J.J. Abrams is going to make the greatest 'Star Wars' movie in history.

With 'Star Trek Into Darkness,' Abrams' follow up to the 2009 'Star Trek' reboot (or continuation of the series, if you are Spock Prime) he has solidified his position as a master of propulsive, visceral filmmaking. Dude knows where to put the camera, when the music should swell, when the characters should zing each another or when they should project pathos to the cheap seats. The 'Star Wars' films are mostly gut and little brains and, unfortunately, that is what we have here. The movie still works as an exemplary thrill ride – I laughed, I cried, I cheered – but woe be to anyone who gets caught in a conversation afterwards trying to explain the overly complicated and, at times, silly plot. If you expect something a little sharper out of 'Star Trek' you may come away with some mixed emotions.

We open with with something of a nod to the Bond films. Our beloved characters (each member of the cast in top form) are in the midst of a mission. They must rescue a planet from extinction, but do so without violating the Prime Directive. When the interstellar s--- hits the fan, Spock decides that he will gladly sacrifice himself to protect this emerging species, and Kirk decides he will expose the Enterprise (and thereby alter the development of the planet) in order to save Spock.

2009's 'Star Trek' ended, so we thought, with Chris Pine's Kirk learning that the “cowboy way” wasn't always what's best for the center seat of Starfleet's flagship. Apparently it didn't stick. Turns out that he's even more headstrong now and making rash decisions, especially after a clever sneak attack from Benedict Cumberbatch's domestic terrorist “John Harrison” kills someone very close to him.

Back aboard the Enterprise with a go-ahead from Peter Weller's Admiral Marcus to hunt down this turncoat “Harrison,” Kirk's refusal to listen to anything other than his instincts called to mind this image from the old 'Star Trek' animated series.


Eventually, Kirk realizes that just blasting away at a criminal with special missiles isn't "the Starfleet way," so he backs off and decides to take him prisoner. Further complicating matters is that "Harrison" is on Kronos – the Klingon home world. One false move will start a war, so they have to tread lightly.

Of course everything goes wrong, but it does so in an exciting way. Every cast member gets at least one badass moment, and that includes the enormously fetching Alice Eve as a mysterious weapons inspector. (No, her moment is not the one where she is seen in her underwear for no reason whatsoever.)

When the mystery of "John Harrison" is revealed, you may have mixed opinions – there are inherent problems that seem to contradict some of the leeway we gave the 2009 film. Nevertheless Benedict Cumberbatch is a terrific villain; cold and calculating with hints of the chaotic sadism bubbling just beneath the surface.

That said, we don't actually see much villainy – there's a lot of tell-don't-show when it comes to the master plans of the bad guys in 'Star Trek Into Darkness.' Not just that, the crosses and double-crosses come so quickly that there's not much time to feel cheated. Luckily, Abrams' natural penchant for propulsion keeps the film cooking. Before you have a time to say, "Wait, now, why would--" - BLAM! - there's a photon torpedo hitting the hull and the camera is flying around and everyone is running and screaming into their communicators. Simon Pegg's Scotty is hilarious as is Karl Urban's DeForest-Kelley-as-Bones. It's next to impossible to get hung up on nitpicking.

(Okay, with one exception. I don't want to spoil it, but it involves the mysterious special missiles. It's just preposterous, even for a sci-fi movie. It makes every boneheaded play in 'Prometheus' look genius by comparison.)

Abrams continues his play at "rhyming" with established canon. There's a big moment in the third act that plays out a lot like it did in the Shatner/Nimoy era and hearing familiar dialogue with a spin on it is surprisingly effective. Until it goes, in my opinion, too far. You'll know the line when you hear it and it just didn't land. They made a good effort, but they failed. They could have cut it out of the movie, but they didn't and fans are gonna let them know they screwed up.

For the hardcore 'Star Trek' fans, there are even fewer easter eggs waiting for you this time. If you have a sharp eye you'll see a Bat'leth and two Caitians (that's what Lt. M'Ress was for you uninitiated.) Listen closely and you'll hear the words "Daystrom," "Mudd" and "Gorn." There's also use of the word "Wrath," which wasn't ever a line of dialogue, per se, but certainly has connotations.

While I would like nothing more than to see all of my favorite old alien species in this film (where, oh where are the Ferengi?), I'll give a begrudging salute to the team for wanting to make the movie their own. As such, there are some new creatures, most exciting of which is a bridge crewman that's half-Deltan and half...Lobot? He's a big bald guy with mechanical eyes and an electronic voice. He's only in a few shots but all I could do was shout, "Who's that guy!"

I have no doubt that if you spread the shooting script out on note cards and posted them all over a hotel room it makes certain sense. But what's cut together feels like too much smoke and mirrors. For a moment I had the sensation that I was seeing something super sharp but it never went anywhere. And then the movie raced along breathlessly and I didn't think of it again.

If you are looking for snappy quotes, I can look you in the eye and say this picture moves, dazzles and delights. The Enterprise and all the people on it are gorgeous. It's just that by front-loading so much on the visceral thrills and our affection (adoration? exaltation?) of these characters, there's just no room for the rather tangled storyline.

The 'Star Trek Into Darkness' roller coaster will get you gasping and being with our beloved Starfleet pals again will make you laugh and cry. It's when you start unraveling the script that you may need your deflector shields. When you consider how many moving parts there are in a production like this (and just how easy it would have been for this to be plain awful) I think it's time to invoke Meat Loaf's Law: two out of three ain't bad.


‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ opens in theaters on May 17.

Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.

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