[Beware, there be spoilers here.]
It’s as bad as you’ve heard:
The plot goes from zero to sixty and ends up nowhere.
John Harrison is more threat than villain.
Uhura isn’t so much a character as she is Spock’s Girlfriend.
Sulu, Chekov – are they even in this movie?
Guns! Blasts! Crashes! Surprises! Wait, why are we still exclaiming! This isn’t even that exciting, it’s mostly just CGI!
I loved it anyway. If you can ignore the saving-earth-from-certain-destruction rabbit trail, it’s not so bad a movie. See, “Into Darkness” is essentially a coming-of-age story about Kirk, with a little bromance between him and Spock thrown in. Kirk has to prove he’s responsible enough to captain the Enterprise, and Spock has to prove he’s human enough to be a good pal. Spoiler alert: both goals are achieved, and well. There’s a whole lot of character developed all around.
Unfortunately, the film’s creators weren’t satisfied with just making a bildungsroman in space. They had to puff it up into an epic summer blockbuster, and that’s where the movie suffers.
The heart of Star Trek has never been space shootouts and special effects; about fighting, disaster, or destruction. It is instead a treatise on humanity at its imagined best, exploring new worlds and spreading peace and all that. As a whole, the franchise is remarkably hopeful. It is a saga of exploration, diplomacy, and pseudo-utopia – of seeking light, not falling into darkness. So those moments of “Look at us shooting at Klingons! More shooting! Wow! Now look at the Enterprise getting blasted! Again! Now on fire! Now its crewmen dying! Now crashing to Earth!”? Those felt forced, misplaced. There was too much action for the sake of action.
Hollywood is saturated with grim dystopias and generic space adventures. We need Star Trek boldly going where none of those other summer blockbusters dare to. We need a vision of a better future. That’s sci-fi at its best, and that’s Trek at its best.
My only other complaint was the heavy-handedness with which the movie doled out moments so obviously for the Trekkies. Instead of honoring the source material, it sometimes felt derivative. Having Original Spock show up again? It wasn’t a fun surprise anymore; it just felt like cheating. The whole recreation of the contamination death scene? Kinda sweet… but also kinda cheap.
But for all that, I loved this movie. I came, I saw, I geeked out. The things it got right were so, so right. The casting is still impeccable, the repartee between characters delightful. And I hope we see John Harrison again, because he may not have had much to do in this film, but Khan knows there can never be enough Benedict Cumberbatch.
I will forgive “Into Darkness” its spectacle just as I forgive the original series its kitsch and “Voyager” its lameness (because, like, #janewayrulez and #girlpower!). I will forgive and embrace it, and rewatch it an embarrassing number of times.
And I look forward to the next installment, as we get into the familiar territory of, well, where no one has gone before. I’m very hopeful.
It’s Star Trek; that’s the point.