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When it was announced that J.J. Abrams was to revive the storied but long-dead Star Trek franchise, the news was met with more skepticism than excitement. But the resulting 2009 film, Star Trek, not only managed to surpass expectations (which were, admittedly, pretty low), but it turned out to be one of the best blockbusters in recent years—-a clever and altogether thrilling film that diehard Trekkies and casual moviegoers both could get behind.
So four years later, expectations are running high for the second Star Trek installment—-and of Abrams, too, especially with the news that the director will settle into the director’s chair for Star Wars: Episode VII.
Unfortunately, Abrams has officially set phasers to “disappointing” with Star Trek Into Darkness. The film that opened this week lacks the playful energy and excitement of the first one. It’s not a total failure, no—-but unless you’re a superfan, you’d be better off saving your dollars. Here’s why.
1. The plot is really dumb
Things kick off with Captain Kirk disobeying a direct order (“prime directive”) during a mission, accidentally revealing the Starship Enterprise to a primitive alien civilization, and he gets demoted. But after a sudden terrorist attack orchestrated by the film’s prime villain John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), Kirk is swiftly reinstalled as Captain—-thus rendering pointless the film’s first 20 or so minutes.
In fact, “pointless” is a key word for Star Trek Into Darkness. After Starfleet learns the identity of the suspected terrorist, the narrative turns into a dull, predictable revenge story. It occasionally introduces some interesting subplots (the threat of an all-out war with the Klingons), as well as some interesting subtexts (the potential militarization of Starfleet, which contradicts its core values), but all of that is stymied by the too-straightforward revenge narrative. To make matters worse, screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof are so busy hiding Easter eggs and sprinkling in references to original Star Trek films and television-show episodes (most apparent is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) that it becomes exhausting.
2. The action scenes are pretty weak
As evidenced by his first Star Trek film, J.J. Abrams clearly has a knack for style and sleek, exciting action sequences. But with this Star Trek, he checks all of that at the door. Apart from one or two thrilling scenes, Abrams’ action sequences are pretty… basic, especially compared to Abrams’ 2009 film. In this one’s climax, a war-damaged Starship Enterprise loses power and hurtles toward Earth, poised to crash-land in the San Francisco Bay area and take out half the city. Abrams makes the Enterprise look like a frisbee tumbling through space.
3. Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain actually is…
You know who. Everyone knows. It’s kind of insulting for Abrams to go to great lengths to conceal the obvious. It’s like creating a new Batman movie, keeping the villain a Great Big Secret, and then revealing that it’s… The Joker!
4. J.J. Abrams’ lens flare is really, really annoying
Look, J.J. Abrams’ excessive use of lens flare is easy to mock. When news broke that he planned to captain Star Wars: Episode VII, everyone took to Twitter to crack their lens-flare jokes. But his overuse of the effect isn’t just ha-ha-annoying, it’s actually awful. And distracting! In some Star Trek Into Darkness scenes, actors’ faces are swallowed up in a blinding flare, preventing us from making out their expressions.
5. It’s not the worst 9/11 allegory ever filmed, but it’s up there
From the bombing of a key London building in the beginning of the film to the all-out manhunt for Cumberbatch’s John Harrison, echoes of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq come across as too literal. Star Trek has always been steeped in political allegory (iconic baddies the Klingons originally represented Soviet Russia), here it’s just too glaring. When the plot veers into conspiracy-theory territory, with high-ranking members of Starfleet revealed as corrupt war criminals, I can hear the 9/11 truthers tittering with glee.