At its warp core, the story for Star Trek Into Darkness is a good one, drawing bits and pieces from deep inside Star Trek history and grafting them onto new ideas. In the right hands, this core could easily have become a terrific, exciting movie. It didn’t. But perhaps there’s enough still here that Trekkies and Trekkers alike will leave the theater in ecstasy.
In this sequel to 2009’s reboot (and 12th Star Trek movie overall), Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew—Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and newcomer Carol (Alice Eve)—have a new mission. A dangerous terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch) has attacked a data facility on Earth, and the Enterprise is ordered to find him and shoot him down. But after debating with Spock, Kirk decides to capture him instead. This leads to all kinds of trouble.
While the supporting cast is immensely satisfying, capturing the essence of the original characters, a major problem is Pine—his blue-eyed pretty-boy rebel is designed mainly for looks. Filmmakers could learn a lesson from the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, not to mention William Shatner as the original Kirk: An actor with personality is worth all the dazzling blue eyes in the world.
Indeed, Star Trek Into Darkness is more business than artful execution. Director J.J. Abrams just isn’t a natural-born storyteller; he’s all high notes and no rhythm. For example, Abrams’ idea of a “signature style” is lens flares. Lots of them. Everywhere. All the time. They were once considered mistakes in movies, until filmmakers in the 1960s decided to leave them in for effect. But in 2013, in 3D, they’re like hovering flies that you want to swat away from the movie.
Moreover, Abrams is a camera-shaker. Rather than staging and suggesting chaos through clear camerawork, his shots are actually just chaotic (made worse in 3D). Abrams is currently a hot A-list director, but his techniques are a far cry from the depth and personality exhibited by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick or Akira Kurosawa in their choices of shots. For Abrams, a lens flare is just a lens flare.
Fueled on empty style, the movie charges ahead at all the wrong speeds, hitting too many high-pitched points, the hull constantly threatening to cave in under wobbly logic. And it’s all kept in flight far too long. Finally, this Star Trek just fades “into darkness”—whatever that means.