JJ Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness has exactly the same successes and mistakes as the first film in Abrams’ reboot franchise, which, for me, means that I loved it. I think Abrams’ crew has consistently walked the line between creating a riproaring action-adventure and paying homage to their source material. A reboot shouldn’t be the same, but it should have the same tone, and this sequel culls plenty of call-backs yet turns the whole mish-mash into a coherent film, just as the ’09 reboot film did. The plot, however, does have holes, and only depth to the entire thing comes from the fact that it’s a clever homage. Spoilers to follow.
Benedict is Kahn. This is the big secret of the film, and it’s a big callback to the best Star Trek film, The Wrath of Kahn. Into Darkness is essentially the reboot version of Khan. It’s a more smash-bang version: it starts with a separate adventure (pictured above), sort of like how Indiana Jones or James Bond films begin, and mini-adventures are thrown into the film throughout, mostly notably a cool skydiving mission that takes Kahn and Kirk into the (other) villain’s ship. This adds a sense of fun that is bolstered by a hilarious cast of side characters like Scotty and Bones. The plot’s two villains keep the film unusual; it’s like a version of Iron Man 3 in which the Mandarin is really the ultimate villain and can completely destroy the baddie who sponsored him.
The plot is kinda crazy, though. There’s the transporter that can take Kahn to a planet that’s a warp trip away, meaning that starships are unneeded. We can warp everywhere, now. Then there’s Marcus, who thinks it’s a good idea to send 72 torpedoes filled with people — his only effect bargaining chip — straight to Kahn under the assumption that the known loose cannon Kirk will detonate them in order to… what, destroy all the evidence in one blow? Just blow up the torpedoes somewhere else, you cheapskate. Kahn is a pawn for the first half of the film just so that the plot can be advanced, in a move so out-of-character that Kirk hangs a lampshade on it by questioning Kahn later. Bones also invents a cure for death, which I feel will be forgotten in future films.
In the end, the sense of playful fun fixes a lot of problems. If you can’t create a completely perfect movie, create one that enjoys being itself. And then put Simon Pegg into it.