Star Trek Saturday BONUS #2!

Odds are, you’ve neither ever heard of or watched Star Trek Enterprise. What was it?

Well, really, it’s sort of like the Stargate SG-1 of the Star Trek universe. Just as the previous spinoffs were set one century after the original show, this is set one century before, in the 2100s, with humanity having come into contact with the Vulcans a century ago and now using a single warp drive-equipped ship, the Enterprise NX-01, to explore the universe.

Running from 2001 to 2005 on UPN, this show was intended to revitalize the Trek franchise after Voyager declined in ratings towards the end. The feature-length pilot, “Broken Bow,” premiered very well, but the series kept nosediving in the Nielsens until it was cancelled after season 4. Ratings weren’t its only problem; the show also polarized Trekkies, with many upset at how it contradicted their own theories about the beginnings of Starfleet and how it didn’t feel like the other shows.

I decided to figure out just why this show is so divisive, so I watched “Broken Bow” today on Netflix and what I found was not a great show but still a good one.

First off, I must admit, this show’s theme song is horrible. Just awful. Unlike every other Trek show, which had an orchestral theme, this one has a cheesy pop song called “Faith of the Heart” written by Diane Warren, the woman singlehandedly responsible for half the songs on any radio station that dubs itself “light rock.” I’m not even embedding it here; seek it out for yourself to experience its bad. I will admit, the images in the opening are really cool, showing all of these ships throughout history, real and imagined, named Enterprise. There’s even a cool little snippet of the actual NASA craft named Enterprise after a campaign by TOS fans in the ’60s/ Pretty neat, but awful awful music.

After all that, plus a brief flashback to the childhood of our main character, Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), we open with a shot of a cornfield in Oklahoma, where an alien spaceship has crashed. We see a Klingon in full armor running for his life. He is pursued by two scaly-looking humanoid aliens, who track him to a grain solo, which he escapes from and blows up with them inside. He is promptly then shot by a farmer in the chest with a plasma rifle (literally, a shotgun that fires lasers).

We then cut to an adult Archer and Cmdr. Charles Tucker (Conner Trineer), who are orbiting the Enterprise NX-01 as it’s being prepped for launch in a drydock orbiting Earth. They receive a message calling Archer back to Starfleet Medical in San Francisco. He arrives and meets up with a group of Starfleet and Vulcan higher-ups as Dr. Phrox (John Billingsley) monitors the gravely injured Klingon, Klaang (Tommy Lister Jr). The Vulcans say that it is a bad idea for humanity to return Klaang to Qq’nos, the Klingon homeworld–much like the recent movie, they pronounce it Kronos, which is kind of dumb–because his current condition would be shameful as a Klingon and humanity isn’t ready to deal with such a hostile species. Archer and the others protest that the Vulcans have held them back for way too long and have been deliberately withholding information from them. It’s decided that the Enterprise will take Klaang back to Qq’nos.

On board the ship, we meet Lt. Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating) and Ensign Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), who discuss the brand new transporter and Mayweather’s childhood growing up on space cargo ships. We then cut back to Brazil, where Archer recruits polyglot linguist  Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) to his crew. Phrox is also there, serving as Chief Medical Officer as well as to supervise Klaang. The Vulcan T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) is also there, serving as science officer and executive officer by order of the Vulcans in exchange for the Vulcan star charts showing the location of Qq’nos.

However, once the voyage gets underway, those scaly guys from before show up, disable the ship’s power, and abduct Klaang. Who are these guys and what do they want with a Klingon? And what will this new crew do about it?

Enterprise is very much a show thinking for the long haul; this is a show that has serialization on its mind, hence why it gives us so much character introduction upfront. I’ll say this: this is probably the best-looking Star Trek television I’ve ever seen.

I mean, really, it’s pretty accomplished: polished CGI, good explosions and well-done cinematography. Technically, this show is very accomplished; the Internet tells me this was the first Trek to be filmed digitally and broadcast in HD, each of those things at different points in its run.

