“Star Trek Into Darkness” is an apt title for a movie as empty as the vastness of space. The movie moves as if through a vacuum — fast and frictionless, from one scene to another, with a lot of nothing along the way. The warp-speed pacing only barely hides the fact that it never really goes anywhere at all, and doesn’t aim to either. The final frontier? Forget it. This soulless sequel to a reboot is only too happy to go where every generic sci-fi blockbuster has gone before, and not so boldly either.
The fill-in-the-blanks plot — which hits every beat in Hollywood’s current favorite screenplay formula — is little more than a collection of starship-sized distractions. (If I see another movie in which the villain’s clever plan is to surrender to the hero, I too will be ready to give up, but only as part of a secret plan to destroy the formula itself.) The action sequences are predictably unpredictable, the sort of spectacles I forgot before they were over. The dialogue consists entirely of quippy expository details and trailer-ready ultimatums — none of which make sense.
Not that dialogue is the focus here. No one ever conducts a conversation, or has a thought, without something interrupting: an explosion, a crash, a shoot-out or some other meaningless reveal. This is a movie that lives in terror of boredom, and projects a deep-rooted anxiety about its own ability to hold an audience’s attention. Watching it is like talking to a salesman who stops every 40 seconds to ask if you’re still with him, and then slaps you in the face just to make sure.
For that, you can thank director J.J. Abrams and his frequent collaborators, screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof (a veteran of Mr. Abrams’ similarly vacuous TV show “Lost”). For several years now, the quartet have been waging an increasingly aggressive war on narrative coherence, favoring speed and shock over sense, or even suspense. “Star Trek Into Darkness” is breathless and every once in a while even breathtaking, but it lacks any self-control. It speeds along at such a rapid, punchy clip that nothing much registers at all. It is a movie that is so insistently exciting that it eventually becomes boring.
If there are bright spots (besides the incessant and unnecessary lens flares), they can be found in the cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban return as the original “Trek” trio of Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock and Doctor McCoy, although Mr. Abrams and co. have whittled it down to a duo, leaving McCoy with a strictly supportive role. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura has moments of strength, but the screenplay often seems to forget she exists. New additions Alice Eve and Peter Weller, as a science officer and a Starfleet admiral, have too little to do as well.
Of the newcomers, only Benedict Cumberbatch, as a steely-eyed baddie, manages to maintain a presence — and he’s helped by the way his role echoes “Trek” villains past. Indeed, the movie often plays like a game of spot the references, particularly in the way it mirrors “The Wrath of Khan.” The writers throw old-school Trek-heads a bone every few minutes, but these mostly serve as unwelcome reminders of how faithless the movie is to its source material, and how lacking it is in what made that series great: ideas, characters, stories that meant something — and the trust that viewers would have the patience to explore those strange new worlds, new lives and new civilizations themselves.
TITLE: “Star Trek Into Darkness”
CREDITS: Directed by J.J. Abrams, screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof
RATING: PG-13 for non-stop sci-fi violence
RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS