I'm conflicted -- albeit, slightly.
STID -- which unfortunately (and somewhat accurately) reads very nearly as "STD" -- is a slick, smart, modern, ravenous entertainment; or, in other words, a middling blockbuster movie that passes the time. In its own context, I would say that it's reasonably well-shot, features good-looking leads who give decent (if utterly forgettable) performances, has some nice VFX, maintains a propellant pace, brings well-conceived (if utterly banal) action set-pieces to the table, and offers a sprinkling of humour and character sketching that, along with everything else, almost
coheres into something with a pulse: something with themes, moods, and ideas; something approaching art.
Only, in my estimation, it doesn't get there. Mainly because it's dumb fun at best; and at worst, it's crass, loud, exploitative, meat-headed, and aesthetically offensive: puerile action fodder of near-enough the worst kind. That it even manages to patronize at its end is reason enough to despair for the current state of the American blockbuster. This is the cloying conflagration of thinly-articulated "meaningful themes" haphazardly promised in the 2009 film; and delivered with exactly the same degree of J.J.-TV sensibility on a big budget he assaulted pop culture with four years ago. It's juvenile mayhem for a "developed" world saturated in Internet memes, iPads, Twitter ramblings, and an obsession with the bright and shiny over the spartan, the contemplative, and the abstract. In short, watchable triple.
We've got all the usual nonsense from the first frame, with Spock -- a humanoid entity -- improbably being hoisted down into the middle of a volcano, when transportation, or a robot of some kind, would surely do the job much more safely and efficiently: the imagination of people reared on "Die Hard" and Saturday morning cartoons. In the same passage, we have Spock's cord snapping, just as the hood of pre-teen Kirk's stolen convertible improbably flew off in the post-teaser sequence to the 09 film, there's Spock's comically-delayed reaction to announcing his well-being to the people monitoring him in the shuttle (and what happened to advanced bio-sensors, anyway?), unrealistic emotional responses from Uhura, who goes from panicked to passive in the same instant when Sulu tells them they have to leave (yet is right back to being fraught, and later holding a grudge with Spock, barely a minute later), Spock asserting that if this one volcano erupts, the entire planet will die (a repeat of Prime Spock telling Kirk about the explosion of the star that nurtured Romulus threatening to "destroy the galaxy"), Kirk and Bones running on foot from angry/fearful natives (why are three -- nay, five -- of the Enterprise's most important figures on some lousy away mission, risking their lives in pointless action skits, anyway?), and so on. The Enterprise being underwater at least lends this film a sense of Neptune-like poetry, later followed up with rhymed shots of objects dissolving in small glasses of water, but eh... whatever. I have not found reason to trust that Abrams is working to higher goals in his film art.
So, with the opening out of the way, the film gets even more ridiculous after its absurdly brisk (if semi-amusing "Indiana Jones"-esque) entrée, repeating more of the sins of the first film, including having Kirk demoted by a very angry, very shout-y Pike (to quote the RLM review of the 2009 film: "PEOPLE SHOUTING IS DRAMA!!!"), only to be quickly bumped back to "First Officer" by the same man, then conveniently promoted straight back to Captain of the Enterprise right after his death about three minutes later, and oh... I dunno. I could keep going. Maybe it would be beneficial -- though, in quite what capacity, I can't quite fathom -- to point out other absurdities that I haven't yet seen commented upon, like the way Scotty is excitedly running across a courtyard with debris from a terrorist attack. I was left wondering at the internal believability of a militarized Starfleet that would allow eccentric engineers (who just happen to have been previously serving aboard the same ship commanded by the people they're now running to) to be running around in the open with precious evidence, when you'd think every scrap of the burnt wreckage would be under lock and key; but then, this is the same Starfleet that staffed all its senior officers (of its Earth-bound starships), after a terrorist attack on its organization, in a small room with transparent windows. There's no subtlety, no tact, no discretion in this universe. People are always running to and fro to advance the meagre plot to its next tension-sapping action scene or action prelude. It's unvarying, unedifying, obvious, trite, hare-brained, and dull.
In all this mess, it's arguably Simon Pegg -- as Simon Pegg; and as Scotty -- that comes across the best. He seems to be putting his own stamp on an iconic character in this one, and his character's frivolous persona is at least countenanced here with a bit of backbone. If anyone is the moral conscience of this film, it's Scotty -- the guy with a pipe-climbing "oyster" for a friend. I quite enjoyed that touch. It's like reading one of the saner or more soothing passages in the Bible after a wasteland of ranting, genocidal, pestilential, frothy-mouthed nonsense. It's not enough to save this movie in my eyes, but it's something. Though, again, the dejected, despondent human males of Abrams' world, of course, drown their sorrows in loud bars, rather than, say, busy themselves in work or hobbies, or hold their heads up high and find something else worthy of their time, talent, and attention. Oh, and, of course, they don't really come off worse for wear, never stumbling around, getting into trouble with friends, family, or colleagues, or starting a fight they might not be able to get up and walk away from. This film, when partnered with its forebear, also establishes a pattern of Kirk crossing the threshold of Starfleet while still inebriated or hungover. And boy, Kirk was sure lucky that he got a transmission right through to Scotty's phone/communicator, and that Scotty did, indeed, get the co-ordinates correct (in loud surroundings, whilst drunk), isn't he? And I guess a person who's off-duty can bring Starfleet equipment with them into rowdy civilian dwellings; and even receive classified information from completely out of the blue? I can't even be positive for an entire paragraph without slamming into more stupidity, contrivance, and backwardness.
