I think the proper metaphor for this film is some slight of hand card trick. Very slick, with lots of movement, that ultimately doesn’t go far. These reshuffled stories, stories that acknowledge in some post-modern sense that they are stories already told but mean to realign the pieces in a new fashion, hit a deeper nerve than New stories. Expectations are met, challenged, and played with. I’m sitting there feeling like the story is talking to me. But Star Trek just teases at a reshuffle. Big changes are either killed early by other big changes or the “change” remains functionally the same as before. It’s all talk. Early on, Kirk is stripped of his captaincy . All the possibilities that bloom are beautiful to consider. I want to see how Kirk gets his ship back, how he grows under Pike (who is just one of the coolest guys in the film), what the rest of the crew do in his absence. Yet functionally, Spock still calls him captain, he still gives orders, and another big change comes through that knocks this one apart. The big movement in the beginning is a referendum on Kirk’s “go with your gut” style but before that can even get a hold everything switches and Kirk’s “just go” method is the only thing to save everyone.
Spock. He’s broken here. Beaten from one end of the film to the other by every major character, it’s no small wonder. He comes off as arrogant not confident, dismissive not calm, and the puzzlement he’s always had about emotions balloons into a willful ignorance. The Spock that approached problems from inventive new angles? Now he’s simply an asshole. His absence rips out a good chunk of the heart and humor of the series. Honestly, I spent so much time waiting for him to come around I feel I owe the film a second watch to see if I missed anything.
Cumberbatch, the main bad, is horrible. Every line he takes way over-the-top. And every ounce of that bad acting he channels through his mouth, forgetting the rest of his face, and contorting his mouth strangely for each word. His character’s name and associated history carry more weight than any action he takes. Meant to convey an unstoppable threat, it’s up to the rest of the cast talking about how serious he is to make the reputation stick. It doesn’t help he still looks and moves like Sherlock.
I also have to subtract substantially for an ending that anybody, anybody, is going to see coming a mile and a half away. The moving words are drowned out by the audience screaming “get on with it”.
Action-wise it feels very samey. Stunts repeat from the previous film or just seem similar conceptually to each other. How many times is Kirk going to fit one fast moving object into a small section of another, larger, one? Credit to the computer-effects wizards for making the same tricks feel a little fresh. It’s not boring, just disappointing.