To boldly borrow where the last film also went for inspiration (spoiler notice)
'Star Trek Into Darkness' is probably the best film name I've heard in a while. Just purely from a word-appreciation viewpoint: wow. What a find. It's instantly clear this is a sequel, yet there's also a meaning beyond simply saying something like 'Superman Returns'. Never before has the actual Trek of Star Trek been used so convincingly (if used at all), and still poetically, since Darkness is not a physical place to journey towards, but a metaphor. So, what darkness is this that we're going to be venturing into?
Well, the darkness of yet another fantasy film of questionable science fiction fiber, that does its best (it's very best) to emulate everything about the original Star Trek without actually hitting upon the core of what made it so good, so desirable. This is the exact same problem the original reboot in 2009 had, though that one had at least a sense of goofy, swashbuckling charm going for it. Now just look at that juxtaposition of words: 'original reboot'. What a brave new cinematic world we live in.
You can't, you absolutely can't, watch this film if you have any shred of appreciation for basic science and continuity. It starts with the madness of hiding the Enterprise – a delicate ship built in space to circumvent having to escape a planet's atmosphere (which is the reason our spacecrafts either look like rockets or are strapped to rockets) – at the bottom of an ocean. Right there is the promise: we aren't taking any of this seriously, so you don't have to either. The film ends with a foot chase and a good ol' bout of fisticuffs. There's my Star Trek.
And really, that's the point. Star Trek stood for something a little more high brow. It dealt with the dividing line between human morality and society's laws. It involved politics, and rarely did violence prove the solution to any of the numerous subtle dangers the crew got involved in. Of course the original Kirk engaged in some brawling, yes, but not to the detriment of these themes.
Okay, but this is a different thing. This is Star Trek in name only, and we just have to accept that this is a fantasy film with cartoon characters in which the science fiction, or even just the science, or even really just the fiction, makes no sense. I can get behind that. That's no problem. Even then the film isn't great.
I really like the first hour or so. It's different! It feels like science fiction film noir. There's a mysterious saboteur pulling the strings of high ranking Starfleet officials. It's a bit like the recent (fantastic) Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. A genuine sense of excitement! Of course, it doesn't last and the plot quickly devolves into a shooty, shouty mess of random characters being introduced, having secret identities and revealing their true identities to no dramatic effect whatsoever. And there are klingons, but they're completely irrelevant. At least there's less choking this time around. Wait, regrettably there is less choking this time around! We're stuck with punching here.
More words that have a meaning more warped than the engines that drive the Enterprise: Khan. KHAAAAAAAN! Benedict Cumberbatch, who is an excellent Holmes in the Sherlock BBC series, is really not at place playing Khan. He comes off as stiff and unconvincing. I'm not even going to compare him to Ricardo Montalbán, the original Khan, who played the character with natural arrogance and swagger. He had magnetic charm. You believed him to be a superior creature. Cumberbatch's Khan is just another vulcan, really. An emotionless, superpowered menace who might be physically imposing (a weird match for the actor's gaunt features), but emotionally makes no impression at all. He just can't seem to make it work, even when the movie pulls out the fantastic-but-quickly-becoming-a-cliché move of imprisoning Khan at the start. In the relationship between Khan and Kirk there are no sparks, not even a hint of bromance, something the film clearly seeks to set up.
And how about 'vengeance'? One of the latest Metal Gear games at least had the bad taste to spice up the term by creating the Frankenstein portmanteau 'revengeance'. Not so in Star Trek Into Darkness, where revenge is something most of the characters talk about and exact, but there's never a cause or emotion behind it that hits home. The motivations appear superficial plot contrivances. Khan is furious because he wants to get his crew back, but we as an audience don't even know that crew or why they're important. We just have to shut up and accept that they are.
Everyone is angry at everyone, but it adds no depth to their personality. That's because there is no depth to these characters. Any instance where it seems so is a facsimile; a borrowed moment from earlier Trek history, notably the 1982 classic The Wrath of Khan. There is the obligatory self-sacrifice in the radiation chamber. The screaming of Khan. The opposing ships. None of it has any impact, not by itself and not as a smart reference or homage. Star Trek Into Darkness is a warning headstone for leaning exclusively on pastiche for content.
It looks beautiful. It has all the trappings of a good sci-fi yarn. It has a spectacular name. But my, what a lame movie it actually is.