The look of Starfleet is an interesting one; at this point, Starfleet is to be considered very much as a branch of the military, and it shows in the uniforms, which look more like flight jumpsuits than anything else. It’s also worth noting that, while it’s a large ship, this Enterprise isn’t very big crew-wise, which explains the small cast of characters we get.

Story-wise, this show is good–it’s more effective at explaining and world-building than I thought the pilot for Game of Thrones did–but I can see where issues were raised. For one thing, the humans are very quick to lash out, which can be justified because they’ve feel chafed under the Vulcans for so long, but after Picard’s tranquility and Kirk’s measured rashness, watching Archer lash out and be kind of a jerk is a bit off-putting. Likewise, the bigger picture that’s set up in this two-parter is an interesting story, but we’re cheated of a big reveal that we really should get.

Cast-wise, everyone does quite well. Bakula–best known as Sam from Quantum Leap–has always been a likable actor and here, he shows why; Archer can be a jerk, sure, but he’s also a dedicated captain committed to the mission. Blalock is, for me, the heavy lifter; playing a Vulcan, she’s inevitably drawing Leonard Nimoy comparisons, but she does an admirable job, in my opinion. The rest of the cast is fine, with Billingsley being a high point whenever he’s on screen due to his charming demeanor and well-conveyed presence.

So, is this bad? Not really. I mean, yeah, I’m probably not going to keep watching this, but I was entertained, and got to see some very good-looking visuals about a little-explored era of Starfleet. So, I recommend it.

All pics come from Memory Alpha. See you tomorrow for Star Trek Saturday!

 

 

 

Fringe–The Complete First Season Review

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So today, I finally sat down with my friend and finished the first season of Fringe, a sci-fi show from J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the same brain trust that’s given us the last two Star Trek films) that recently concluded a five-season run on Fox. Whenever we’ve gotten together, we usually do “Fringe binges,” as we call them, watching episodes at a time. It really helps with a show like this.

So what is Fringe about? Well, in a nutshell, it’s a sci-fi procedural about unexplained phenomena. FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is assigned to investigate a mysterious airplane accident where everyone on board wound up a skeleton. Because this is well outside the bounds of normal scientific and FBI procedures, she has to go to Iraq to track down rogue genius Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) in order to use him to free his father, Walter (John Noble), an astoundingly brilliant scientist who specialized in unusual phenomena–or fringe science (hence the title)–from a mental asylum where he’s been for 17 years.

In the course of the investigation, Olivia’s partner and lover John Scott (Mark Valley) is killed and Olivia is drafted by Special Agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) to join the Fringe Division, teaming up with Peter, Walter and fellow FBI agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) to investigate the grotesque and bizarre crimes and deaths that frequently pop up in the Boston area, with it all being tied to the mysterious corporation, Massive Dynamic.

Like most sci-fi procedurals, this first season is very episodic. Which it would have to be, seeing as how, like Supernatural, this show needs us to be invested in its characters before giving them longer arcs. Unlike that show, however, rather than a core duo, here we have a whole cast of characters, each with a distinct personality. As such, it’s easier to find characters to like and characters to hate.

I pretty much like everyone though: Dunham can be a little bland sometimes, but when her personal life or past is touched upon, things really shine and Torv does a terrific job. Jackson is great as the wry, sarcastic Peter, who happens to be the only one who can control his dad who he doesn’t like all that much. He’s also very well-footed and holds his own in action scenes. Nicole doesn’t have too much to do as Farnsworth, really, but she’s still a fun counterpoint. Broyles is very much the boss, and Reddick plays him that way, using his body language and distinct voice to give him a commanding presence.

