The nervy reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise by action impresario J.J. Abrams can be summed up, quite simply, as a triumph of casting. From the moment Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana showed up in Abrams’s “Star Trek” four years ago, it was clear that he had found exactly the right actors to portray captain James Kirk, first officer Spock and communications officer Uhura in their years as Star Fleet rookies. Bright, bold, playful and ingenious, Abrams’s prequel to the classic 1960s television show (and subsequent film series) possessed equal amounts of respect and cheek. But mostly it boasted an ensemble of superb young actors who, with every raised eyebrow and vocal inflection, inhabited their characters with uncanny ease and seamless physical mimicry.
With “Star Trek Into Darkness,” Abrams proves that he’s still got the golden touch. The USS Enterprise crew is back — including ship doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), chief engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho). But the casting coup here is Benedict Cumberbatch, who exudes steely resolve and silken savagery as a villain on the cusp of becoming a legendary nemesis. Familiar to fans of another reboot — “Sherlock” — as well as tony historical productions such as “War Horse” and “Atonement,” here Cumberbatch claims a deserved place front and center in a big, brash popcorn movie. As gratifying as it is to watch Kirk, Spock and their colleagues develop the camaraderie that would so optimistically anticipate a multicultural world, “Star Trek Into Darkness” derives its ballast, and most of its menacing pleasure, from Cumberbatch, who takes tantalizing ownership of a role with near-limitless future prospects for evil mayhem.