I'm going to do my best here to not spoil anything or go into too much detail. That being said, if you really care about this movie it might be best just to see it and then read this review. Ok? Here we go!
I had a really good time watching this movie. You know when you see a nerd being like, really really nerdy? Like when someone is so into something that their usual calm demeanor and excellent social skills have been reduced to a dumb smile and irregular breathing? That was me during this movie, because I love space opera. Thankfully it was dark in the theater and no one was watching anything but the spectacle going on on the screen. Star Trek Into Darkness has tons of spectacle. It's also got humor, drama, and heart. It also doesn't quite feel like what it's named after. It's a great example of almost everything you should do in a summer blockbuster sequel; much like Iron Man 3. It isn't without its flaws but J.J. Abrams has turned in another fun romp into the Star Trek universe, even if it's his own vision of that universe and that vision is through a Star Wars lens.
When Star Trek Into Darkness begins we find the intrepid crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise in full active duty mode, saving a primitive civilization from a volcanic threat on the planet Nibiru. After completing its mission on Nibiru the Enterprise returns to Earth where the enigmatic John Harrison (Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch) has bombed a Starfleet installation in London. Soon after that James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are on a manhunt for the criminal who seems to know everything about Starfleet and its secrets. That's all I'm going to say about the plot if I can help it. The rest is for you to enjoy.
The cast is once again phenomenal. The entire crew is back, Kirk (obviously), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and Sulu (John Cho). Joining them is Dr. Carol Marcus (the smokin' hot Alice Eve). Bruce Greenwood returns as Admiral Pike and Robocop himself, Peter Weller, plays Admiral Marcus.
Pine continues to be a great Kirk. I particularly enjoyed his scenes with Bruce Greenwood, whose Admiral Pike has gone from being a simple mentor to a full on father figure to Kirk. I also loved Pegg's performance as Scotty. He gets a lot more to do and it's a lot of fun to watch him run around and be hilarious during the course of the film.
Unfortunately in a movie like this some cast members get left out a bit. Chekov is barely on screen for more than 15 minutes. Dr. McCoy is also reduced to little more than the guy who says funny things. The triumvirate of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy is missing from this film save for one or two short conversations. If you're looking for character development this is not the film to find it in.
Cumberbatch is wonderful as the villain. If you've seen him in the BBC's Sherlock you already know this guy is an absolutely fantastic actor. Here he is an unstoppable force of charismatic malice. A lot of that is thanks to his resonant baritone voice. It's the kind of voice that a doesn't need the Force to make a Jedi mind trick work.
The script, written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof, isn't any of the scribes' best efforts. But it does succeed in being very entertaining with several fun twists and turns and a fair share of fan service. The goofy humor of the first film continues with less of the sight gags. There are no big hands or swollen tongues this time around. As I said before the one thing really missing here is character development. There is some effort to explore Kirk's readiness for the captain's chair but it gets lost somewhere about 40 minutes into the film. Otherwise it's just the characters being heroic and doing what they can as the plot forces them from one action set piece to the next. If you aren't willing to sit back and enjoy the ride, the movie will not work for you.
As for J.J. Abrams's direction? It's about what you'd expect. Fun, excitement, intensity, and LENS FLARES! I sincerely hope he loses the lens flares when he gets to work on that Star Wars sequel. Speaking of Star Wars, this Trek movie, like the last one, is much more Star Wars than Star Trek. While the original had it's share of exciting action sequences Star Trek Into Darkness seems to have found a way to double the amount. It never feels like too much but after having seen it twice I can't help but wonder if cutting one or two would have allowed for more character development. J.J. also continues to use some of that shaky cam bullshit which is really too bad. When you have such beautiful scenery it's important to be able to see it all. It doesn't ruin the film but it doesn't help it either.
The visual effects are well done, though I still can't help but think that if the Enterprise was a real life model it might look that much better. As with most films visual effects look the best when they are bolstering live action elements. Any time futuristic London or San Francisco are on screen it's apparent that filming the actual city and inserting futuristic buildings and craft looks much better than simply making it all in the computer. Either way though everything looks good.
Michael Giacchino's score is great. It's mostly more of the same rousing theme he created in the first film and exciting action music. But if you buy the album "London Calling" is a great piano heavy track from early on in the film. It's perfect for the segment of the film it plays during.
Having seen the film twice seems to have sobered my initial excitement. That's not to say I don't like the movie anymore but I just see more things I wish it had done. There isn't enough Star Trek in this movie. There isn't a lot of character development, there aren't a lot of big social questions explored, and there is absolutely no boldly going where no one has gone before. I mean isn't that what Trek is all about? Seeking out new life and new civilizations? That being said I enjoyed the film as an action heavy flick that hits all of the right blockbuster notes. It's also smartly acted and competently directed and for the first time viewer, full of fun surprises. 3.5 out of 5 stars.