But for me, the real star is Noble as Walter. Best known for his role as Denethor in The Lord of the Rings, he has a lot to play with as Walter–a figure both comedic and tragic–and he hits it right every time. When he has to be funny, he’s hilarious; when he has to be mad, he’s seething…you get the idea. The fact that he, at his advanced age and having gone through all his mental anguish, can’t recall many things is heartbreaking, especially towards the end of the season. Noble uses all his talent to make Walter probably the most complicated scientist character on TV in the last decade, maybe one of the most complicated of all time.

Now, I know some people who have flat out refused to watch this show because they see it as a ripoff of The X-Files. To those people, and to anyone and everyone who may have a similar opinion, I offer this:

EVERY SCI-FI SERIALIZED SHOW THAT HAS AIRED SINCE THE X-FILES IS IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER COPYING THE X-FILES!!!!! GET OVER IT!!!

Seriously, there’s no point in arguing this: every SF show–heck, a LOT of shows period–have ripped off that particular show. Ignore it and move on.

Point is, Fringe is really something: managing to pack a standard crime show inside of a REALLY good science-fiction show and emerging with a great blend of both. Granted, this season’s slow build of story elements is a bit jarring at times, but overall, it has the potential to suck you in. I started the second season today and I can’t wait to continue.

Star Trek Saturdays #22

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #22!

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This week’s episode is “The Return of the Archons” and it’s a cerebral trip that hooks you from the get-go and doesn’t let up.

We open with Sulu and another Lieutenant, O’Neil (Sean Morgan), running down what looks like a recreation of a Puritan-era town, wearing era-appropriate clothing.  Sulu tries to calm O’Neil down by saying the ship will get them out of there, but O’Neil protests that there’s no time and “You know what they’ll do to us!” As shrouded men in monk-like robes begin going closer and closer to them, he bolts. Sulu is beamed up, but not before he is hit with a projectile from a staff held by one of the robed figures.

Kirk meets Sulu in the transporter room, asking him what was going on. “Paradise,” Sulu replies, dreamily. “Paradise.”

After the opening, we learn that the Enterprise is in orbit above the planet Beta III to investigate what happened to the Archon, a starship that disappeared near this planet 100 years ago. Kirk, with Sulu safe aboard the ship, beams down himself with Spock, McCoy, sociologist Lindstrom and two security guards, to investigate. They materialize in the exact spot where Sulu and O’Neil were.

They’re approached by several inhabitants, asking if they are “from the Valley” and if they’ve “come for the Festival.” A woman, Tula (Brinoni Farrell) says that her father has rooms for them. A man, Bilar (Ralph Maurer) tells them to hurry for “the Red Hour is almost struck.” Suddenly, the clock strikes 6 and the inhabitants go into an uncontrolled frenzy, cavorting, rioting and looting, completely out of nowhere.

The landing party hustles to where Tula pointed them to, and find Reger (Harry Townes), Hacom (Morgan Farley) and Tamar (Jon Lormer, who previously showed up in “The Cage” and “The Menagerie, Part I”) who all talk in hushed whispers of “Landru.” But who or what is Landru, and why does he permit such strange violence to happen on Beta III?

This is a doozy of an episode, with the opening catapulting you right into action. And boy, what action! We’ve got subterfuge, we’ve got some fighting, we’ve go mysterious men with crazy powerful staffs and a whole bunch of strange elements that blend together to make this episode a thrilling mystery.

Joseph Pevney–who previously directed “Arena”–returns here, and his action skills are just as sharp, using tense camera action to keep the viewer riveted. He’s very quick to use his camera to point out just how unsettling the surroundings are, keeping you on edge. He’s helped by a story from Gene Roddenberry and a script by Boris Sobelman that raises compelling questions about utopian society at its core: can a utopia, the script asks, be accomplished without some vital essence being lost?

Such weighty material gives the cast plenty of work to sink their teeth into, and they do wonderfully. Shatner plays Kirk as the lone voice of reason in the wilderness, desperately trying to convince others to see the truth of what’s around them. Nimoy gets to rock a pretty awesome hooded habit (to cover Spock’s ears, you see) and Towne gives Reger much more dimension than a simple father figure, giving us one of the best guest performances in Trek so far.

