"Star Trek Into Darkness" has all of the components to be an awesome summer movie spectacular. It has J.J. Abrams, the energetic blockbuster director who revived the franchise back in 2009 and had one of the best summer movies just two years ago with "Super 8." The spirited cast hasn’t lost any of its fun liveliness since the first installment, and the special effects-driven action is still as breathtakingly intense as it is breathtakingly gorgeous.
With all of that in place, it would seem the sequel’s phasers would be all set to stun. But something’s off. There’s a sequence where the starship Enterprise is flying at warp speed when a big, clunky-looking vessel comes up from behind and nudges it off its exhilarating track. That’s pretty much "Star Trek Into Darkness" in a nutshell, except replace the big, clumsy vessel with a big, clumsy story.
Captain, I detect spoilers throughout the rest of this review.
After breaking the Prime Directive on a fun, frenzied and emotionally full-gear opening mission, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) arrive back home to demotions. Their punishments are short-lived, however, as a Starfleet agent-turned-terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) attacks his former organization, killing Kirk’s captain and fatherly mentor (Bruce Greenwood) in the process.
The attacks leave Kirk and the rest of Starfleet hungry for revenge. They track Harrison to a planet deep inside Klingon territory, causing the head of Starfleet ("RoboCop" star and Stevens Point native Peter Weller) to send Kirk and company off to bring Harrison to brutal justice. However, hastily barging into Klingon territory would almost certainly ignite a war between the two tense intergalactic rivals. If this sounds vaguely similar to 9/11 and the War in Iraq, the pre-end credit dedication to post-9/11 war veterans would seem to confirm that the bizarre allegory is no accident.
While Kirk’s original orders were to carpet bomb Harrison’s location from a safe distance with some experimental missiles (drones were also apparently on the screenwriters’ minds), Kirk instead decides to take the terrorist alive and bring him back for courtroom justice. Harrison then unveils Hollywood’s worst kept secret: Yup, he’s actually Khan, a 300-year-old super soldier with a bone to pick with Starfleet. A web of backstabbings, mind games and bad decisions begins to unfold.
Unfortunately, the trio of writers – Damon Lindelof, the man behind "Prometheus" and much of "Lost," alongside Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman – have the same care and consideration for storytelling that Khan has for his enemies’ skulls. Take the first act, where the movie focuses on Kirk’s demotion down to first officer, only to put him back in the captain’s chair maybe 15 minutes later. It’s treading water disguised as plot movement.
The film’s habit of continually tying itself into tedious knots only gets worse as the overly convoluted conspiracy takes center stage. Don’t let your brain’s strained attempts to comprehend the evil plot fool you: It’s dumber than a bag of space rocks. Any brainpower expended trying to piece it all together isn’t because "Star Trek Into Darkness" is outsmarting the audience but because the mind is foolishly attempting to make up for its gaps in logic (the stuff with the missiles and their secret cargo? Nonsense), muddled character motivations and the fact that none of its components quite gel into one coherent, compelling whole.
Even with all of the epic space battles and Enterprise crew members frantically running around everywhere, the movie can’t help but sag under the weight of its excessively complicated plot machinations.
In the end, all that conspiracy malarkey ends up useless because Khan is in this picture. Anyone with a passing interest in "Star Trek" knows you don’t bring back the franchise’s signature villain just have him play second fiddle to some random Starfleet war shenanigans. So the movie just becomes a predictable waiting game for the hyper-articulate Khan (seriously, Cumberbatch devours every syllable) to take over.
When he does in the last act, the film reveals its final form: It’s a rehash of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," minus the sci-fi classic’s originality and conviction. Call it fan bait. Call it merely a shadow of its predecessor. All would be correct, but I prefer half-committed. The uneasy fit between the Starfleet drama and Khan makes it feel like the movie wasn’t sure which storyline to go with, so they went with both.
I should probably stop taking a crowbar to the story, though there’s plenty more – like Alice Eve’s new character whose only purpose is to be in her bra for one scene because it’s a summer action movie, and they know where their money is coming from this weekend – that deserves a firm verbal smack.
