"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 May 30, 2016
The Tony-winning musical "Kinky Boots" - coming to the Marcus Center starting Tuesday night - is a bold, bright tale of family, acceptance and fabulousness. For actor J. Harrison Ghee, however, it's a story that goes beyond just the stage.
Published May 28, 2016
Thanks to a duo of Milwaukee dub reggae enthusiasts, dub music has found a very comfortable spot in the Milwaukee music scene - in particular at the Nomad World Pub, where, in less than a year's time, the two have helped turn Living Dub into a sensation.
Published May 26, 2016
Indeed, the "Saved by the Bell" child star and now Port Washington resident Dustin Diamond was taken back into custody yesterday afternoon by the Ozaukee County Sheriff's Office, detained on a "probation violation."
Published May 26, 2016
Get ready for an overload of adorable, as the Milwaukee County Zoo introduced its newest baby giraffe, named Zola - a word of African origin meaning "to love" - to the world.
Published May 26, 2016
Milwaukee Film announced that it will host the world premiere of "Milwaukee 53206," a documentary chronicling the lives of those who live in the 53206 zip code, which has the highest rate of incarceration for African American males in the country.
Published May 24, 2016
A UWM graduation video featuring new grads dancing around Milwaukee to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop The Feeling" has racked up a ton of views - one of which must've been JT himself, as he took to Twitter to congratulate the new graduates.
Published May 22, 2016
According to Greg Mclean, "The Darkness" comes from a true story passed along to him first-hand. Judging by the results, maybe someone was just recalling the plot of "Poltergeist" to him. Or an infinite number of scarier haunted house tales from before.
Published May 18, 2016
Milwaukee native Bay Dariz's plan was to become a star musician, then turn into a movie mogul. The stage star part didn't quite happen, but no bother; he's already jumped to movie producer status with his feature film debut "Welcome to Happiness."
Published May 18, 2016
Save for a visit from a street-corner preacher, a trip to the bus stop rarely qualifies as a religious experience. However, those taking the bus to or from the Cathedral Square stop on the corner of Wells and Jackson might sense a little extra spirit.
Published May 17, 2016
While it was called "a dialogue," Tuesday's hour-long conversation between State Rep. Dale Kooyenga and MTEA executive director Lauren Baker, hosted by Marquette University's Eckstein Hall, sure resembled a debate - an often politely testy one.