J.J. Abrams got the chance to reboot the original Star Trek back in 2009, bringing to it a youthful cast, an action movie sensibility, and lots of lens flare. The film didn't sit well with all fans, but many people embraced Abrams' flashy vision. Nothing succeeds in Hollywood like success, and the new crew of the Starship Enterprise returned in 2013 with Star Trek Into Darkness.
I like the acting. I like the visuals. And I’d like it if Abrams and company could come up with an original idea.
Onward, then, into darkness.
James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), at the helm of the Enterprise, violates the prime directive in order to save Mr. Spock's (Zachary Quinto) life. Certainly, we have consistency of character here. William Shatner's Kirk violated the prime directive so many times I always assumed that reels of missing scenes existed in which he calls up and says, "execute Starfleet General Order #9838," after which someone takes the ship copy of the prime directive out of the glove compartment, rolls down a window, and tosses it into space. But in this movie, it's kind of a big deal, and so Kirk gets knocked back down to second-in-command on someone else's ship.
No sooner does this happen than a mysterious terrorist attacks Starfleet's archives in London. This, of course, is just the first step of a bigger plot-- though it will take the re-envisioned Enterprise crew to figure out what, and why, so they can set things right.
The actors do an excellent job on these characters. Rather than slavishly imitate the original performers, they bring new interpretations, recognizable but not the same. One exception would be Zoe Saldana as Uhura. The writing and acting create an entirely new character, probably due to the fact that Uhura never had a defined character in the first place, and Trek relied on Nichelle Nichols to give her consistency and a sense of depth. Benedict Cumberbatch, meanwhile, invests the film's adversary with a credible sense of menace and arrogance.
Since we're watching a summer blockbuster in 2013 and not a low-budget TV series in 1966, we have impressive visuals and styling. Everything from the dress uniforms to the cities of the future look great. Those cities aren't generic futuristic, either; they've been styled on their present-day models. The space shots have been designed for 3-D, and crammed with detail and physically problematic maneuvers. The alien extras, once again, have been drawn from scratch. Save for the Vulcans, a few Klingons, and a couple of possible Caitians played by the Cockrell twins, the background species bear no resemblance to anything we've seen before or will likely see again.
It's the story that's a bit of a con.
Basically, we get two things. Firstly, we have a Generic American Action Movie, where the heroes turn against the system to reinforce the true values of the system. This forces a series of last-minute rescues, people running, lens flare, big explosions, spectacular crashes, hyperdriven music, surprise reveals, friendships triumphant, and personal vendettas. That vendetta element forces Spock to act totally out of character, so he can chase down a villain like Popeye Doyle in The French Connection. And, of course, no blockbuster would be complete without a gratuitous shot of an underdressed actress, in this case, Alice Eve as Carol Marcus. I'd overlook this, but the shot makes absolutely no sense in context, and appears only so the image would exist for the trailer. Chris Pine might as well have held up a sign saying, Gratuitous Woman in Underwear Shot. Fans actually got something like an apology from one of the writers, which tells you, in a world inundated with commercial sex and nudity, just how insultingly forced a piece of fan service it is.
Secondly, we have thefts from that most influential of Trek films, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
The film not only takes its villain from that film, it loots its third act as a tribute that will elicit eyerolls as often as it does intended reactions. Instead of Spock dying and resurrecting and Kirk yelling, Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan, Kirk dies and resurrects and Spock yells Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan, before involving himself in the aforementioned foot-chase sequence.
As a bonus, we have original Spock (Leonard Nimoy, doing a fair job despite the fact that he literally phones the part in) describing Khan as the most dangerous adversary the original timeline Enterprise ever faced. Really? Why does pop culture have to elevate and exaggerate its most popular characters in their own worlds? Khan worked dramatically because he was a very human villain, and a good match for Kirk. But the Enterprise's most dangerous adversary? More dangerous than the Doomsday Machine, Gary Mitchell, and multiple species with entire armies?
In the end, Star Trek Into Darkness does no harm to a franchise which historically has embarrassed itself as often as it has succeeded. It's a fun adventure ride.
But it ain't Star Trek, and I can only hope the ending indicates we might get a third movie with some original thinking applied to the original premise and, above all, a worthwhile speculative idea at its core.