"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 hasnâ€™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 sequelâ€™s phasers would be all set to stun. But somethingâ€™s off. Thereâ€™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. Thatâ€™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 Kirkâ€™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 Kirkâ€™s original orders were to carpet bomb Harrisonâ€™s location from a safe distance with some experimental missiles (drones were also apparently on the screenwritersâ€™ minds), Kirk instead decides to take the terrorist alive and bring him back for courtroom justice. Harrison then unveils Hollywoodâ€™s worst kept secret: Yup, heâ€™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 â€“ Damon Lindelof, the man behind "Prometheus" and much of "Lost," alongside Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman â€“ have the same care and consideration for storytelling that Khan has for his enemiesâ€™ skulls. Take the first act, where the movie focuses on Kirkâ€™s demotion down to first officer, only to put him back in the captainâ€™s chair maybe 15 minutes later. Itâ€™s treading water disguised as plot movement.
The filmâ€™s habit of continually tying itself into tedious knots only gets worse as the overly convoluted conspiracy takes center stage. Donâ€™t let your brainâ€™s strained attempts to comprehend the evil plot fool you: Itâ€™s dumber than a bag of space rocks. Any brainpower expended trying to piece it all together isnâ€™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 canâ€™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 donâ€™t bring back the franchiseâ€™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: Itâ€™s a rehash of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," minus the sci-fi classicâ€™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 wasnâ€™t sure which storyline to go with, so they went with both.
I should probably stop taking a crowbar to the story, though thereâ€™s plenty more â€“ like Alice Eveâ€™s new character whose only purpose is to be in her bra for one scene because itâ€™s a summer action movie, and they know where their money is coming from this weekend â€“ 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 doesnâ€™t have to explain the baffling plot developments, itâ€™s actually quite sharp and funny, and Michael Giacchinoâ€™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. Itâ€™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 characterâ€™s seemingly mindless motivations.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" is still an entertaining trip, just also one thatâ€™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 June 27, 2016
And now, a very important update concerning the newest member of the Aaron Rodgers-Olivia Munn family, Frankie - not to be confused with Chance, the couple's other dog, who is also very good at Instagram.
Published June 24, 2016
As OnMilwaukee's resident insufferable millennial, it is my job to look at the Summerfest lineup every year, scoff at all the bands and then resume snarkily Snapchatting a GIF-storm. However, there's still a lot worthy of your earholes this year.
Published June 21, 2016
Before the champagne had dried on the Cavaliers' celebration Sunday night, people already began looking for which sports fans were the saddest now that that city's losing streak was over. And wouldn't you know it, it's us. But really, Milwaukee is not the next Cleveland.
Published June 20, 2016
Inspired by an unexpected collaborator located several miles south, Postman's Plot - found on Wells Street and 2nd Street - now has an updated look with a plethora of new seating options and a mailbox to send letters to Milwaukee.
Published June 18, 2016
Businessman and star of CNBC's "The Profit" Marcus Lemonis has obviously gone places since his time at Marquette. But today, he's returned to the Cream City -- and he's apparently bringing some cameras with him.
Published June 13, 2016
The alt pop sister duo of Lily & Madeline have found an infectious combination of mesmerizing mellow music and potent, passionate lyrics. They'll bring that hypnotic mix to the Back Room at Colectivo Coffee on Prospect on Wednesday night.
Published June 13, 2016
According to a report from TMZ, rapper Lil Wayne's private jet from Milwaukee to California had to make an emergency landing today in Omaha, Neb., after the rapper suffered a seizure mid-flight.
Published June 13, 2016
Hearts and minds throughout the nation and the globe were with those who lost their lives and those who lost loved ones in Orlando. On Monday afternoon, City Hall joined in paying tribute and showing love, hanging a large pride flag from the building.
Published June 11, 2016
Ciclovia MKE will take to the streets for the first time this year on Sunday, June 12, shutting down several blocks for an afternoon of open streets, car-free commuting and community building through arts, activities and staying active.
Published June 8, 2016
Even though Milwaukee brands like Boy Blue or Mrs. Howe's are no longer adorning our streets or our grocery store shelves, you might start seeing them around town a little more often. Or at least their classic logos, thanks to Bygone Brand's T-shirts.