As I said early on, there are a lot of things I like about "Star Trek Into Darkness." Chris Pine makes for a charming Kirk, Quinto brings a lot of humor and complexity to Spock and the always entertaining Simon Pegg makes the most out of his expanded role as Scotty the engineer. When the script doesn’t have to explain the baffling plot developments, it’s actually quite sharp and funny, and Michael Giacchino’s score is still suitably grand and epic.
There are some spectacular action sequences too, including a breathless, spaceship-free trip through a debris field and a scene involving a freefalling Enterprise that sends the crew running and sliding up the walls (been watching "Inception" a bit, Mr. Abrams?). Even the 3-D is above average. It’s just too bad during many of these moments, instead of marveling at the spectacle of it all, I was still stuck a few scenes back, trying to untangle a messy plot point or figure out a character’s seemingly mindless motivations.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" is still an entertaining trip, just also one that’s, in the words of our pointy-eared friend, highly illogical.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Dec. 6, 2013
For about its first hour, I was fairly on board the new Rust Belt drama "Out of the Furnace." But then I realized where the movie was going. The path - one of cliché and mildly ridiculous revenge thriller pulp - became clear and obvious, and I couldn't have wanted it to stop more. But it didn't. Now, I'm left with a movie that's by no means bad but disappointing, a passable waste of exceptional potential.
Published Dec. 4, 2013
For the second year in a row, the crew down at The Second City in Chicago is coming up to Milwaukee for the holidays to present a holiday comedy special, this time called "The Second City's Nut-Cracking Holiday Revue." OnMilwaukee caught up with one of the stars, Megan Hovde, to ask about the holiday revue, being a part of The Second City and why "The Golden Girls" is one of her comedy icons.
Published Dec. 3, 2013
Stars Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage are taking their hit show, "Mythbusters," on the road, and tomorrow night, their "Behind the Myths" tour arrives at the Milwaukee Theater. OnMilwaukee got a chance to talk to Hyneman and ask him about the show's most memorable myths.
Published Dec. 2, 2013
The sun carries almost no heat or warmth. A sharp face-tingling chill greets you as turn every corner on the street. There's not even any wonderful white snow on the ground to make the weather seem any more pleasant. Nope, it's just cold. It's hard to think of a better, more fitting time for Sheryl Crow, the singer-songwriter behind warm, summery hits like "Soak Up the Sun" and "All I Wanna Do," to come to town.
Published Nov. 29, 2013
For those with that built-in affection for the film and the sweet, innocent days of times long gone past, "White Christmas" might be perfect. For me, though, the show - which opened Tuesday night at the Marcus Center - was a whole lot of holly-drenched hokum, as fresh as a Christmas Day snow in the dregs of March.
Published Nov. 28, 2013
"Philomena" may be modest, but that modesty is surprisingly striking and rewarding. After my original screening, I found myself having a hard time putting the movie down in my head. I had to see it a second time, and that second look confirmed my lingering suspicions: It's a damn fine movie.
Published Nov. 27, 2013
Most of the pre-movie Disney or Pixar shorts serve as a nice, tasty appetizer before the main course, but "Get a Horse!" - Mickey Mouse's first theatrical animated short since 1995's nightmare-inducing, childhood-ruining "Runaway Brain" - seems perfect and almost integral for "Frozen." It delightfully sets the stage for what the feature presentation is about to do: take Disney's old traditions and bring them to fresh, blissful new life.
Published Nov. 27, 2013
Christopher Donahue isn't what you'd expect from an actor playing Ebenezer Scrooge, one of the famous grumps of stage, screen and literature. He's gracious, soft-spoken and a bit self-depreciating. The only Scroogish thing about him is his fully-grown beard, a mutton chops/mustache combination technically called "a hulihee" (he looked it up).
Published Nov. 25, 2013
When most movie fans hear the phrase "found footage," they normally cringe in fear. It's a gimmick now down to death in Hollywood. The good ones are hard to find; the bad ones are far too easy to find. That's not what the Found Footage Festival, returning to Milwaukee Friday night at the Turner Hall Ballroom, is about at all. Their collection of actual found VHS tapes is bad alright, but the best, most hilarious kind of bad.
Published Nov. 22, 2013
"Delivery Man," the new comedy starring Vince Vaughn, better at being sweet than being funny. Then again, it's hard for a movie to effectively tug at the heartstrings when its own heart clearly isn't in it.