In 2009, Abrams and his crew came up with the clever conceit of reinventing the original Star Trek series. It took the classic 60s gang of Kirk, Spock, Bones et al and splintered them into a completely separate timeline, therefore paving the way to being able to come up with new adventures for the Enterprise while not merely disregarding everything that has gone before. It all still happened, but that's now a different timeline, an altered reality. So the characters we all know and love – now being played by a younger, prettier cast – are free to boldly go in new directions. Genius.
Abrams' first film was an origin story of sorts. We saw a young, swaggering, arrogant Kirk (Pines) recruited into Starfleet, meeting Spock (Quinto) and McCoy (Urban) and having his first adventure aboard the Enterprise, ultimately becoming its captain. So now we have the follow-up, their second adventure. The origin story is out of the way, the characters have been established, it's time to see what this new Enterprise can do.
Star Trek Into Darkness is set not all that long after the events of the first film, but still before the classic five-year mission has kicked off. The Enterprise is saving a distant, primitive planet from destruction by volcano when Kirk breaks the Prime Directive by saving Spock's life. Reports to Starfleet are made, conflict ensues, the bromance is off. Temporarily, at least, because Starfleet is suddenly attacked from within. John Harrison (Cumberbatch) first destroys a Starfleet base in London, then launches a one-man attack on the body's San Francisco HQ before buggering off to hide on Kronos, the Klingon homeworld. The Enterprise, and its crew, are duly despatched to hunt him down and take him out (and not for a glass or two of Romulan ale, that's for sure).
And that's about all of the plot you need to know. A lot more then happens. An awful lot more. There are plenty of nods to Classic Trek, and a couple of fan-favourite species do put in an appearance. Fans will also no doubt get a kick from having Doctor Carol Marcus (Eve) on board. In the original timeline, she's an old girlfriend of Jim Kirk's, and the mother of his son, David. Ah, but don't forget that this is a brand new timeline; those old rules don't apply. So just who is she, apart from the daughter of Admiral Marcus (Weller), the head of Starfleet? You're just going to have to watch the film to find out.
Star Trek Into Darkness is everything you want from a Star Trek film, and more. Abrams knows how to do the action blockbuster (and yes, he knows how to do the lens flair; and, you'll be pleased to know, there's plenty here) while giving his characters room to breathe and the whole film a heart. All the characters get plenty to do, but as always, the core of Star Trek is Kirk and Spock. Pine and Quinto really, really nail their characters here. There are couple of close-ups where Pine is the spitting image of a young William Shatner. And Quinto has clearly been listening to hours and hours of Leonard Nimoy recordings to get the voice as spot on as he has. But it's the relationship between these two that is the crux of this film, as it always has been in Classic Trek. They are the yin and yang; one is the brain, the other is the heart. And one can't function without the other. As much as they fight and bicker, these two men truly love each other. And need each other.
Abrams has hinted that this may be his final Trek in the director's chair (it seems he has another space-based franchise to go and rescue). If it is, then he's left it in good shape. Star Trek Into Darkness is a splendid second outing for the rejuvenated crew of the starship Enterprise. It's got more action and drama than you can poke a Tribble at, more laughs than a Vulcan comedy club and more heart than a room full of Time Lords. It's an epic summer blockbuster that's short on exposition and long on just having a bloody good time. Make it so.