DFScott, do you write professionally? You have a good wit and quite a way with words.
I agree with everything you said. I think the film's weaknesses could have been resolved fairly easily without gutting its strengths.
The first thing I'd change is Kirk's ridiculously convenient run-in with Old Spock. Have Kirk find the outpost first, and Spock's already there. That would at least make a LITTLE sense.