-- "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.
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 Robert 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: 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.
But loyalties slip and shift as the Enterprise uncovers the strange history of Harrison and his connections to a hawkish Starfleet admiral (Peter Weller).
Along the way, Spock hits some speed bumps in his romance with Zoe Saldana's beautiful and brilliant Lt. Uhura, while Kirk meets Alice Eve's beautiful and brilliant Dr. Carol Marcus ("Wrath of Khan" fans well know who she is and her importance to "Star Trek").
The rest of the gang keeps up their routines. Curmudgeonly Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) gripes and moans, helmsman Sulu (John Cho) ably steers the ship, navigator Chekov (Anton Yelchin) does his precocious shtick and engineer Scott (Simon Pegg) works his technical miracles.
Fine acting has rarely been a cornerstone of "Star Trek," but much of the "Into Darkness" cast seems to have taken ham lessons from Shatner. Urban maintains the same grouchy, stick-up-his-butt expression throughout, while Chekov with his almost incomprehensible Russian accent and Pegg with his "Shrek"-thick Scottish brogue become downright cartoonish.
Though they squabble like bratty teens early on, Pine and Quinto eventually show sparks of the Kirk-Spock fraternal love at the core of "Star Trek."
The big find here is Cumberbatch, who joins Ricardo Montalban, Christopher Plummer and Alice Krige in a fairly limited roster of great "Trek" villains. With his rumbling voice and stony stare, the star of Britain's detective update "Sherlock" is fearsome and relentless, a one-man army who truly seems like more than a match for poor Enterprise, all on his own.
As Abrams moves on to "Star Wars," it falls to some next-generation filmmaker to carry on "Star Trek" should more sequels follow. Abrams hasn't really guided the franchise into deep space, but he leaves it in a good place for successors to tell some rip-roaring sci-fi stories, without relying on reruns of old "Trek" moments.
"Star Trek Into Darkness," a Paramount release, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence. Running time: 132 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definition for PG-13: Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
"Iron Man 3" (May 3)
Tony Stark is back in "Iron Man 3," which picks up after the events of last summer's "Marvel's The Avengers." Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, Guy Pearce and Don Cheadle all star. Shane Black replaces Favreau behind the camera as director.
"The Great Gatsby" (May 10)
F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel gets the Baz Luhrmann treatment: 3-D and a soundtrack by Jay-Z. (Go all-in, however, on Joel Edgerton's mustache.)
"Peeples" (May 10)
Craig Robinson and Kerry Washington star in the comedy "Peeples," produced and presented by Tyler Perry. (Tina Gordon Chism wrote and directed the film.)
"Star Trek Into Darkness" (May 17)
Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho and director J.J. Abrams all return for "Star Trek Into Darkness," the highly anticipated sequel to 2009's "Star Trek." Boldly go, especially with newcomers Alice Eve (as a potential love interest for Kirk) and Benedict Cumberbatch (as a terribly evil villain).
"Frances Ha" (May 17)
Co-written by Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, "Frances Ha" focuses on Frances (Gerwig), a young woman navigating life and love in New York. "This is a celebration for me," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/01/frances-ha-new-york-film-festival_n_1928478.html" target="_blank">Baumbach said at the New York Film Festival last year</a>. "One idea for the movie was that we could make it like a great pop song, so that as soon as it's over, you want to play it again." Just as an FYI: You will.
"Epic" (May 24)
From "Ice Age" director Chris Wedge comes an action-adventure about good and evil and all that stuff. What you'll want to note is the bananas vocal cast: Beyonce, Pitbull, Steven Tyler, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Aziz Ansari, Christoph Waltz, Chris O'Dowd and Jason Sudeikis.
"The Hangover Part III" (May 24)
It all ends. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, John Goodman and Melissa McCarthy star.
"Fast & Furious 6" (May 24)
The movie that will make you believe a car can drive through the cockpit of an exploding plane.
"Before Midnight" (May 24)
The third film in Richard Linklater's "Before" franchise (following "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset"), "Before Midnight" is one of 2013's best movies thus far. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles, respectively, as Jesse and Celine.
"Now You See Me" (May 31)
Magic bank robbers! No, really: "Now You See Me" is about magicians who rob banks. The cast is impressive here: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Isla Fisher, Melanie Laurent, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco.
"After Earth" (May 31)
Will and Jaden Smith star in this post-apocalyptic thriller from M. Night Shyamalan.
"The East" (May 31)
Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page and Brit Marling star in this "Fight Club"-y thriller about environmental terrorists and the law enforcement agent (Marling) who infiltrates their ranks.
"The Kings Of Summer" (May 31)
Formerly called "Toy's House," "The Kings Of Summer" focuses on three friends who build a house in the woods after running away from home. Think "Stand by Me," "The Goonies" and "The Tree of Life," but with Ron Swanson as co-star. (Nick Offerman plays one of the boys' dads.) This excellent indie debuted at Sundance.
"The Internship" (June 7)
Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson reunite for the first time since 2005's "Wedding Crashers" for "The Internship," a comedy about two middle-aged guys taking internships at Google. Is it OK to say that this looks really funny? Cool, thanks.
"The Purge" (June 7)
One week after "Before Midnight," Ethan Hawke also stars in the horror thriller "The Purge," a film about home invasions on steroids.
"Much Ado About Nothing" (June 7)
Joss Whedon takes on Shakespeare in this modern-day adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing." A charming diversion with no superheros in sight.
"Man Of Steel" (June 14)
You'll believe a man can fly. Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Russell Crowe star.
