"Star Trek Into Darkness" is that all-too-often rare sci-fi movie that has spectacular special effects, a screenplay with an actual storyline, character development and surprise plot turns.

J. J. Abrams ("Star Trek," 2009; TV's "Aliens," "Lost"), directs a screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman ("Transformers," 2007, 2009; "Star Trek," 2009) and Damon Lindelof ("World War Z," "Prometheus," "Cowboys & Aliens," TV's "Lost") that mixes action set pieces and character-driven scenes.

The "Star Trek" machine keeps churning 'em out to a seemingly never-satiated movie, TV and videogame audience.

The characters were created by Gene Roddenberry for the original 67-episode TV series, 1966 - '69. There have been many permutations of "Star Trek," including the 1979 big-screen movie and its six-plus sequels, including "Star Trek: Nemesis," 2002, which lived up to its title and nearly doomed the big-screen franchise.

There have been a dizzying number of TV series, including: "Star Trek: The Next Generation," 1987 - '94; "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," 1993 - '99; "Star Trek: Voyager," 1995 - '01; "Star Trek: Hidden Frontier," 2000; "Star Trek: Enterprise," 2001 - '05; "Star Trek: Genesis," 2012, and "Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II," 2004 - '13.

Here, Kirk is tasked to capture the fiendish Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock Holmes in the 2010 BBC series), who has blown up a Star Fleet facility in San Francisco.

The "Star Trek" reboot, beginning in 2009, had deft casting and the new release continues that. Chris Pine as Captain James Kirk (the William Shartner role in the original TV series) and Zachary Quinto as Spock (the Leonard Nimoy role) are superb.

Pine portrays an everyman quality, boyish charm, intelligence and bull-headed determination. Quinto, in makeup, has an uncanny resemblance to the Spock of Leonard Nimoy. Cumberbatch is an extraordinarily-nuanced actor and plays a nefarious villain with wonderful subtlety.

Secondary roles are also well-cast and well-acted, including Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (Bones), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Bruce Greenwood (Pike), Peter Weller (Marcus) and Alice Eve (Carol).

The Imax 3D version reviewed is worth the higher ticket price if you're a special effects fan. The space-chases, battles, fights and conflict integrate the special effects and 3D into the storyline and heighten the excitement.

Scenes between the main characters are memorable. Abrams frames many of the dialogue scenes in close-ups and lets the camera linger and scenes breathe. You get a real feeling for Kirk and Spock, especially. The buddy-flick aspect of the film works. The dialogue is frequently humorous.

"Star Trek 3" has been announced. So, Trekkies, expect "the voyages of the Starship Enterprise" to continue.

"Star Trek Into Darkness," MPAA PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13 ) for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence; Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi; Run time: 2 hours, 12 mins.; Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Star Trek Into Darkness" was filmed at Paramount Studios, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Crystal Cathedral in California.

Unreel, May 31:

"After Earth," PG-13: Will Smith and his son Jaden star as Cypher and Kitai Rage, respectively, who crash-land on earth, 1,000 years after it's been abandoned. M. Night Shyamalan directs for the first time a screenplay that he didn't write in the sci-fi action film.

"Now You See Me," PG-13: A team of illusionists rob banks and give the money away during their shows. Morgan Freeman, Isla Fisher, Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Michael Caine star. Louis Leterrier ("Clash of the Titans," "The Incredible Hulk," "The Transporter") directs the crime-thriller.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, lehighvalleypress. com; the Times-News web site, tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxe