The second film in this rebooted Star Trek universe is a rapid assault on both the mind and the senses, but there's no real spark to be found
It's Trek, Jim, but not as we would really like to know it. JJ Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness - hereafter Into Darkness - boldly goes where so many other films in the famous series, and beyond, have gone before. When Abrams is not pandering to the zeitgeist with an extremely unsubtle post-9/11 scenario, he's playing to the fans; when he's not trying to remake The Dark Knight, he's soullessly and unimaginably plagiarising the past. The movie should really be called No Spark Trek; good performances and extremely well-paced directing can't compensate for a distinct lack of heart.
At its essence, Into Darkness is an all-too-familiar parable for our times, a simple story of both the USS Enterprise crew and Starfleet facing, and trying to stop, an extremely dangerous rebel from within their ranks, Benedict Cumberbatch's John Harrison. The irony being that if Harrison himself is indeed a nod to a famous sea-voyaging pioneer, there's nothing pioneering at all about either his character (he's essentially a generic terrorist) or Into Darkness itself. It's not much more than a collection of recycled moments from Trek lore, mixed in with some admittedly sharp quickfire dialogue, well used 3-D, too-clever references and, Abrams being Abrams, lens flares. One can at least be grateful that the Enterprise itself feels cinematic in the movie.
To be frank, the whole idea of rebooting Star Trek, especially with so many nods to the original universe, was a problematic one to begin with. The chemistry between the new crew has never been in doubt - Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban have truly nailed Kirk, Spock and Bones, respectively, and Simon Pegg's Scotty is a hoot - but you never truly feel that any of the "original seven" are in danger, because you know they must prosper, if not necessarily live long, for Paramount's cash co... ahem, flagship series, to exist. Even Cumberbatch's performance suffers when one realises his character is little more than a pale imitation of better villains - like Tom Hardy in Star Trek: Nemesis, he's an excellent actor shoehorned into an unremarkable role. Peter Weller, Robocop himself, is far more intimidating as Fleet Admiral Marcus.
JJ Abrams has built a successful career out of elevating the familiar in his own unique fashion - see his first Star Trek movie - but he can't elevate anything here, however earnestly he tries. After the surprising humanity and emotional honesty of Super 8, Into Darkness can only be seen as a major step backwards. Like Iron Man 3, it's a serviceable but empty summer spectacle.