(Towne)

If Towne looks familiar, it’s because he’s a character actor who, in his life, popped up in everything from Bonanza to The Incredible Hulk.

Overall, this is a fine episode, another action-packed ride that makes me look forward even more to the episodes to come. Recommended.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

Hannibal is Horrifying and Completely Essential Viewing

I’m unfamiliar with the television work of writer Bryan Fuller, but I know his reputation. Every one of his television series–Dead Like Me for Showtime, Wonderfalls for Fox, and Pushing Daisies on ABC–have 2 things in common: 1. They have all been very short-lived (Dead and Daisies only had 2 seasons each, while Wonderfalls only had one) and 2. They’ve all been widely critically acclaimed, but popularly ignored outside of a devoted fanbase. And so it has been with Hannibal, Fuller’s new show on NBC–that has aired 9 episodes at the time of this writing–which hasn’t been given a renewal notice yet, even after all other shows on the network have.

It’ll be a darn shame if it isn’t renewed, because Hannibal is probably the best new show that premiered this year from where I stand, and is basically all the prestige and power of a premium cable drama, but somehow airing on broadcast TV.

I know you’re eye-rolling, because of the basic premise–the show is a look at a young Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelson) in his days as a secret cannibal long before he got to where he was at in The Silence of the Lambs–and I don’t blame you. Usually, that sort of thing spells disaster, and I was fully primed to hear how bad this show was.

But The A.V. Club’s review of the pilot was overwhelmingly positive and I thought, “Well, maybe this show’s better than I think.” So I downloaded the premiere off of iTunes for free, but didn’t get around to watching it until I got home from college, found out mutual friends of my sister and mine were urging us to watch it and so we gave it a shot.

It’s been a week since then and we’ve obsessively watched every episode. It’s horrifying, scary, almost hard to watch at times….but it is utterly, completely brilliant at the same dang time.

Part of the reason that is because , for the most part, Hannibal is not the main focus of this show. Rather, the focus is on Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), an FBI profiler who can completely empathize with serial killers,  meaning he can mentally recreate their crimes in very exacting detail and figure out their motives. Graham, in the first episode, is enlisted by Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) to help catch a killer who’s been targeting college girls, working alongside Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), a noted psychiatrist. Bloom convinces Crawford to enlist Lecter’s help because he is–as in other versions–a noted and highly respected psychiatrist. Together, Graham and Lecter catch this first serial killer, setting off an insane chain of events that’s dominated the show thus far, with Hannibal possibly playing both sides of the fence in this and subsequent investigations.

Essentially, the show takes Hannibal Lecter, the pop culture icon, and sidelines him, preferring to only hint at (for the most part) his darker side. Key to making this work is Mikkelson’s approach to the character; best known for being the bad guy in the new Casino Royale, Mikkelson plays Hannibal as a highly reserved, carefully cold and controlled character, always aware of all angles of any given situation, and his native Danish accent (admittedly hard to understand at first) helps underscore the innate chilliness of the character.

The other actors are fantastic as well; Fishburne still exudes that leaderly gravitas and authority he brought more than a decade ago to Morpheus, but he also manages to show the character’s softer side and flesh him out, particularly in later episodes involving his wife Bella (Gina Torres, Fishburne’s actual wife). Dvarhnas manages to  make Bloom a grounded character; although she doesn’t really jell with the rest of the ensemble, she still does a good job. Lara Jean Choroteski probably has the most irritating role as Freddie Lounds, another Thomas Harris character reimagined as a tabloid blogger, but she’s still compelling.

And special mention must be given to Dancy, who does an Emmy-worthy job showing just what sort of toll thinking like a serial killer would do to a person; Will has been breaking down all season, and it’s been fascinating to watch in Dancy’s relevatory hands.

