Two new things about how this movie was made: a new director, Justin Lin (advertised as notable for Fast & Furious movies), and it has Simon Pegg (who also plays Scotty) as one of its writers. Both leave significant marks on the result, though neither one shows any real brilliance. 2.5/5 stars for being formulaic and forgettable.
Lin's style would not seem inherently Star Trek-ian. A Trek movie is about the web of characters within the context of the ship and the Federation. They're not generally fast-paced action-adventure glitz flicks like F&F. It's also no spoiler to say that this movie blows up the Enterprise, yet again. Why anyone keeps giving Kirk new ships with this kind of accident record is beyond me, but OK. At least the method used this time is kind of cool and novel, even if it is a ridiculous violation of approximately all the known laws of basic mechanical physics. On a more serious note, is Kirk just completely inured to feelings of any kind? The number of dead has to be in the hundreds or even thousands but it's less than water off a duck's back to him.
So they blow up the ship, the crew get stranded, meet the mandatory cute alien chick, and have wild action-adventures with shooting and high-speed chases. Mostly I'm yawning, though the scenery is rather pretty. The plot (and I use that word VERY lightly) hurries you along from bit to bit so you won't notice the insane ridiculousness of it. More on that below the cut, but first some notes.
Pegg's contribution seems to be to bring Scotty more to life as a character by having Scotty appear in a more central plot role. He gets to interact with the cute alien chick (where usually it'd be Kirk) and gets a funny sidekick and gets to play a starring role in the rescue effort instead of being rescued himself. Aaaand, we care about this why? I mean, Pegg's a fine actor and I like how he's developing the Scotty role while paying tribute to its history. But I didn't feel any spark, and what Pegg's good at - 1:1 scenes with dialog and reaction - gets drowned out by the roaring special effects.
Unfortunately Scotty+alienchick time crowds out what I suspect would have been Spock+Uhura time if another writer had handled it. That's sad because Spock is dealing with, and reacting to, major losses (which I won't spoiler here). I just didn't feel like Zachary Quinto is given adequate time to develop that part of the character, also due to being pushed from one action sequence to the next.
Both the guest stars this time around do good jobs. Idris Elba is Krall, the main villain with dark secrets, and Sofia Boutella is way better in this one than she was allowed to be in Kingsman. Jaylah (Boutella) picks up the movie considerably once she appears and the character gets to be emotional and thoughtful, competent and self-sufficient, but with strengths and doubts and fears all at once. Props to Pegg and team for writing her that well and Boutella for filling out the role admirably despite the full-face make-up. Elba I just plain adore - he's #2 on my list for who should be the next Bond (*). He's also working through full-face make-up and doing a decent job of conveying his character.
Lin's other notable contribution to the movie is his non-rectilinear camera angles. Everything is tilted, or folded over, or looking up. It's really rare that you get a standard-aspect wide shot. That's nice, but the fact that I spent so much time noticing it means the movie itself wasn't getting my attention.
But, seriously, this movie is overflowing with ridiculous... (spoiler alert)
Number 1 on my hit parade: defeating an alien swarm weapon with Beastie Boys music. I'm not even going to... seriously?? You have a very cool weapon from a universe with FTL communication and somehow they're reliant on FM-frequency transmissions to coordinate. WAT? Just, just WAT?
2: who the everloving FSCK thinks it's a good idea to allow giant spaceships that can crash through mountains to fly inside a spacestation with unprotected civilian populations?? Spaceship TUNNELS? Are you mad? I mean, that's way past the level of stupid of giving Kirk yet another ship to destroy and crew to slaughter. It's so insanely stupid and inefficient I can't even manage... how do you TURN in those tunnels? What in the world is wrong with a cargo lift? External docks people. Space is big, and gravity-free, and maneuvering is easy and and and AUGH that made my brain hurt. It's approximately the same level of stupid as flying 747s INTO airport terminals rather than docking them outside.
3: your bad guy is moving his body and the alien weapon toward the middle of your space station? Beam his ass directly into a hermetically sealed prison cell. End of story. I mean, c'mon, at least make up SOMETHING about the power being disabled or somesuch. And since you have transporters, why the fsck are people RUNNING away from a disaster area. Beam them directly to bomb shelters, do not pass go, do not trample anyone.
3A: your hero is about to get blow into space? Transporter rescue. No problem. Hell, this movie already did that once, why do we think it wouldn't happen again?
Look, I get that Star Trek is fantasy, not science fiction. I get that the writers are allowed conveniently to forget or erase random stuff that got introduced in some episode somewhere. But a transporter is a fundamental Star Trek whizgig. Ignoring its existence - particularly when you make such a big deal out of it for 90% of the movie - is just bad and lazy.
4. OK, about that physics thing? What happens when you slam something into something else? Kinetic energy much? The Enterprise should have been bouncing around like an ice cube in a blender what with all those impacts. And where did the energy come from to cut through plating that we see can shear off rock? And where did it go? Treating spaceships like they're cartoon thought bubbles rather than actual objects made of unobtainium bothered me. By the way, how does the ramming device know when to stop and when to go all the way through? Cut power? Reverse thrusters? Magic. Right, it's all magic.
Yes, I get it. Suspension of disbelief and all that. I'm willing to accept FTL travel and communication and shields and energy beam weapons you can hold in your hand but if a character drops something and it doesn't fall there better be a good explanation. When you ram one object into another, it ought likewise to behave by the same dropped-object rules or you're going to abuse my sense of disbelief way too hard.
In summary I think I would've liked this movie better with fewer crazy camera angles, more Spock time, and a lot less ridiculousness.
(*) Number one is Kate Beckinsale because she has action-movie chops (Underworld), has the accent, we've gotten a cross-cast M so it's well past time for a female Bond, and finally I am visualizing Kate Beckinsale in a fine Armani suit - your argument is invalid.