Star Trek: Into Darkness opens with a chase scene that results in a pretty flagrant violation of the Federation's vaunted "Prime Directive", but JJ Abrams' version of the Star Trek universe has always played a little fast and loose with the rules. That's part of its appeal… as long as you're in the mood for a fast, loud, popcorn action flick that fits the basic contours of Star Trek without quite capturing its heart.
Don't get me wrong; Into Darkness is definitely thrilling, funny, beautifully shot and competently acted. Zachary Quinto is pitch-perfect as a young Spock, and Simon Pegg is always entertaining. I like Chris Pine well enough as Kirk, but can't help missing the intelligence and calm competence that Shatner brought to his version of the character. As for the rest of the cast, they honestly aren't given very much to do. Into Darkness is light on character moments, and the few scenes we are given are inevitably interrupted with an explosion or an unexpected swerve of the ship.
Much of the action is set in motion by a mysterious man named John Harrison who commits acts of terrorism against the Federation but may be more than he seems. Benedict Cumberbatch plays him with his customary booming voice, but appears to have been directed to open his mouth as wide as possible in order to better get the words out. It's a bit disconcerting when he's shown in close-up, and doesn't quite match the calibre of acting he's known for from the BBC's Sherlock.
Abrams' first Star Trek had some pretty great action set-pieces, but here it feels like the movie is overstuffed with wall-to-wall action. The climactic scenes involve the Enterprise plummeting towards the earth without power, a foot-chase and fist-fight on top of what I assume is a futuristic garbage truck, and pacing that is simultaneously exciting and relentless.
The most questionable choices made in the script happen in the last half-hour or so, when we are treated to a huge number of call-backs and in-jokes referencing famous scenes from the original series and movies. One would have been a nice wink to the fan base, but a half-dozen or more begin to break the fourth wall and turn what should be serious moments into comedy.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the spectacle, but found myself wishing for a quieter, more thoughtful story set in the rebooted Star Trek universe. If a new TV series isn't in the cards for the foreseeable future, then I can only hope that the inevitable next Star Trek film takes a different route.
Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars.
Originally published at Austin.com