As I said, this is basically a cable show airing on NBC and that shows in the cinematography and writing. As to the former, this show is shot beautifully; the lighting is awesome, the scenery and sets are great, and the complex and creative ways corpses are displayed–which are also, obviously, very disturbing–are still gorgeous in their own way.

Now as for the writing: 1. Fuller has written or co-written the majority of the episodes aired so far; for a showrunner of a show on a major American network to be that involved is pretty rare, and the care shows; you really feel you’re getting a unified voice. 2. Fuller and the rest of the staff are obviously intent on reversing the typical scenario for a crime show; that is , they downplay the case-of-the-week element in favor of the relationships between the characters and the overarching story arcs. This is what no one else is doing and it’s a refreshing, wonderful thing to see.

Even the music, something I don’t normally register on a show, is great; the composer is a guy named Brian Reitzell and he’s great at using synths and other subliminal instruments to really ratchet up the tension and horror. The direction is also good, with people like David Slade (who directed the stunning pilot for the late, great Awake) and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, who can make you feel like you’re watching a particularly good horror movie, expertly chopped up, rather than a TV show.

I could go on, but bottom line, this show is damn great. It’s hard to watch, it’s disturbing, it’s challenging…and it is absolutely necessary to view. If you think there are no good dramas anymore, check this out; you won’t be disappointed. And you might look at food a little different

Review–Random Access Memories

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Daft Punk has done enough in their career to be called the strangest band alive. I mean, two French guys who dress like robots and sing songs with vague lyrics, mostly accompained to techno beats? Guys who made an entire anime film to go with one album? And to top it all off, you almost never see their real faces? How crazy are these guys?

Whatever kind, it’s a popular one, because it’s pretty much thanks to this duo that electronic dance music–EDM–is so popular right now. Skrillex and his silly hair would not be megastars right now if Daft Punk hadn’t proven long ago that EDM could be made for a mainstream audience.

So, given their rarefied place in EDM history, and their status as geek gods certified with their all-techno score for Tron: Legacy (which is, no joke, the best and most memorable part of that movie, one would expect that the band’s first album in nearly a decade would be more of the same awesome robot music, right?

Well, you’re wrong. Random Access Memories is not a techno record. It’s not an EDM record. It’s…well, that’s the thing. I don’t know what to call it exactly other than some sort of futuristic disco record.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Disco, music of boogie shoes, afros and the Bee Gees? Get that away! Well, SLOW down; disco, like any other genre of music, has its goods and bads, but at its core, is really just a super-cool Euro-spin on R&B and soul music. (For more info, check out these episodes of the radio show Sound Opinions.)

Anyway, this, as I said, is NOT a techno record. It’s a human record, with live instrumentalists and vocalists up the wazoo, with the occasional vocoder interlude. It’s definitely soaked in the ’70s, particularly the whole album-oriented radio aspect of that decade–the idea that, instead of a single, the album itself should be the focus and should be composed as a cohesive whole.

That being said, I did my usual thing and gave you some highlights from the album. Because I am nothing if not a stickler for procedure.

“Instant Crush”–Whether you like or don’t like The Strokes, you can’t deny that frontman Julian Casablancas has a voice that sounds like absolutely no one else’s. So Daft Punk decided to filter his voice through a vocoder so well I couldn’t even tell it was him. Besides that, the song is a wonderful little thing too, a nice mashup of ’80s synth pop and post-punk worthy of The Strokes.

“Doin’ It Right”–Animal Collective is probably the weirdest indie band out there right now, and the work of their co-founder and drummer Panda Bear is just as weird, a sort of Beach Boys on acid. Here, however, his warped sensibilities play off really well with Daft Punk’s, resulting in a dang catchy tune.

