causes him unaccustomed confusion and stress. The couple are having problems, which amuses but hardly surprises Kirk, who wonders how they can possibly make that relationship work in the first place.

Cumberbatch’s remorseless villain is a man of many facets who is revealed to be deeply rooted in the “Trek” mythos. His true identity and self-justification for his villainy are buried within the picture’s Byzantine plot, which is rife with double-crosses and hidden agendas.

Stir in a deadly situation that directly mirrors one from the Shatner/Nimoy era, abundant humor provided by Simon Pegg’s ever-excitable Scotty and Urban’s ever-grouchy Bones, and, briefly, a Tribble, and the result is a “Star Trek” that is one of the all-time best entries in the durable franchise.

The film has been converted to 3D and will be showing in the IMAX format at select Seattle-area theaters. But even in non-IMAX auditoriums, like the one where it was screened for the media late last month, the 3D vastness of its sets and the sweep of its interstellar-scaled action make it an epic viewing experience.

Soren Andersen: asoren7575@yahoo.com

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