The film worked, and it worked really really well. Yes, hard core fans (of which it can be said, I am one...) had our nit-picky issues with the film, but overall most "trekkers" accepted that this was something NEW, and as such would be very different from everything that came before. And it worked, it showed us characters and concepts we thought we knew by heart, in a brand new context and gave Star Trek, a totally new story arc.
It also gave Abrams and his team the ultimate come back to the criticisms of uber-nerds who were horrified at the changes. "It's a whole new timeline, everything you are complaining about never happened in this universe, so get over it!"
Like most Star Trek fans, I embraced it, and was eager to see where JJ Abrams would take us next. SPOILER WARNING- The following review will contain key plot points from the new movie, so if you haven't seen it and don't want to know what happens, don't read any further. Otherwise read on....
Star Trek Into Darkness, is a really good sci-fi action movie. It is (mostly) well acted, well directed and visually stunning. I know you are hearing the "but...." that is about to come, so before we go there, let me tell you what I really liked about this movie.
Bruce Greenwood brings a fatherly presence as Admiral Christopher Pike and as the bad guy, "John Harrison" Benedict Cumberbatch delivers the right balance of fire, ice and mayhem. Where you never really believed Eric Bana's Romulan villain in the last movie was a serious threat to Kirk & Co. "Harrison" (yes I know.. I keep putting his name quotes, we'll get to that in a minute...) is at the outset, a believable baddie.
So again, Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun, entertaining, well made Science Fiction Action movie. But... and here comes the "but". This movie simply does not work as a Star Trek film, even as a JJ Abrams "universe" Star Trek film . Abrams himself said he didn't make a movie for Star Trek fans, but rather for movie fans, and in that goal he has been very successful, but as a Star Trek story, the movie falls flat. The most generous praise I can muster in this regard is, Into Darkness is to Stark Trek what "Quantum of Solace" was to James Bond. A well made action movie that when taken in the context of its own cannon, makes absolutely no sense.
The script suffers from a number of flaws, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, and Karl Uban as Sulu, Checkov and "Bones" McCoy, all try to make the best of what they are given. Yet they can't seem to make it work in this film. Urban particularly struggles to make his McCoy more than just crotchety, but never quite gets there.
Then there are the "Easter eggs". A Hollywood phrase meaning small plot points or references hidden in the film to be discovered along the way. Inside Jokes if you will, planted there for Star Trek fans to find, that the average non-trekker wouldn't get. These, while amusing for the most part, come across as more post-it notes stuck on the movie that say "Look! See! It's a Star Trek reference! " The biggest egg of course, is the fact that "John Harrison" is in fact Khan. Yes, as in "Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan ". The problem with this, (well, one of the problems, there are several...) is while Cumberbatch is entirely believable as an ex-star fleet special ops type hell-bent on revenge, he just is not convincing as Khan.
Or, you do as was done with Doctor Who, you totally redesign the look, the feel, the sound, but stay completely true to everything that came before. The problem with Star Trek Into Darkness, is JJ Abrams is trying to have it both ways.
The Easter eggs don't work. They come across as a forced rehash of Star Trek II. You can't have all the key characters be entirely recognizable as their original namesakes, and then pull out a villain we all know very very well, and completely re-image him.
You can't redo the story from the best of the original cast films and expect it to work for Trek fans in this new context. It feels fake, like the production team sat down and tried to think of things they could just throw in that would keep the Trekkers happy, while making a big budget sci-fi action movie that would appeal to the average movie-goer.
Reversing the plot point of having Kirk "die" from radiation in the engine room instead of Spock was powerfully acted and an emotional moment in the movie. But in the context of the story, it was rendered silly when it turns out all they need to do bring Kirk back from the dead is inject some of Khan's blood into him. In his cameo as "Spock Prime", (another easter egg that felt forced) Leonard Nimoy's Spock tells his younger self that defeating Kahn for him and his shipmates came at great cost. But in this film, while a visual roller coaster, it all felt just too... easy.
The musical score for the film by Michael Giacchino, continues the themes from the previous movie and works very well and at the end, incorporates the famous opening bars of Alexander Courage's original theme. The costumes look great, aside from the ridiculous dress gray starfleet uniforms with the silly over-sized caps. The Enterprise still looks like the Enterprise, and we get to see the Klingons in this movie, forehead ridges and all.
So what's my verdict? I really enjoyed the movie. It's a fun scifi roller coaster ride and certainly worth going to see in the theatre and in 3D. Yet what is clear from this movie, is JJ Abrams needs to make a choice on which direction he wants to take Star Trek, because trying to go both forwards and backwards at the same time just leaves you stuck.
Star Wars fans should take note. JJ Abrams is set to take on that reboot next.