STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS [Review]: Man, it’s all about Location.

You know what would have been a blast?

Watching Star Trek: Into Darkness immediately following J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek, with the very same audience from last week’s CapeTown Film Fest. These people, many of which like yours truly were not even true Trekkies, pumped the Egyptian Theater that Monday full of energy, cheers and laughter.

It was a good ass time.

Why Paramount wouldn’t allow this audience to witness the movie “early” when there were international screenings for at least 2-weeks now, beats me. Then again, it’s probably best if this Rev shuts up when his spoiled ass was lucky enough to see the first one on the big screen again in the first place.

–They’re heading for Earth, sir!– “WHERE ELSE WOULD THEY BE HEADING!!”

It’s just.. watching ST:ID with Thursday’s preview crowd at Universal City Walk just didn’t feel right.

There was absolutely no reaction to a stunning opening scene that watched our favorite crew from the USS Enterprise go where no other space shuttle has ever gone before: underwater. Sure, this sequence consisted of a lot of boom-and-bang, a mumbling lot of primitive beings, a crew with a far more serious demeanor (who lighten up a bit the more the movie goes on, but we’ll get to that in a bit), or…it may have just been an awfully strange experience watching this in 3D.

Hell, I was a bit peeved for taking out my contacts before finding out the movie was three-dimensional. Talk about possibly walking “into darkness” (thankfully, they handed out rims massive enough to cover the biggest of Ray Bans).

And darkness is far from the truth, as the film’s tremendous scope, energizing score, and exotic intergalactic locales, including a superb view of far future London — not to mention the signature JJ lens flares — will keep even the sleepiest of snoozers up in awe. There’s even Klingons.

But, there was no audience applause when the closing credits hit.

That was a bit stunning, for a sequel deserving of major props. Sure, Into Darkness is no Terminator 2, no Dark Knight, and surely no Empire Strikes Back; but it’s no Iron Man 2, Aliens or Temple of Doom, either. In other words, those films were enjoyable follow-ups that just weren’t as incredible as their debuts. While Into Darkness has a hell of a lot more action and frenetic dialogue, 2009’s Star Trek offered a tighter plot, more surprises (“seeing this all again for the very first time”), and a boatload of unforced humor.

We’ve become those very men the X-Files and Tommy Lee Jones warned us about: a success.

Humor still remains prevalent in the sequel — just not so much.

For example, Zachary Quinto plays Spock with a rougher edge, including a slightly larger frame and bigger neck, with, of course, his classic, stilted sophistication. Don’t worry: Spock still packs plenty of LOL moments.

Chris Pine, in his very best William Shatner impersonation (and I mean that in the best way possible), offers a more seasoned ship leader this time out; and, surely, opened my six-eyes to wondrous shock when the Cap barely flirted with — never mind force himself upon —  his newest shipmate, Dr. Carol Marcus (played by the beautiful Alice Eve), especially during one unnecessary teenage hormone-driven scene which I’m sure you can find in with Google images.

There’s a definitive reason why Pine leaves a lot of his swagger “on the pine,” and yet not to the extrem[is] of, say, Tony Stark in Iron Man 3. Something happens in this movie that affects him tremendously. Thus, it’s a pleasure to watch Pine elevate his performance and still remain the charismatic, cocky, cool-hand-Kirk. His new quarrel never reaches cheesy-anger or too loose territory, neither.

Nope. He nails it.

And despite the dynamic duos’ newer, stern approach (tragedy will do that, people), the chemistry between Pine and Quinto has never been better. Other members of the Enterprise don’t get left in the darkness, either, with scene-stealing performances from king-of-the-one-liner Karl Urban and Robocop nutjob Peter Weller (whose Admiral clearly puts the douche in the bag), more screen time for John Cho’s “Captain” Hulu, to my good buddy Tom Archdeacon‘s cameo as Ensign Spyke(!?!), to the more droll bits of Zoe Saldana and Simon Pegg (sorry, guys — guess you could blame the script?).

But, no one quite owns this Star Trek movie like Benedict Cumberbatch.

Just making sure you watched Dredd and enjoyed it, pal.

It’s unfortunate that a few morons have spoiled it for the rest of the bunch, but if you take a hard look at Star Trek and its minimal rogues sheet, it shouldn’t take a genius to figure out who the hell Cumberbatch plays. Entertainment Weekly has already rumored the “Sherlock” actor’s villain in its latest issue; meanwhile, IMDB has no problem spoiling all the fun.

When the reveal happens, it should still send a shiver up most spines.

More importantly, Cumberbatch’s former Starfleet commander is a certifiable bad-ass. A lot of his actions come with a contrite balance of sheer, tragic reasoning and senseless immortality. Didn’t you wish you could command or confront this guy on the home LCD instead of this trash?

Part of me — in addition to wishing this was the video game — preferred to have seen Into Darkness spread into a pair of flicks, so critical scenes in the final third act wouldn’t come off so rushed. I do appreciate Abrams wanting audiences to get more bang for the buck, without ever a dull moment. And, between eruptive volcanoes, in-crew conflict, and Halo-inspired alien commandos, hell knows this voyage doesn’t lack for its share of excitement.

Hey, perhaps because I’ve never been a fan of the franchise until the reboot, I just needed some more exposition. Or, maybe the fact that the abominable Man of Steel is landing in theaters soon gives us viewers a little more reason to be finicky.

In all, whether J.J. helms the director’s chair or not, there’s no preventing this franchise from having another blast-off.

4 (out of 5) Bibles. Awesome! While I likened the new Trek 1 to a 4.5 Bible flick — it just flows better — Into Darkness may prove more entertaining. There’s still plenty of odes to Trek past (Tribbles, Section 31, Gorns, perhaps one instance too sappy at the end), and plenty for new fans to like, too. The space fights are cooler, the landscapes prettier, and the conflict even more daring. There’s even a special cameo, or two. Though one wishes Zoe and some of the other crew had more significant to do, and really didn’t find anything funny about the frantic Chekov. This movie also leads me to believe some of the crew’s cast are one trick ponies. They should have killed some more of them off, and I’m being nice about that. But, hey, we get a far superior villain and more laughs. Kirk and Spock even add more layers in their young military development. Let’s just hope JJ doesn’t completely abandon the franchise for that other Star one just yet. GO SEE IT!

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