For a series that prides itself on space exploration, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is surprisingly shortsighted, remaining a little too close to its roots as a television serial. From a cold open that acts as a rousing but ultimately insubstantial short film, the world of “Into Darkness” feels closed off, particularly during a protracted, hour-long space battle in the film’s second half. Yet, what the film sets out to do is done wonderfully. It’s exactly what a self-contained “Star Trek” film should be. This means that, strangely, its lack of ambition is both its biggest strength and most glaring weakness.
Had “Into Darkness” shot for the moon and failed spectacularly, would that have been preferable to aiming for the middle distance and nailing it? We’ll never know. But it’s an agreeable ride and the fact that it treads so little new ground doesn’t much detract from its pleasures. Kirk, Spock, and company are back, and hopefully here to stay. We can only hope that the filmmaker who replaces Abrams in the director’s chair has as much talent but a little more vision. Then this wonderful meeting of cast and material might finally live up to its full potential.