I have just a passing familiarity with the Star Trek franchise. I’ve seen only three Star Trek films in my life, and two of them were directed by JJ Abrams. So I can’t really discuss this film’s merits as a piece of the Star Trek universe. I have heard dissenting opinions on this matter from a few sources; one told me that it’s “a great Star Trek film and probably one of the best,” while another said it was “a bad Star Trek film and probably one of the worst.” So I have no idea, basically.
As a summer sci-fi/comedy/drama/blockbuster thing, though, it seems alright, which is actually kind of disappointing. It would be unfair to expect “Star Trek into Darkness,” a movie that cost almost two hundred million dollars to produce, to be a groundbreaking work. But I had hoped that it might shake up the formula of these enormously budgeted movie events a little bit. It doesn’t really do that at all. It ticks all of the boxes, and it does so with some conviction, but it is essentially a modern superhero blockbuster that seems to have a bunch of Star Trek references thrown into the mix.
It’s entertaining enough and has some nice visual effects, but it’s infatuated with the ideas of the plot twist and the big reveal to its own detriment. Characters have little time to really develop and an emotional foundation is tough to get a handle on. The film spends so much time jumping from one urgent plot device to the next that there is little solid footing to be found. The moments that stand out typically involve Zachary Quinto (as Spock), whose performance turns his character into something much more tangible, or Benedict Cumberbatch (as John Harrison), who has a lovely voice.
Most (maybe all?) of the action sequences involve some sort of timer counting down (a bomb, a door closing, some other miserable end), which is a tension-inducing trick that becomes exhausting pretty quickly. These sequences also mostly revolve around violence. I’m not necessarily opposed to violence in films, although I have heard that Star Trek was originally a franchise focused on adventure and exploration rather than a bunch of people gunning other people down. I don’t know if that evaluation of Star Trek is true, but in any case, it does not describe this movie, which is a bummer.
It’s still better than a lot of the other summer movies you’ll see this year, as well as a fair amount of the ones you’ve seen in the four years since Abrams’ first Star Trek outing. But that’s a low bar, and it doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from anything else out there.