‘Star Trek': excitement down a rabbit hole

It’s hard to say precisely where things went wrong with “Star Trek Into Darkness,” but have they ever. Director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot effectively balanced an origin story indebted to a decades-old franchise with the action-heavy demands of the modern movie landscape, but this sequel quickly lets the air out of the balloon with soulless spectacle and high-minded, empty-headed lip service to the mores “Star Trek” is know for. Dedicated fans of the original Gene Roddenberry series and its later incarnations will likely balk at the throwbacks “Into Darkness” trades in (as well as its carefully plotted reversals), but the reigning sacrilege of this film is that it’s so generally lousy, no matter the context.

The film begins in the midst of a life-or-death crisis and spends the next two hours terrified of boring the audience, possibly increasing ADD statistics in the process. For all of its colorful locations, firefights, explosions, arguments and plot twists, the film never finds any genuine human interest in the proceedings, and so its hyperactivity quickly proves a tiresome distraction from its lack of anything worth investing in; action for its own sake, and boring, poorly staged action at that (for all their shortcomings, the “Star Wars” prequels are looking better and better in hindsight). The film never builds to a climax because it’s always in one, and the jittery, lens-flare approach Abrams is known for here borders on self-parody.

What makes “Star Trek Into Darkness” even more infuriating are its bids to seriousness by way of a terrorism-fueled narrative, one lined with potent imagery the cartoonish storytelling in no way earns. The climax quite specifically brings to mind the horrible memory of two hijacked airplanes cruising into downtown Manhattan, and numerous other acts of violence feel like mere stepping stones for the plot, with no sense of loss to accompany the (mostly bloodless) body count. After two hours of callous exploitation, the end credits dedication to the U.S. Troops is almost sickeningly hypocritical.

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The plot (which I’ve avoided detailing both for fear of revealing spoilers as well as suggesting that it’s worth taking seriously) suggests someone painting by numbers with Herculian intensity, and the effect is hollow and dispassionate. The majority of the cast is good to excellent – especially Zachary Quinto and Spock and Benedict Cumberbatch as the antagonistic John Harrison – and as such, more wasted opportunities. J.J. Abrams was recently chosen to direct the new “Star Wars” film, and after “Into Darkness,” this critic’s excitement has effectively disappeared down a rabbit hole.