“Get Lucky”–OK, you’ve probably heard this song a lot by now, and the radio edit is a TERRIFIC single, but the full six-minute album version is much better. Nile Rodgers’ guitar is even more incredible, and Pharrell is way more hip and swinging (it goes without saying that this is probably the best thing Pharrell has done in, like, probably six years)

“Touch”–In what at least one review has said is the centerpiece of the whole album, the legendary Paul Williams (whose songwriting credits alone have made him a legend; look him up) sings as a lonely android struggling to recall his human past while the music swirls around him. Definitely a song to sit and deeply listen to with eyes closed; haunting stuff.

Well, if all these YouTube embeds suggest nothing else, I LOVE this record, and you will too. Go find it now; you won’t regret it.

Star Trek Saturdays #21

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #21!!!

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This week’s episode is “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” and it’s a wonderful time-travel episode that embodies the best of 1960s contemporary drama.

Our story opens at an Air Force base in Omaha, Nebraska in 1969. An airman detects something on radar that his commanding officer believes is an enemy aircraft right over the base; the strangest part is how the signal just appeared out of nowhere. The C.O. orders someone to go up there and take a look and we see an F-104 fighter jet take off. We then cut to the Enterprise flying through the sky.

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After the opening, we hear Kirk, in his Captain’s Log, explain what happened:

Captain’s Log, Stardate 3113.2, subjective time: We were en route to Starbase 9 for resupply when a black star of high gravitational attraction began to drag us toward it. It required all warp power in reverse to pull us away from the star but like snapping a rubber band, the breakaway sent us plunging through space, out of control to stop here, wherever we are.

The ship is hurt bad, running solely on impulse power. Scotty reports that warp engines are offline and that he is holding the ship in orbit over Earth. Kirk asks Uhura to contact Starfleet Control to tell them how close the black star is to Starbase 9.

She replies that there is nothing on all standard Starfleet channels but she is getting something on another frequency…which turns out to be a radio broadcast talking about the first manned moon shot being scheduled to take place on Wednesday. Kirk recalls that that happened in the late 1960s and Spock realizes where and when they are, having been thrown back in time from the force of their escape from the black star.

Uhura then picks up an air-to-ground transmission which is the aircraft persueing them–named Bluejay 4 and piloted by Cap. John Christopher (Roger Perry)–telling the base that he is zeroing in on the UFO that is the Enterprise. He pursues them up into the clouds. Overhearing the order by the base to either shoot the UFO or disable it, Spock theorizes that the ship could be armed with nuclear warheads, which would be disastrous to the ship in its current condition.

Kirk orders Scotty to lock onto the aircraft with a tractor beam and, when that starts breaking about, tells the transporter room to beam Christopher aboard. He greets him personally, revealing his name but nothing else, stating that all will be revealed in time. But what does Christopher find out about himself, and how will the Enterprise get back home?

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The surprising thing about this episode is that it feels so much like a regular drama of the time, while still feeling like Trek. It’s a remarkable act of imitation and everyone pulls it off well. Perry, a veteran TV actor, feels and looks like the typical hero, but he also brings an interesting perspective. From the beginning, everyone we’ve met within the world of the show is innately familiar with Starfleet and, by reputation or otherwise, the Enterprise. But Christopher isn’t, and watching a man who embodies the best America had in the 1960s (the hippie-free 1960s imagined by most TV of the time) grapple with all these astonishing things is rather interesting and compelling to see.

The regular cast gets on this wavelength too.  Shatner brings Kirk wonderfully into this scenario, Nimoy gets some wonderful comedy for Spock out of a problem with Kirk’s computer and Kelley has some nice little bits for McCoy. They bring D.C Fontana’s tense, clever script to life and, combined with some terrific, crisp direction by Michael O’Harlihy, they make this an episode worth watching. Recommended.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

 

 

Star Trek Into Darkness Review

As I think I’ve said previously, I thoroughly enjoyed J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot, which was not only a good action movie all by itself, but took great steps to explain why it didn’t disregard the past half-century of Trek lore. In part, if it wasn’t for that film, I wouldn’t have been interested in getting into Trek as a whole.