By the point at which Kirk contacts Scotty, this film has already taken a long trek down the crapper; and I don't think even an engineer as great as Scotty can reroute its flow or sanitize the water. For example, looking past all the other idiocy concerning the Enterprise and its mission to kill a person who hadn't even be legally charged with a crime (did they even know, beyond reasonable doubt, that they had their man?; that the person they pursued and captured extra-legally even was the person they were sent after?), I think the film reached a deplorable low when it juxtaposed Kirk half-beating a person to death (at this point, he didn't know Khan had secretly dropped in from an "X-Men" movie; nor, if he had have known, was he necessarily capable of judging whether he was inflicting serious pain and damage on Khan or not with his base savagery) with a) Spock and Uhura just standing there, dumb-struck (another reprise of the 2009 film when everyone just stood there like Benedict Cucumbers as Kirk first goaded Spock into a fight and Spock then bludgeoned Kirk and almost choked him to death) and b) Uhura kissing Spock after this incident, while on duty, no less, and to top it all, walking away, without explanation. Such warped values I have no words for. If J.J. Abrams hadn't already killed Star Trek in the last movie, I felt its death rattle at that very moment.
Other delights include the continued objectification of women (more troubling, when played off against the other facets of this movie, then first glance would suggest), abject fear-mongering (the world-is-crumbling imagery, caused by a "terrorist" agent, and the closing speech, suggesting vigilance and governments are necessary to protect us from the big bad, and that they can even get away with murder, extortion, lying, and whatever else, provided they "come to their senses" in the end), patriarchal hierarchies (we haven't moved on from the 1960s, says this film -- we've regressed), stupid villains with stupid plots (not so morally repressive, per se; but dispiriting enough on its own terms), and all the usual abuses of drama, tragedy, comedy, etc. We've even got some pretty conspicuous and rather coarse examples of swearing in this one. Scotty's "ya mad bastard!" was amusing, but that aside, I impugn this film as being the worst of the lot with gratuitous profanity that detracts rather than adds. Swearing, these days, is common place, and I'm rather fond of it myself, but in this film, it felt forced: a lazy attempt to lend this entry more edge and gravitas than it really possesses. But words are just words, right? True and not: they still reveal something about the mentality behind the picture; and I happen to think humans of the 23rd Century would choose their phrasing more carefully than reaching for a curse every ten minutes. Bones' own more archaic word use and idiomatic rhetoric is meant to contrast him against those he chooses to serve amongst; he's the worldly-wise, cracker-barrel pundit (and serious physician, of course) who isn't afraid to scorn the situation; but when everyone is using scornful language, his exhortations lose that piquancy: his irascible, pointed derision and concern.
Beyond those objections, which are significant enough, one of the more shocking parts of this ugly confection is how both leading men end up pummeling the bad guy in moments of madness. Even if the film contrives to suggest their actions are wrong, it still shows them both giving into their baser impulses, positioning them as primal avatars of testosterone-induced heroism (oh, look, they give into their craven impulses because they care!). The film wants to have things both ways and succeeds in the crudest of senses: even if it later repudiates what it depicts in a given moment, it still depicts it, twice over. This is the degree of cultural genocide a film like this exacts on a populace consciously looking for spectacle and also being rewarded with unconscious
reinforcements of stereotyped conceptions of masculinity and virility. It's damaging enough to see Kirk losing it as two of his closest officers just stand and watch him beat a prisoner senseless; but for Spock, it's devastating. Perhaps Spock's attack on Khan is meant to be his way of acting out for the death of his mother in the previous film, when he was never able to make physical contact with Nero personally (he genocidally rammed his ship instead), but it still feels -- to me -- about five steps too far. And what happened to that regulation about being "emotionally compromised", anyway? I guess no-one was in a mood to contest Spock or play by the rules; or they're under-educated, barely-sentient brutes. To defend the film against these and other charges, some people will cite TOS and say that Kirk, at least, routinely got into scraps, but they'll do so by ignoring the context of those particular hand-to-hand engagements, and by premising their defence on the assumption that Star Trek started off that way and Abrams is just being "true" to its roots (an argument from tradition and other things).
I've not seen much comment on one particularly chilling (pun intended) aspect of the end, either. Leaving aside the near-total lack of emotional resonance and studied seriousness of Kirk's death scene and resultant fall-out (both aspects were handled far more credibly and movingly in Nick Meyer's film, in my opinion; which this film clearly rips off without 1/10th the poetry, humanity, or charm), we have another sick juxtaposition at the close of this two-hour assault on the heart and mind, where Kirk is giving a speech to a gathered audience while Khan and his crew are being locked in a warehouse, like pilfered historical relics: museum pieces, not human beings; and not even fit for display. This begs several questions, not the least of which is, how did Khan find his way back into his cryo-tube? That that question is not easily answered seems a given to me; and, in my opinion, speaks to the depravity lurking in the film generally. Being frozen, if one has been depicted as an antagonist or threat to another antagonist or status quo, has been depicted as a form of punishment, torture, or death in previous sci-fi iterations (e.g., "The Empire Strikes Back", "Terminator 2", "Demolition Man", "Minority Report" (sorta), et al.). Maybe this film was trying to give a different spin, but by this point, I was in no mood to grant it the benefit of the doubt. So, there is Kirk, giving this platitudinal, compressed speech on the nobility of man, or whatever, while Khan was hastily shut away with his pals in the perpetual dark; and after being beaten, first by Kirk, and then later, more fiercely by Spock, the first officer of the speech-giver, and then used parasitically to revive Kirk in a depraved act of harvesting/gross utilitarianism. Yes, we must all be better people, says Kirk, while seventy-three souls are deliberately confined to a living death. Maybe these are the souls of the (comparatively) super-human viewers with a conscience: those who say these Starfleet humans aren't all that impressive; those who hoped for better, took on the rebooted universe of the 2009 film, and (invariably) lost.