★★★ (out of 5)
Well, that was kind of underwhelming...
It probably won't surprise anyone here that I've been a huge Star Trek fan since I was a child, but I feel I need to state that first because some of my frustrations with the film probably stem from its inconsistency with the lore and spirit of the Trek universe. I mean, those are hardly the movie's only problems, but I imagine someone unfamiliar with Star Trek beyond the 2009 movie might be much more forgiving of some of those flaws and be able to just lean back and enjoy the ride. Because the "ride" part is certainly the one thing this movie mostly excells at. The pacing is breathless, the visuals impressive, the actors charismatic, and the action often exciting, even as some of the action scenes, and indeed the entire structure of the film's plot, often feel like a mere rehash of its predecessor.
Despite greatly enjoying J.J. Abrams' first installment, I'll admit I went into the sequel with some reservations, due to some persistent rumors about the villain and to the marketing materials seemingly working very hard to downplay the "space adventure" element and the fact that this is, indeed, a Star Trek movie. It turns out at least some of those concerns were unfounded, as the parts with people in leather jackets running around planet surfaces shooting guns are much less prominent than I feared and the majority of the action does take place on starships in space, involving a lot of familiar characters and places. I was, however, right about the villain (or villains, as it turns out) being quite problematic. The movie has two major villains, one of them, Admiral Marcus, a personified jumble of convoluted conspiracy theories (not too surprising, given screenwriter Bob Orci's political views), the other, John Harrison/Khan, a blurred cypher without any background information or clear motivations, whose menace only becomes apparent in the context of the story when it's spelled out by a wholly gratuitous cameo appearance. I mean, everybody who has seen TWOK knows that Khan is bad news, but I felt this was never properly set up in this movie outside of the Old Spock cameo. I almost suspect they were hesitant to delve into Khan's backstory to avoid dealing with the whole "Eugenic Wars in the late 20th century" thing, but I do think some more more background info on the character would have been necessary. As it stands, it barely has any relevance to the story that Harrison turns out to be Khan and he could have easily been replaced with an original character to much better effect. The lack of clear character motivations makes for a pretty convoluted story, that paradoxically still manages to remain utterly predictable at every turn.
You may wonder at this point why I still gave the movie an "above average" rating, when I clearly disliked so much about it. Well, as I hinted at in the beginning, I do think there is a lot to like about it on a technical level, and I do think that many non-Trekkies will probably enjoy it a lot more than I did. (Which is ironic, seeing that they worked so hard to shoehorn in quite a few contrived Trek references "for the fans.")
In fact, I think most everyone who worked on this movie did a pretty great job except for the screenwriters, which makes this the second year in a row where my biggest movie-related disappointment of the year was co-written by Damon Lindelof (although to be fair, the other two writers have been responsible for a fair number of clunkers over the years, as well). I'll probably rewatch the movie at least once to see if I can ignore its problems and just enjoy the more fun elements, but for now, I'm going to have to say it was mostly a letdown for me.