(Note: There will be some spoilers)
After 4 years of waiting, I decided to forego a good night's sleep and catch the midnight sneak preview. So, after a day to think about what I saw, what do I think?
It's good, bordering on great.
I know there are some die-hard Trekkies (Yes, I said Trekkies! "Trekkers" sounds ridiculously stupid and PC in my opinion) don't consider the movies made by JJ and company to be "real Star Trek". I could not disagree more. I am rapidly approaching my 44th birthday. I became a fan of Trek when I was seven, and have watched every single minute of film in the Trek universe. In short, I love Star Trek. I AM a Trekkie. Now, I may not put on Spock ears and go to conventions (though I DID have a Captain Kirk gold command shirt when I was seven, even wore it to school), but I love the universe Roddenberry, Berman, et. al. have created over the decades. Therefore, I think that my opinion on whether these movies are "real Trek" or not holds just as much weight as any other fan.
This movie is "Star Trek".
What makes it Trek to me is that the characters, as played by the new actors, are people I care about. Abrams has assembled a fantastic group of actors to portray these iconic characters, and I hope they stick around for more than just the third movie they're contracted for. Kirk, as played by Chris Pine, goes through the transformation he needed to make to become the Captain of the Enterprise. At the start of the movie, he's still a bit of the cock-sure punk who thinks it doesn't matter what the rules are, as long as he's doing what he thinks is right. Through the course of this movie, you see him learn some humility, and Pine makes it believable.
Spock is still dealing with his planet getting sucked into a black hole, and as a result, his emotional control isn't quite what it should be. On top of that, he and Kirk are still struggling somewhat to actually be friends.
McCoy is still as irascible as ever, though the analogies he spouts started wearing thin. Fortunately, they did for Kirk, too, and he knocked it off.
The rest of the cast is fine, though they aren't given as much to do (except maybe for Scotty).
As for who's new this time out, we get Alice Eve as Carol Marcus. Her function in this movie is to help move the plot forward, and not much else (besides provide a bit of gratuitous underwear modeling). I would like to see her character expounded upon in the next film.
Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus. Why isn't this man getting more work in Hollywood? He masterfully chewed scenery as the Starfleet Admiral willing to do the wrong thing in the interests of protecting the Federation. He's definitely an "ends justify the means" kinda guy.
And now for the "big bad", Benedict Cumberbatch as "John Harrison" aka Khan. Yes, they used the biggest bad of the original series era for this movie. I have to digress for a moment. Like many other Trekkies, I consider The Wrath of Khan to be the pinnacle, the acme, the "ne plus ultra" of Star Trek movies. Ricardo Montalban gave the performance of a lifetime as the superman driven mad with revenge. That having been said, I do not consider this character inviolate, and is as fair game as anything in this new Trek universe. And Cumberbatch gives a fine performance. I'd say his Khan, in terms of motivation and characterization, is a mix of "Space Seed" Khan and "TWOK" Khan. He is driven for vengeance, but since he hasn't spent years dwelling upon the target of his wrath, he isn't mad with it. thus, he is able to be smooth and manipulative to achieve his ends.
As for the "whitewashing" of this character? It doesn't bother me so much. Cumberbatch is a joy to watch (as anyone who has watched "Sherlock" can attest), so what if he doesn't look, act, or talk like a typical Sikh? Montalban played Khan with a Mexican accent, and the only thing that made him somewhat believable was the color of his skin. To me, it's disingenuous to criticize the casting of one, without doing the same for the other.
Like the '09 movie, this is one good-looking movie. I like the new warp effect better than the last movie, as it evokes more of the effect from the original movies. It works well in 3D, too! I like the added sets of the enterprise interior. Yes, Budgineering is still there, but it is not as obtrusive as before, and I LOVE the setting they used for the warp drive! Also, I really liked the multi-level open deck area. I wonder where exactly that was in the ship?
As for the story....while I liked it......it wasn't quite as good (still good, though). The problem, I think, is that it feels somewhat rushed. It seems to me they've crammed a 3-hour story into a 2-hour movie. If there's one thing that this movie (and the '09 movie) suffers from, it's that Star Trek has primarily been story-telling format made for television. All of the Original Series and Next Generation movies had hours and hours of story-telling and character interaction to draw upon, so that certain things in those movies could be told in a sort of shorthand. Since the new movies don't have that, they have to cram a lot of that into a much shorter period of time. This is why you get things like (in the '09 movie) Kirk promoted from cadet to captain, and warp travel taking only minutes between Earth and Kronos.
The upside is that the powers that be actually listened to some of the complaints about the first movie. Early on, Kirk gets busted back to the Academy, though Pike puts in a good word and gets him back as his first officer. that, and with the movie jumping a year ahead before they embark on the "5 year mission", plus with the evolution of the character, having Kirk back in command seems much more believable.
There are references and homages throughout to original series movies, particularly TWOK. They were, for the most part, well done. Hardly the "rehash" some have been criticizing Into Darkness as. Going into the movie, I already knew that the "death of Spock scene" had been recreated for this movie, word for word at points, with the characters reversed. I dreaded this moment, because I could see no way that doing this would equal that iconic moment. The death of Spock and subsequent funeral were probably the only times I ever got misty-eyed watching a Star Trek movie. To my surprise, the scene actually worked! The reversal of the characters, and the way they played it out, fit the dynamic and character arc of this Kirk and Spock, and I found myself getting misty-eyed, even though I knew Kirk wasn't going to stay dead. Even having Spock yell "Khan!!!!" kinda worked.
In the end, while it didn't exactly measure up to the '09 movie, it was still entertaining and quite good. I will watch this at least once more in the theater. First, to make sure I didn't overlook anything, and second, because I watch to watch it in a full house. Some movies are best seen with a whole audience, and I think Into Darkness might just be one of them.