Director J.J. Abrams delivers his second “Star Trek” installment, this one with a punishing plot and headache-inducing noise. Between explosions we explore favorite characters Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) — but something is missing.
This franchise reboot, consisting of two prequels to Gene Roddenberry’s 50-year-old television series, is mindful that Kirk, and especially Spock, are much-beloved icons. Karl Urban returns as Enterprise doctor Leonard McCoy. Sadly, he’s no longer a member of an all-important triumvirate with Kirk and Spock. Their radically different viewpoints have engendered interesting debates. Spock relies on logic, Kirk goes with his instincts and McCoy (affectionately known as “Bones”) endorses rational thought except where it interferes with preserving life.
The film opens on a Class M planet (the “Star Trek” term for a planet capable of supporting life), where an impending natural disaster threatens an indigenous and primitive humanoid species. This sequence reveals key contrasts in Spock and Kirk’s perspectives, but their disagreement mainly serves to highlight misguided Federation policy. The argument also reveals that Lt. Uhura, (Zoe Saldana), is tightly woven into the cast due to her feelings for a coworker.
Bruce Greenwood returns as Capt. Pike, Kirk’s superior and father figure. He berates Kirk’s brash disregard for the rules, but nevertheless protects Kirk’s Starfleet career.
Benedict Cumberbatch literally climbs aboard as criminal mastermind John Harrison. This episode makes his reasons for hating the Federation difficult to comprehend, but Cumberbatch puts his haughty cheekbones to imperial use, along with his character’s uncanny ability to heal in a nanosecond. Peter Weller is well-cast as Starfleet Admiral Marcus, a hawk itching to start a war with the Klingons.
John Cho, as Sulu, and Simon Pegg, as Scotty, are relegated to extended cameos. Fairing better, Anton Yelchin captures the essence of Chekov who seems perpetually frightened, but proves more clever than he appears.
The plot makes little effort to create credible motivations for its evildoers, attempting to hide this flaw by blowing up people, buildings or spaceships at 10-minute intervals. The action sequences are overlong and drawn from the PG-13 playbook calling for loud, blood-free frenzy. Some action contains harrowing bits, but the film lacks the thoughtful passages that would tie it all together. “The Next Generation” looks better all the time.