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An agreeable sense of déjà-vu

            A tribble makes a brief but important appearance in the new Star Trek adventure, Star Trek Into Darkness. Part of the importance of the role of this small ball of fluff is that it indicates a plot point without which the movie would shriek to a halt. The other part of its importance is that it shows us precisely the tone that the new movie is aiming for, so we can all quit worrying.

            There have been plenty of hints already, a lot of them in the previous movie, 2009’s Star Trek, where we first met the current cast, portraying the familiar starship crew as babies. A lot of audience time was spent studying the young actors, asking how close they came to the old guys; fortunately the answer was, pretty darned close, and they did it in a relaxed and warm-hearted way that avoided any charge of gimmickyness, if that’s a word.

            The earlier movie also had an overburdened plot that dealt heavily in time travel and alternate realities, which cleverly helped to avoid calling it Star Trek Eleven, and allowed us to start from the beginning with a fairly plausible backstory for the original TV series. The trajectory of that film continues with Into Darkness, giving Kirk’s randy impetuosity, Spock’s Vulcan logic, and Scotty’s improbable accent plenty of amusing things to say that sound just like their forbears. To hear Karl Urban as McCoy bark, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a ________ (fill in the blank)” can’t help but leave every original fan from the 60s feeling all warm and fuzzy.

            Compared to the last movie this one has a single story arc, with no time travel or alternate realities or invocations of Quantum anything. A terrorist attack on Star Fleet’s London facility calls an immediate meeting of the High Command at headquarters in San Francisco, which is in turn attacked and devastated, leaving only Kirk to follow the rogue Star Fleet officer to where he goes to ground on the Klingon home planet of Kronos. Ordered to destroy the terrorist on sight without alarming the Klingons, Kirk attempts to extradite him, but finds himself trapped in the toils of his target’s superior thinking, as well as the private agenda of his boss, Admiral Marcus.

            The villain who’s the object of all this furor is played by Benedict Cumberbatch (alarming name, but, apparently, his own), the amazing young British actor who has entranced any number of generations as Steven Moffat’s Sherlock, and who will be voicing Smaug, Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities, in the next episode of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit. Not to hint too broadly about which villain he’s playing in this movie, I will say that I’m very glad he’s not voicing the part with a Spanish accent, though it would have been huge fun if he had.

            A young friend who was at the showing I went to said that there wasn’t much discernable plot, and he’s right. As Joe Bob Briggs used to say, there’s not a lot of plot here to get in the way of the story. What we’ve got is a line on which to hang nostalgic references to the entire Star Trek canon, in no particular order, and calling them is the audience game this time around. I could hardly be accused of spoilers if I told you what they all were, but, as with McCoy’s line, it would be just too easy. And what it would spoil is your sense of fun as you recognize every situation that comes from somewhere else.

            “Fun” is the operative term here,  and what makes this movie fun, and gives the audience honest laughs instead of nasty snickers, is that all the people involved are doing their jobs without an ounce of irony. There’s no pull-back, no distancing; neither the writers nor the actors are thinking, as Hamlet complains, “…by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase, as ‘Well, well, we know,’ or ‘We could, an if we would,’ or ‘If we list to speak,’ or ‘There be, an if they might,’ or such ambiguous giving-out…”  No, everybody involved, including J. J. Abrams, who directed both efforts, is having a really good time, and the fact that they’re having fun with the material without making fun of the material is what allows us to have a really good time, and to sigh with content at the close when the Enterprise leaves on its famous five-year mission. This is one time when the sequels will be welcome, because we’ve all been where no-one has gone before, and we’re all eager to go back.