Beware: There be spoilers here
As a movie, I give it 2.5 or 3 stars out of 4. It looked great and kept a driving pace as it moved from one fully-realized set piece to another. It had a plot that ran deeper than those of most Summer movies. The acting was good, and each character had at least a little something to do. Cumberbatch was deliciously, drippingly evil. SFX were perfect eye candy, and I imagine they looked even better in 3D/IMAX (I went cheap/2D).
As a Star Trek movie, I give it Screw You JJ Abrams stars out of 4. Here’s a partial list of reasons why:
Last chance to avoid spoilers
Let’s start with the big one. Why Khan? Why did the villain – and that villain in particular – have to be this established, iconic character that serves as the litmus test for all other “Trek” villains? I could have happily bought into the idea that he was just John Harrison, a genius-level Starfleet officer highly skilled in combat, perhaps recruited and trained as part of a shadow program designed to militarize the fleet. By making him Khan, the writers added absolutely nothing to the character – not even, really, motivation. I mean, we get it: he loves his “people.” But he could just as easily have felt that way if he weren’t Khan.
In other words: what was the Khan-ness about this character? The original Khan was effective in Star Trek II because we already knew him: we met him 15 years earlier in “Space Seed.” We also understood why he acted the way he did: Kirk had left him on a doomed planet on which Khan lost his beloved wife. So when we caught back up with Khan in the movie, he was well-established, and we were able to believe his agenda of vengeance against those who caused his loss.
Abrams’s Khan appears out of nowhere, basically to serve the purpose of a reveal in Act II.
Who is this movie for? Abrams has said that this was intended to be more widely popular, appealing to an audience that extends beyond traditional fans. If that’s the case, there is too little explanation of the central concepts of the film – including who Khan was in the 20th/21st centuries, and how he came to be found, cryogenically frozen, in Kirk’s time. But at the same time, the movie is so chock-full of Easter Eggs for fans that it becomes distracting.
For a movie that ended with Kirk telling Carol Marcus, “glad you could join the family,” Into Darkness kept the crew at odds with, and separate from, one another for the duration. Spock and Uhura fought (and come on, really, that scene with Kirk “caught in the middle?” A relationship fight? In the middle of a combat mission?); Scotty insulted Kirk behind his back and wasn’t on the Enterprise for much of the movie; Kirk felt Spock betrayed him; Chekov was off the bridge and in Engineering for a long time; the list goes on.
Kirk’s death just plain made me mad. Just as he usurped the name “Khan” to suit his purposes, Abrams takes a hugely-important moment in “Trek” history and turns it on its ear just because he can. We get it, J.J.: this isn’t the original “Trek” universe. Things happen differently. So, yes, you’re so clever to kill Kirk this time instead of Spock!
Actually, that might have even worked if they’d had the courage to actually kill Kirk. But the little “let’s bring him right back to life” trick was just too much.
On the plus side: Alice Eve looked hot in her Space Underwear.
And I’m probably just taking the whole thing too seriously.