2009 version of STAR TREK, featuring hot young actors in the iconic roles previously essayed by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, etc., quickly became the highest-grossing TREK movie of all time, even with box office adjusted for inflation (believe it or not, the maligned STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE is second on the list). So of course Paramount commissioned a sequel and rehired the main cast, Abrams, and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, along with Damon Lindelof, who worked with Abrams on LOST.
STAR TREK 2009, a brash shoot-’em-up that barely resembled STAR TREK (it’s no surprise Disney tabbed Abrams to direct its first STAR WARS movie), managed to be a fun space opera, due mostly to its dedicated cast and a reverence for its ancestor. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, on the other hand, is neither fun nor operatic, and kicks the original series right in the teeth by bringing back one of its most famous villains without understanding what it is about him that makes him such a beloved figure in TREK lore.
I’m so angry with this movie, I can barely write about it. So this will be short. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (whatever that means) is an abomination beginning with the absurd opening sequence (the Enterprise flies underwater?) to the embarrassing aping of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN’s emotional climax and the remarkable news that Dr. McCoy has created a cure for death that earned him an unwanted five-year mission into outer space. The plot makes zero sense, insults both its iconic characters (why did the writers turn Uhura into a nagging girlfriend?) and the loyal audience, and presents no new ideas in, literally, a universe full of them.
In spite of the awful script and inept direction (Abrams lens-flares the shit out of this movie), the cast mostly comes off looking good. If I learned Karl Urban, who plays McCoy, was the illegitimate son of DeForest Kelley, I’d believe it. Quinto’s Spock is grossly out of character, but the actor maintains some dignity. Pine is let down by a script that rehashes James Kirk’s character arc from STAR TREK. Benedict Cumberbatch is front and center in one of the film’s worst moments — when he reveals his name is Khan — which Abrams holds for a beat as if it’s Moses delivering the Commandments, just to cut to Kirk not giving a shit because he doesn’t know who Khan is. Sure, we do, but Abrams is messing with the sanctity of the narrative just to get a rise out the audience (to whom the revelation is no big shakes anyway).
The plot basically has Kirk trying to avenge the murder of his mentor, Christopher Pike (Greenwood, again turning in good work as the character), by chasing Khan to the Klingon homeworld (why is Khan there? Who knows?) and discovering a plot by renegade right-wing Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to start an interplanetary war because...ah, because J.J. Abrams, that’s why. It’s the only explanation that makes any sense.
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS has no big ideas, no hope, no originality, and no joy. It does have nice sets and colorful costumes. It has good actors who have squeezed into their characters quite snugly (though I wish Simon Pegg’s Scotty were less of a buffoon). It also signifies no future for this franchise, not so long as Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof are involved.