Star Trek Into Darkness: 5 out of 10

There is frustratingly little that can be written about Star Trek Into Darkness without either falling into blatant spoiler territory, regurgitating the trailers, or just griping about the specifics. So let's focus on one specific gripe: a blatant disregard for geography.

It is relatively common for movies to place all locations are exactly as far away from each other as is necessary for the plot to maintain its momentum; but it is the mark of a good script and editor that these locations can still feel "connected", rather than just being separate sets. A few examples of action movies that get it right: Raiders of the Lost Ark with its varied settings and maps that provide a sense of scale; Die Hard, which makes its setting the most important character of the movie; and The Wrath of Khan, which provides a baseline for all "good" Star Trek movies thereafter. And the best counter-example I can think of is the TV show 24, in which different sections of LA are always precisely a single commercial break away.

Star Trek Into Darkness falls decidedly on the latter side of this continuum. The movie clearly cares about its large-scale locations, as it moves from a distant star system, to London and San Francisco, and then back to the edge of Federation space, then (somehow) the moons of Jupiter get involved, and finally back to Earth again. But the journeys are inconsistent - it takes days to go one direction, and then hours (minutes?) to return. But we're still expected to take the concepts of a warp-speed chase seriously.

Annoyingly, there was little reason for this. The majority of these gripes could have been managed with a simple change: setting most of the action within Earth's own solar system, or perhaps including a single neighbor stellar system. The alien threat would be more threatening for being so nearby, and the internal threats more logical for the immediacy of the external danger; the lack of other Federation ships could be explained by having them either too far away to intervene or unable to leave their defensive posts; and the variable travel times could be explained by specific navigation hazards. The geography could have worked in the film's favor, rather than pulling me out of action every time I was forced to think "err, where are we exactly?".

(On a smaller scale, the internal geography of the Enterprise was a problem as well, I would have liked to have some spatial understanding that, say, the brig was near to sick bay but further away from Engineering; but at least that may be explained in a technical blueprint somewhere.)

I'll let the rest of the Internet dwell on the other problems: poor character development, terrible and internally-inconsistent physics (often involving transporter limitations/lack thereof), an off-putting cameo, foolish deus ex machinas, and the standard problem of putting a crew of cadets in command of the flagship of the entire Federation.

There are positive things to say about the movie, mind. The special effects are pretty, if annoyingly over-committed to lens flares (more so than the last movie); the action scenes themselves are pretty well put together; Simon Pegg and Zachary Quinto steal the show, at least amongst the regulars; it's amusing having both Sherlock Holmes and Robocop in a movie; the significant-to-the-point-of-insult levels of fan service were relatively amusing the first time; I did like the variety of background alien races; and we will get more sequels, which I'll probably still want to see.

But this movie will not age well. And it's only just barely better than any Next Generation movies.

Rating: 5 (out of 10)

And, if you're curious as to my (rough) rankings:

  1. The Wrath of Khan

  2. The Undiscovered Country

  3. Star Trek (2009)

  4. The Voyage Home

  5. The Search for Spock

  6. The Motion Picture

  7. Generations

  8. Into Darkness

  9. Insurrection

  10. The Final Frontier

  11. First Contact

  12. Nemesis