I'm certainly not arguing Nemesis is a good Trek movie or better than TWOK, but we at least got to see Picard having a philosophical discussion with somebody, we got some character moments that didn't involve running around and fighting bad guys, and these still felt very much like the same evolved TNG characters we knew and loved.
My sister and I (both lifelong Trekkies) were talking about it this morning - what the nuTrek movies lack is anything cerebral
. What has distinguished Trek from other space opera has always been its willingness to engage with ideas, whether it be social or philosophical. It doesn't always do it - many of the greatest episodes have been character based, but they always alternate with strong SF concepts.
This is why Trek works better and has a stronger specific identity as a tv series than as movies. All stories, to really work, have to make you care about characters - so doing that doesn't create a specific identity, and the movies have tended to revolve much more around character moments than concepts - as STiD did. People can talk about vengeance as a theme, but that's not the strongest thematic of the movie at all, in fact it is entirely subordinate to the real theme which is - what would you do for your family? From the man who blows up Section 31 for his daughter's life, to Khan going on a rampage of vengeance because he thinks his crew - who he explictly names his family - was killed by Marcus, to Carol thinking her very presence will save the Enterprise from her father, to Kirk embracing the crew as his family - it's all about what will you sacrifice to protect those you love.
This was a fun movie. It had some really good character stuff in it. It had a consistent theme to pull it together, but it lacks an essential element of the best Trek which is an idea at its center. You can't fault it too much for that though, because very few of the movies have managed to do that - really only TMP had a philosophical concept which drove the story action. A couple of other movies - ironically usually the worst ones, managed to shoehorn in some sort of universal philosophical moment, like Kirk's "I need my pain!" in TFF, but I'm not sure any other than TMP have done what episodes like Measure of Man, A Taste of Armageddon, or Children of Time did - told a good story that left you ruminating on something fairly deep - what is the nature of a being's soul and how do you prove they have one? The best way humanity can temper its own savagery for the sake of civilization is to look that savagery in the face. If you discovered that an accident of time had created your own great-great-great-grandchildren and only you or they could go on living now - what would you do?
I doubt we'll ever get that out of any Trek movies, which are by definition action pictures, and ideas like these can rarely by married to action stories.
Lastly, I thought Cumberbatch was really a great actor, but he didn't really remind me of Khan. I absolutely loved his deviousness, his cold calculation, and his general badass qualities, but he seemed more like a robot for the majority of the time. It felt like he was lacking a certain charisma or something. Like when Kirk told Scotty to shoot Khan on the bridge of the Vengeance, I think we were supposed to feel conflicted about it, but I wasn't really.
That was similar to my impression. He's very menacing, but... I didn't get that much out of it otherwise.
I think that's because, within the context of the movie - you don't get to know him at all. I mean, we all know who Khan is and what he did in the past, but that doesn't feel like this character's history, and no one tells you what his history is. You know he's genetically engineered to be superior, that he and his people were condemned as criminals for something involving being bad to regular people - but that's kind of it. I think the lack of backstory for Khan in this movie really undercuts him, no matter how good the performance is.