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'Star Trek Into Darkness': Reverential but too derivative (+video)

'Star Trek Into Darkness' is visually top notch. But 'Into Darkness' ends up zigzagging fitfully through the Enterprise's greatest hits.

By David GermainAssociated Press / May 18, 2013

"Star Trek Into Darkness" is like fan-boy fiction on a $185 million budget. It's reverential, it's faithful, it's steeped in "Trek" mythology.

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It's also an excessively derivative what-if rehash of themes and interactions that came before, most of the characters lesser copies and even caricatures of the originals. The scenario's been hijacked and rejiggered from better "Trek" plots of decades ago, the best verbal exchanges lifted nearly verbatim from past adventures.

In short, the new chiefs of Starfleet aren't coming up with much to call their own.

They pile on the spectacle in a way that's never been seen before in "Star Trek," whose old big-screen incarnations were so notoriously underfunded they had to go back and borrow props, miniatures and visual effects from previous installments. The action in "Into Darkness" is top-notch, the visuals grand, though the movie's needless conversion to 3-D muddies the images.

But the heart is, well, halfhearted, as though the people of the 23rd century are there to mouth the standard logic-vs.-emotion, needs-of-the-many-vs.-needs-of-the-few patter of "Star Trek" to count time before the next space battle or ray-gun shootout.

Director J.J. Abrams was most definitely not a fan-boy for this franchise when he made 2009's "Star Trek," which reintroduced Kirk, Spock and the rest of the starship Enterprise gang with a time-travel twist that allowed the William Shatner-Leonard Nimoy original to coexist with an entirely different destiny for the new players.

Abrams grew up a fan of "Star Wars," the next space saga he'll be reviving with the launch of a third trilogy. But his key collaborators, screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, are "Trek" fan-boys to their marrow. They know this world, they love this world, and like many fans, they have a particular fixation on 1982's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," the best that the franchise has ever had to offer, on the big-screen or TV.

The 2009 reboot replayed and tweaked elements connected to "Wrath of Khan," and "Into Darkness" mines that vein further. Some of that revisitation is cool in an alternate-history way, but the filmmakers remain so closely in orbit around yesteryear's "Star Trek" that they wind up zigzagging fitfully through the Enterprise's greatest hits.

"Into Darkness" opens with a splashy action sequence to again show the cockiness of Capt. James Kirk (Chris Pine) — with his willingness to flaunt the rules — and the icy intellect of half-Vulcan First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), who's willing to sacrifice his life to stick to the Starfleet playbook.

It's clear these two young'uns don't play well together, but just as the space brass is about to split them up, Starfleet is hit by savage terrorist attacks by mysterious desperado John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Kirk, Spock and their Enterprise crew are dispatched to take Harrison out with weapons that could prove the mother of all drone strikes, maintaining the usual see-how-relevant-we-are conceit of the "Trek" cosmos.

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