"This Is The End" (June 14)
Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel, Michael Cera, Emma Watson and dozens of other stars play themselves ("themselves") in Rogen's directorial debut, an all-out, R-rated apocalypse comedy. (Rogen co-wrote and co-directed with Evan Goldberg, his "Superbad" collaborator.) "This Is The End" has the most lol-worthy trailer of the year. (NSFW, of course.)
"The Bling Ring" (June 14)
Sofia Coppola's take on the notorious Burglar Bunch, a group of Los Angeles teens who robbed from stars like Paris Hilton. Emma Watson and this movie for all the wins.
"Twenty Feet From Stardom" (June 14)
This Sundance hit focuses on famed back-up singers like Darlene Love.
"Monsters University" (June 21)
Mike and Sully are back in this prequel to "Monsters, Inc." Expect bank.
"World War Z" (June 21)
Originally set for release last December, "World War Z" finally arrives in theaters this June. Will the Brad Pitt film overcome a troubled production (including last-minute rewrites and reported fights between Pitt and director Marc Forster) and find its audience? Since zombies are so hot right now ("Zoolander" reference), don't bet against that happening.
"The Heat" (June 28)
"The Heat" was supposed to come out on April 5, but Fox was so happy with the film that the studio moved Paul Feig's comedy into the heart of the summer. The red-band trailer, shown here, helps explain that decision. (It's the best.) Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy star.
"White House Down" (June 28)
Channing Tatum (as wannabe Secret Service agent) and Jamie Foxx (as the President of the United States) team up to stop the U.S. government from crumbling from the inside. Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day") directs. Yep, in.
"I'm So Excited" (June 28)
Get excited: This is Pedro Almodovar's first film in two years.
"Despicable Me 2" (July 3)
"Despicable Me 2"; or, ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. (It's going to make a lot of money.)
"The Lone Ranger" (July 3)
Disney's $250 million gamble: will audiences want to see "The Lone Ranger" with Johnny Depp when Johnny Depp isn't playing "The Lone Ranger"? (He's Tonto.) Gore Verbinksi (the "Pirates" franchise) directs, so don't be surprised if the answer is yes.
"Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" (July 3)
Sleeper hit potential: Kevin Hart's last concert film, "Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain," earned a surprise $7.7 million at the box office in 2011.
"The Way Way Back" (July 5)
From Oscar-winning screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash ("The Descendants"), "The Way Way Back" looks like the type of charming indie that Fox Searchlight normally releases during the summertime. That's probably why the studio spent $10 million to acquire the film -- co-starring Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and more -- at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
"Grown Ups 2" (July 12)
Because you've always wanted to see a deer pee on Adam Sandler's face.
"Pacific Rim" (July 12)
Robots vs. monsters! Guillermo Del Toro directs what will be your geeky cousin's favorite movie of 2013.
"Crystal Fairy" (July 12)
Michael Cera play an American jerk searching for a mystical high in this Sundance comedy.
"The Conjuring" (July 19)
This movie is so scary that the MPAA gave it an R-rating despite a lack of violence or bloodshed. Translation: Too scary.
"R.I.P.D." (July 19)
Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds star in this high-concept adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name. <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0790736/" target="_blank">From IMDb</a>: "A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department and tries to find the man who murdered him."
"Red 2" (July 19)
Since "Red" left so many unanswered questions. (Hey, Helen Mirren!)
"Turbo" (July 19)
<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1860353/?ref_=sr_1" target="_blank">Fun with real log lines</a>: "A freak accident might just help an everyday garden snail achieve his biggest dream: winning the Indy 500."
"Girl Most Likely" (July 19)
Kristen Wiig, Darren Criss and Annette Bening star in this comedy-drama about a New Jersey native (Wiig) who returns home to live with her mother (Bening) after faking a suicide attempt.
"The Wolverine" (July 26)
Hope it's better than "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."
"Blue Jasmine" (July 26)
Woody Allen's annual film stars Cate Blanchett, Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay.
"Fruitvale" (July 26)
The Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner for 2013 tells the story of Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Jordan, pictured), a Bay Area resident who was shot and killed by police on New Year's Day in 2009.
"2 Guns" (Aug. 2)
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg team up to star in what should be the best movie ever.
"300: Rise Of An Empire" (Aug. 2)
Because you've always wanted to see a sequel to "300." <strong>UPDATE</strong>: MOVED TO 2014.
"The Smurfs 2" (Aug. 2)
"The Spectacular Now" (Aug. 2)
Another Sundance favorite, "The Spectacular Now" is an excellent coming-of-age drama that recalls "Say Anything." Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller lead the film, and will become superstars after this release.
"Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters" (Aug. 7)
Surprise! This actually looks pretty fun.
"Elysium" (Aug. 9)
Matt Damon and Jodie Foster star in Neill Blomkamp's first film since 2009's "District 9." Get excited now.
"Planes" (Aug. 9)
Featuring the voices of Dane Cook and Val Kilmer.
"We're The Millers" (Aug. 9)
Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis and Ed Helms star in this comedy about a pot dealer who uses a family to transport his drug supply into the United States from Mexico.
"In A World" (Aug. 9)
Lake Bell won the Waldo Salt screenwriting award at Sundance this year for "In A World," a comedy about a vocal coach with dreams of becoming a voice-over artist.
"Kick-Ass 2" (Aug. 16)
Chloe Moretz, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Jim Carrey star in this sequel to "Kick-Ass."
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" (Aug. 16)
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star in "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," another film that made waves at this year's Sundance Film Festival.