Remember the largely accepted wisdom about the original Star Trek movies? That only the even numbers (The Wrath of Khan, The Undiscovered Country) were good, and the odd numbers (The Search for Spock, The Final Frontier) were mediocre to awful?
Looks like the new Star Trek franchise may be headed to the same affliction.
This time, watch out for the even numbers.
The second chapter of J.J. Abrams' reboot had the momentum of the first movie going for it. The 2009 film, remember, painstakingly introduced a time-travel element that essentially meant the franchise was free from the constraints of the Shatner-Nimoy Star Trek universe as we knew it.
Given liberty as expansive as the universe, part 2 is something of a retread, not-so-boldly going where Star Trek has gone before.
We find hot-headed Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) getting in trouble with his mentor Capt. Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and facing the loss of his command due to his First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) and his unwavering Vulcan honesty when it comes to filing reports to Starfleet.
But a terrorist attack in London implies Earth has bigger problems, specifically a mysterious gent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) intent on inflicting damage to Starfleet and its high command.
Kirk, itching for a fight owing to a personal loss, finds a sympathetic non-pointy ear in Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), who gives Kirk the OK to surreptitiously enter enemy space to retrieve the fugitive Harrison, despite the imminent threat of war from the combative Klingon empire. Once there, Kirk discovers there is more to his enemy than he imagined.
I've been utilizing my proton pack to contain the spoiler spectre here, but if you've managed to stay purely oblivious about this movie's plot twists, proceed with caution from this point.
Suffice it to say that Star Trek Into Darkness revives a plot thread from both the movie and TV universes.
And it really need not have bothered. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof concoct a different take on a canonical chapter of Star Trek lore to no real purpose. After the slam-bang action of the first film, it was time for the franchise to deliver some of the science-fiction smarts for which it was once celebrated, not to take out the recycling.
The resulting familiarity doesn't breed contempt so much as indifference. Once the game is up with regards to the identity of John Harrison, it's pretty easy to plot precisely where the movie is going to go. At times, you can anticipate what a character is going to say next.
Even the film's action sequences, so lively in the first film, fall flat here. Given that John Harrison is a kind of superhuman, you would think that might pump up the fight sequences a little, but the half-hearted fight choreography here makes one wistfully reminiscent of William Shatner's Kirk trading body blows with a Gorn.
The only thing that saves the movie from being a waste is the smart casting of the first film, with Pine and Quinto replicating the Kirk/Spock relationship, Zoe Saldana demonstrating why it's not a good idea to annoy the communications officer, and Karl Urban and Simon Pegg dependably supplying decent comic relief as, respectively, McCoy and Scotty. Cumberbatch could have generated a snakelike charm for his villain, according to precedent, but does not oblige. And in the role of a new science officer with a secret, Alice Eve registers only as first-generation eye candy in a thoroughly impractical short skirt.
The most positive take-away from Star Trek Into Darkness is that, hey, the next film should be terrific.
Excerpt of select reviews of Star Trek Into Darkness:
So many things are done right that even with the bombast, Into Darkness is the best of this summer's biggies thus far. It's a great deal of brash fun, and it should satisfy all those basic Trekkie cravings.
--Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times
The prime directive is to entertain, and it does so with brio. The pulse-raising action sequences include a chase between two starships and a death-defying space walk -- make that a space zoom -- where two men navigate an asteroid field with only spacesuits to protect them.
-- Peter Howell, Toronto Star
Into Darkness is a sleek, thrilling epic that's also a triumphantly witty popcorn morality play. It's everything you could want in a Star Trek movie.
-- Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
Star Trek Into Darkness banishes, at least for the moment, the lugubrious mood and sepulchral look that too many comic-book movies mistake for sophistication. All hail an action film that isn't ashamed to have fun and to be seen doing it.
-- Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
An excessively derivative what-if rehash of themes and interactions that came before, most of the characters lesser copies and even caricatures of the originals.
-- David Germain, The Associated Press