With that in mind, I can confidently say that, knowing more about Trek–particularly the original series–I can confidently say that this is still a nice exploration on what a younger TOS crew would be like, as well as a rather good and enjoyable action film. Terrific acting, gorgeous visuals, and a overall strong story help make this movie work and bring back some of the social commentary that a lot of people thought was missing from the last film.

So, here’s the story: after violating the Prime Directive–the First Rule of Starfleet which states that  personnel are not to interfere with the natural development of a civilization for any reason–in order to save Spock (Zachary Quinto), who attempted to stop an active volcano from exploding to save a primitive civilization (which also violates the Directive, as someone points out later), Kirk (Chris Pine) is called back to Earth and stripped of his command, with the Enterprise being given back to Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) with Kirk as his first officer and Spock reassigned to the U.S.S. Bradbury. Meanwhile in London, the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) offers to save the dying child of a grieving couple (Noel Clarke and Nazneen Contractor) if the husband, who works in a Starfleet archive facility, does something for him. What he tells him to do and what that sets off brings to mind a crazy conspiracy involving Klingons, top-secret weaponry and a conspiracy stretching deep within Starfleet.

A whole lot goes down in this movie, which probably explains why its a little over 2 hours long. Unlike the first film, this one is steeped in Trek lore, as screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof give us Klingons, some iconic visuals, and even Tribbles along with some subtext that heavily points at the Iraq War and drone strikes (Alyssa Rosenberg explores this in much better detail than I could, but beware: spoilers) in a way that makes this feel a little bit smarter than the average blockbuster and even smarter than the last film, which is what a Trek movie should do.

The screenplay, by and large, gets it all right, although there are some character choices made that had me and my more knowledgeable Trekkie friend I saw this with going “Huh?” But hey, at the end of the day, you should be grateful that Orci & Kurtzman remembered that they can write well when not working under Michael Bay and that Lindelof didn’t had some lame reveal like he kept doing to Lost over and over again.

Abrams’ direction is as bombastic as ever and incredibly visually exciting–the action scenes are not only coherent, which is something 90% of action movies don’t know how to do, but well-staged–but there are some bits that are a little confusing. And yes, Abrams’ love of the lens flare is particularly irksome here, especially given how shiny and bright all the stuff we see here IS already.

The cast is uniformly great. Pine embodies the best aspects of Shatner while bringing his own to this headstrong Kirk, Quinto has upped everything about Spock this time around and is better than ever, Karl Urban is hilarious and awesome as McCoy, Zoe Saldana actually gives Uhura depth (and they even gave her the microphone earpiece this time!), Simon Pegg’s Scotty is funnier and cleverer…I could go on. But the real star here is Cumberbatch as Harrison. He owns every single second of screentime he has. He’s a remarkably compelling presence and gives such huge dramatic weight both to Harrison and his true nature, as well as how he plays off the rest of the cast. This film, along with the Julian Assange movie he’s going to be in this fall, his role as Smaug in the next Hobbit film, and the return of Sherlock to television screens this year should make 2013 his breakout year.

So overall, this is a great addition to Trek, a great film in its own right and a wonderful way to kick off summer movie season (read that last bit as: I still haven’t seen Iron Man 3). Check it out. It’s worth it.

P.S. One thing that’s always bugged me about this Trek alternate universe: we’ve gotten so LITTLE of it. I mean, honestly, we’ve got the 2 films, the tie-in novelizations, the recent video game (which apparently is garbage) an ongoing comic and…that’s it. Isn’t that weird? I mean, as my friend and I talked about, there were toys, games, dolls, books and all sorts of stuff for all the TV shows. Why aren’t we getting that now? I mean, what the heck, Paramount? I know this is due to Bad Robot saying they wanted this way but…c’mon.