There never was a huge amount of science in Star Trek; to say otherwise would be a lie. This is more true of the original series, which especially in later episodes just turned into a long succession of Monster Of The Week scenarios, than it is for Next Gen, which is the most cerebral of the different series. But there was always a sense in which Trek aspired to be something more than just space fantasy - even in its silliest moments it was always dealing with issues of morality and ethics, and at its best, it often dealt with quite profound questions regarding what it meant to be human.
Abrams' version attempts to replicate this, but he seems to do so in an entirely begrudging fashion. There isn't a single interesting moral conundrum that he can't bury (or skate over) with a bunch of explosions and a chase scene, and leave not so much unresolved as cast aside. It's almost as if he's embarrassed at having to burden the audience with all this stupid ethical stuff, when what we really want to see is a load of famous archetype characters running around shooting things. And meanwhile the Trek fans will be satisfied with the occasional bone thrown their way ("I'm a doctor, not a torpedo technician!").
That's not the only issue, of course. The plot...Well, where do you even start? I would describe it as being full of holes, but that doesn't quite capture the sense of narrative abyss which is at the heart of this film. The first Abrams Star Trek was nonsensical enough (and I don't just mean contradictory or containing continuity errors - I mean fundamentally ignorant of the basic requirements of fictional narrative), but here it's almost as if Abrams is abandoning the entire concept of story in favour of linking together a series of modules, themes, and set pieces which are connected only in the sense that they happen one after the other, chronologically. It surely must be a sign of concern to anybody interested in story that the only way to summarise the plot of Into Darkness is as follows: volcano erupting, Kirk, Spock, Uhura, blonde girl we don't care about but who looks okay in bra and panties, nasty British guy, nasty Star Fleet guy, miscellaneous terrorist-style incident designed to invoke 9/11 and similar except not in such a way that it becomes explicit enough to be offensive, dodgy English actor doing a dodgy imitation of a Canadian doing a dodgy Scottish accent, something about torpedoes, Scotty resigning, Klingons are involved for some reason, lots of things blowing up, skulls get crushed, people getting sucked into space, a ship flies into the sea, there's a fight on a flying thing in San Francisco, everything's okay in the end, and there's a rousing speech by Kirk which bears basically no relation to anything which preceded it.
And that's not even to start on all the little things which, taken individually, shouldn't matter, but whose cumulative effect was to irritate me beyond measure. For instance:
- There is no reason for Carol Marcus to be in the film except presumably to set her up for something which happens in the next one. She has no role to play in proceedings, could be excised from the script entirely, and her motivations don't make any sense - why does she even get on the Enterprise in the first place? I honestly have no idea.
- Where the fuck does the real Spock come from all of a sudden, just at the right moment when inferior Spock needs him? It feels as if that scene is just crowbarred into the film so the director can refresh the audience's memories about Wrath of Khan. Incredibly weak.
- Why does 'Harrison' go to Kronos? It's not explained...it's just, well, we want Klingons in there, and, well, Marcus wants to start a war with the Klingons! See - plot!
- Star Trek technology has always been impossible when you think about it, but this film didn't even pay lip service to making it believable. How in God's name is Sulu able to simply broadcast an audio message that Harrison can hear on the surface of Kronos, without everybody else on that planet being able to hear it? Or in the future does everybody simply have a radio receiver in their ear? Or have they invented a form of sound that you can beam across hundreds of thousands of kilometres with pin-point accuracy so that an individual person can hear it, but nobody else?
- Why were the Klingon patrol involved, except for the purpose of providing a reason to have a fight scene? Or do we just forget about Chekhov's gun nowadays?
- Isn't Khan supposed to be intelligent? Wouldn't he spot inferior Spock's ruse a mile off, as the audience does? And on that point, what relation does real Spock's advice have to the actual ruse that inferior Spock comes up with? Surely in order for their interaction to have any narrative meaning, real Spock's words should trigger something in inferior Spock to make him come up with an idea for defeating Khan?
- Why doesn't Khan just throw inferior Spock off the flying barge thing at the end? He has about a dozen chances to do it. Why is he obsessed with trying to crush his skull? Is this Mortal Kombat, so everybody has to have a finishing move?
- How far is Kronos from Earth, exactly? Because from a remark Scotty makes towards the end of the film, almost the whole thing occurs across the course of a single day. Again, we know that warp speed has always moved at the speed of plot in Star Trek, but at least older iterations paid lip service to the notion that space is, you know, a bit big.
- Kirk is obsessed with saving his crew ("Just let my crew live...") but how many people must have died when the big evil Star Fleet ship ploughs into San Francisco? And nobody even bats an eyelid. This is just a manifestation of a bizarre phenomenon that exists in Hollywood scriptwriting, where if somebody's life is meaningful to one of the main characters, we care if they die, but otherwise, we don't think twice about them.
- In the future is it okay for officers to argue about their love lives in front of subordinates, as Spock and Uhura do on the shuttle to Kronos? I'm not in the military or anything, but in my job, it's considered the worst possible form for managers to argue in front of subordinates, especially about their personal lives. It just doesn't happen. But this is a film, so fundamentals of human interaction are ignored in the name of inferior Spock getting the chance to emote.
- Lens flare. At what stage does that become self parody?
It was bloody dreadful and I regret watching it.