Though it's hard to write meaningfully about Star Trek Into Darkness without spoiling anything—it's packed with surprises—this review will be spoiler-free. Which means I have to keep the specifics about the plot to a minimum. (I'll do a spoiler-filled review after everyone gets a chance to see the movie this weekend.) So here goes: The crew of the Enterprise runs up against a mysterious man named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, a delight of growling disdain) and then they find themselves drawn into a much larger conflict that could imperil the entire United Federation of Planets. As is shown in the trailers and on the poster for the movie, the Enterprise suffers a considerable amount of damage along the way.
So let's start with the good news: With one unfortunate exception, the actors are all growing pleasantly into their roles. Some of them (Chris Pine as Kirk, Simon Pegg as Scotty) choose to riff on the performances of Star Trek: The Original Series actors while wisely not hewing to staid impersonations. Zachary Quinto's eerily exact Spock feels less like a perfect copy of ST:TOS Spock and more a kind of seance—is it insulting to say that this is the role he was born to play? And Karl Urban's DeForest Kelley schtick, all bad metaphors and outraged puffery, is hambone acting at its finest, which makes sense, because no one in their right minds would want to watch an understated interpretation of Bones. Of all the actors in rebooted roles, Zoe Saldana gets shortest shrift. Her Uhura is an embarrassment, the highest-profile female character in the movie pushed to the periphery, only earning a line when it's time for her to react to men, never truly getting a great moment of her own.
And now for the bad news: There's very little trekking in this Star Trek. Outside of a pre-credits taste of interstellar adventure involving a dilemma around that classic Star Trek saw, the Prime Directive, way too much of this movie is set on Earth or is simply floating, semi-stationary, in outer space. The script from Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof doesn't get the point of Star Trek, really: It's too petty and small and uninterested in adventure. A silly little analogy to current events wraps the movie in the wrong tone, and the pacing, with a series of tense, exciting action scenes layered between some very long expository passages, is downright weird. Star Trek Into Darkness is a pretty thing to look at—the 3D is decent, but by no means necessary for enjoyment of the movie—but it's just so dumb and uninterested in the possibilities of the premise that it feels like a waste. And one of my favorite parts of the 2009 Star Trek reboot, the commitment to comedic adventure, fails to materialize here. This movie is too busy dwelling in darkness to remember that Star Trek should be about optimism and aspirations and fun, and that's a goddamned shame.