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His name is Khan, he says. And with that one admission, Star Trek Into Darkness yokes itself to the post 9/11 terrorism-themed movies that have rolled off the Hollywood assembly line in the years since terrorist attacks shook America and the world.

For good measure, there is the by-now mandatory sequence of terror dropping out of the sky on a port-side American city, the computer-aided reduction of skyscrapers to rubble and the sight of screaming individuals running hither and tither.

Until the climactic showdown between good and evil, Star Trek Into Darkness is as ambiguous as a franchise entry can be. (The 132-minute movie opens in India on 10 May, a week ahead of its US release.) Khan, played by alt pin-up Benedict Cumberbatch from the acclaimed British television series Sherlock, has a British accent and a face as smooth as a baby’s bottom. He first kills and destroys, then saves lives and gives a speech about the injustice suffered by his race, and then kills again. He could be a wronged antagonist, like the replicant from Blade Runner, but his inevitable unmasking as an evil nutcase is a huge letdown in an otherwise satisfying sequel to one of the most successful reboots of a hallowed franchise.

By the time JJ Abrams took control of Star Trek in 2009, the television series and the chunk of increasingly cheesy spin-off movies were a distant memory for most viewers. Abrams brought the right mix of reverence towards and distance from the original. The director of the popular television series Lost didn’t let the need to deliver a spectacle of destruction and redemption come in the way of shading the characters who would be pushing the buttons and yanking the levers. The battle was won by the astute casting, and all of the actors are back in the sequel—Chris Pine as the maverick Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto as the half-Vulcan, half-human Spock, Zoe Saldana as communications officer Uhura, Karl Urban as the perennially sceptical doctor Bones, Simon Pegg as engineering genius Scotty and John Cho and Anton Yelchin as crew members Sulu and Chekov respectively. The multi-cultural cast adds Alice Eve as a weapons expert whose father has a bone to pick with Khan.

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A still from the film

Apart from its nicely written characters and smart, conversational dialogue, the movie’s strength is Scott Chambliss’s chic, sleek, production design. Into Darkness is suffused with the kind of gadgetry that will probably inspire inventions by Google and Apple—seatbelts that taper onto the body like vines, floating hospital beds. The evocative sets and relentless action combine to provide a heady adventure for the most part, but the prolonged crash-bang climax and the attempt to provide emotional heft (Spock weeps!) indicate that nobody wants to take too many chances this time round. The closing sequences hint at a Pirates of the Caribbean-style adventure into strange worlds, which hopefully won’t be populated by the likes of Khan, and won’t involve such statements as “If I’m not in charge, an entire way of life will be decimated."

Star Trek Into Darkness releases in theatres on Friday.

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