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updated: 5/16/2013 2:33 PM

Subpar 'Trek' sequel goes where we've all gone before

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  • Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) receives assistance from Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) in J.J. Abrams' reboot sequel "Star Trek Into Darkness."

      Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) receives assistance from Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) in J.J. Abrams' reboot sequel "Star Trek Into Darkness."

  • Renegade John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) makes trouble for the USS Enterprise in the reboot sequel "Star Trek Into Darkness."

      Renegade John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) makes trouble for the USS Enterprise in the reboot sequel "Star Trek Into Darkness."

  • Spock (Zachary Quinto), left, and Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) continue to clash in "Star Trek Into Darkness."

      Spock (Zachary Quinto), left, and Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) continue to clash in "Star Trek Into Darkness."

  • Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) face the pitfalls of romance as well as a new enemy in "Star Trek Into Darkness."

      Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) face the pitfalls of romance as well as a new enemy in "Star Trek Into Darkness."

  • Video: "Stories We Tell" trailer

  • Video: "Star Trek Into Darkness"

 
 

If all you require from a "Star Trek" movie are extensive special-effects-stuffed action sequences, clever insider references pandering to the fan base, and an emo Vulcan given to teary-eyed speeches and bouts of explosive rage, "Star Trek Into Darkness" could be your cup of Romulan ale.

Drink it, live longer and prosper.

But the promise of J.J. Abrams' bold 2009 "Star Trek" reboot goes largely unfulfilled in his sequel, a noisy, crashy, technically super-slick 3-D experience that, through the overuse of recycled dialogue, extremely familiar situations and ridiculous resurrections, goes where we've already gone before.

"Into Darkness" begins with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, again) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban, again) running from a group of 3-D spear-chucking natives on a planet about to be destroyed by a volcano.

Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto, again) has dropped into the volcano to detonate a device that will kill the eruption, thereby saving the indigenous people and, ironically, defying Star Fleet's prime directive not to get up into other planets' business.

It's a silly beginning, especially with the USS Enterprise lurking at the bottom of a local lagoon like the Flying Sub from Irwin Allen's 1960s TV series "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."

(And why is the Enterprise leadership doing all the dangerous grunt work? The TV series had to have the main stars do everything, no matter how unrealistic. What's Abrams' excuse?)

At least the needlessly ostentatious opening sequence sets up the Kirk/Spock relationship, with the captain trying to explain to his logical first-officer the relative benefits of ignoring protocol, rules and directives.

Eventually, the leader of Star Fleet, Admiral Marcus (Peter "RoboCop" Weller) dispatches Kirk and select members of his crew on a secret, unauthorized mission to assassinate an anti-Federation terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, whose imposing presence and commanding voice make him ideal villainous material in the "Star Trek" universe).

It's personal for Kirk, because Harrison's last attack killed his mentor and protector, Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Spock warns Kirk that becoming hit-men for the Federation would be morally wrong, and persuades the captain to spare Harrison and bring him back for justice.

What happens next is something of an oddity for a "Star Trek" movie. The main characters experience uncertainty, confusion, ambiguity as they struggle to understand what's really going on with Marcus and Harrison, both of whom seem to be hiding something.

What that is won't be revealed here, but it suffices to say that Abrams, Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof overdosed on Netflix reruns of "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" before writing the screenplay to "Into Darkness," a script that goes so far beyond referencing that it borders on plagiarism.

Pine's Kirk swells with macho bombast and subtlety suggests William Shatner's effusive acting style (The Washington Post once referred to it as "the school of seizure acting").

Quinto is such a dead ringer for Leonard Nimoy that we don't need to see the aging actor appear in a dopey cameo as "future Spock," a lazy, needless segment in which the older first officer reminds his younger self of his vow to not reveal the future -- right before he reveals the future.

Urban, used to maximum effectiveness as McCoy in "Star Trek," here becomes the equivalent of the grouchy old uncle who mutters metaphors and catchphrases. ("Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor not a torpedo technician!")

Likewise, Simon Pegg's Mr. Scott brandishes his Scottish brogue like a phaser while John Cho's nondescript Mr. Sulu fills in for the often-missing Kirk, and Anton Yelchin's Chekhov sputters his lines in an indecipherable Russian accent.

The super-svelte Zoe Saldana returns as the alluring Lt. Uhura, here proving herself to be a better action figure than her male counterparts.

The newcomer here is blonde and British Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), a science officer with a high-ranking daddy and a future job to perform, as fans of "Wrath of Khan" might remember.

"Into Darkness" vacillates between endearing and embarrassing while overdosing on grand spectacle at the expense of plot and character -- the exact opposite of what made the original TV series a cult favorite.

All this doesn't bode all that well for Abrams' next assignment: directing the next installment in the "Star Wars" franchise.

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