My opinion of NuTrek is basically that while it's all very sleek and photogenic and they've got a great cast who are really doing their best... Abrams should just go and do
already. His heart isn't in this material, he really doesn't "get" it, and it shows.
For more detail (if you should want it), I reviewed both films under a different 'nym at another site:
When this movie first came out, and I saw it in theatres, I felt like I was living in Bizarro World. When I came out of the theatre, I felt like I had just watched a loud, brainless, barely-plotted SF equivalent to a Fast and Furious or Charlie's Angels movie. But apparently, nine of ten people around me had just seen a timeless, golden classic of SF cinema that had brilliantly restored their faith in Star Trek, film, humanity and indeed the existence of all life.
This discontinuity has troubled me ever since; while there's no accounting for taste, it's rare for my taste in movies to clash this badly with those of almost every film critic and film fanatic in existence. I'm no Trekkie (nor a Trekker for that matter), I don't go to conventions or speak Klingon or reckon my birthday by Stardates or decorate my home with show memorabilia, but a disturbing possibility began to occur to me: had I nevertheless become enough of a Trek geek to be obsessed with fidelity to the original to the point where I was overreacting to Abrams' "reboot"? I decided I should give it some time and try watching it again, later and after the hype had died down, with an open mind.
Well, I've done that. And it still sucks the sweat off a dead Klingon's balls, and I'm more convinced than ever that this will be film history's more sober assessment of it as the movie's initial shock-wave of hypotronic particles gradually decays. But I also, I think, have a better understanding of how the hype and praise got to be so overheated in the first place.
First, it has to be said that despite being handed an absolute dog of a script full of cringe-inducing attempts to allude to the original show ("All I've got left is my Bones," get it? get it?) the cast they assembled was for the most part strong and talented and acted the heck out of what they had to work with. Okay, Anton Yelchin's Chekov is painful for every second he's on screen and Simon Pegg mostly seems to play Simon Pegg (though he rips into his first Assigned Scotty Cliché, "I'm given' 'er all she's got, Cap'n!" with the verve of a true fan boy), but the rest of the cast do bring their A-game, and such entertainment as the film offers comes chiefly from watching Karl Urban sink his teeth into the grand old Kelley-isms, or Chris Pine replicate the signature Shatnerian swagger, or Zach Quinto doing the eyebrow thing. It's a purely nostalgic pleasure and I'm not sure how you build on it, but it's there.
Second, fans had watched Star Trek painting dully inside the lines of its established style for so long that it must have seemed like a revelation to see a Star Trek movie that actually tried to be thrilling. The space-jumping scene, complete with the instant death of its assigned red-shirt and Sulu's ridiculous-but-fun sword battle with a Romulan pirate, is genuinely pretty good action cinema. And while watching Chris Pine hang from the edges of things gets old, they at least try to keep up that kind of momentum for the rest of the film. The cinematography (despite the annoying preponderance of lens flares) is calculated to be awe-inspiring in ways that the prior Trek movie franchise seemed to have forgotten about. Sure, it is really only at the visual level of a well-funded but brainless SF actioner, but that at least was a departure from a film franchise that had simply stopped trying.
Third, there was the germ, somewhere in the script, of a praiseworthy attempt to up the stakes and tell a truly grand story. The full emotional weight of this is mostly lost in the frenetic action, and the destruction of Vulcan is an almost absurdly tossed-off event, but it still lends some heft to Quinto's performance -- and to the poignancy of his romance with Uhura, one of the film's best character beats.
That's the good.
The bad? Really the most fundamental problem is that nothing -- nothing -- about the story makes any sense. At all. The time-travel story line has all the usual weaknesses (like, why wouldn't Nero just warn Romulus instead of going on a mad quest to off all the Federation planets?) plus more besides (what exactly do Nero and his crew spend twenty-five years doing while they're waiting for Spock?). Nothing about how Starfleet behaves makes any sense, and even by the pulpiest of science fantasy and Treknobabble standards, the story's premise doesn't make a lick of sense either. The script is riddled with coincidences and fudges -- and one especially glaring deus ex machina, "transwarp beaming" -- that are probably meant to imply Destiny asserting its power or some such thing, but that simply smack of really bad writing (including the Muppet Babies Syndrome that requires absolutely every member of the original cast to be present and accounted for by movie's end, with Kirk near-magically promoted to captain from cadet). The story isn't just bad. It's really just barely there at all.
This is a big problem, since without a halfway-believable story underpinning it -- as many a brainless actioner has proved -- action becomes relatively meaningless. The final set-piece is neck-deep in writer fudges by the time it happens, with Nero's dying snarls practically coming off as comedy and Scotty's second Assigned Cliché Moment (the Last-Minute Miracle Fix) having preordained a safe escape for the heroes. What little suspense the action had managed to build is long gone.
Viacom/Paramount made a calculated gamble in giving the Trek franchise to J.J. Abrams. The gamble was that his being an intellectually unsophisticated director known best for empty cleverness and slick visuals -- and who additionally didn't give a sh*t about the original Trek material -- could work in their favor. With a slick enough coat of paint, he could make it look like he was "reviving" the franchise instead of hollowing it out into a witless, mediocre version of its former self.
With the first movie, the gamble worked: even many a dedicated fanboy poured drool over that plotless and mostly-insulting mess because they were thrilled about how new it all looked. I'm heartened to see that at least some of these have started to get wise to the empty trickery that's being offered up to them under the wrapping of the Trek franchise.
Ironically, this has the effect of creating a harsher reaction to what is actually much the better of the two Abrams films. Abrams' Trek is still ridiculous, mind you: its technology and universe inhabiting rubber rules that break suspension of disbelief routinely, its Starfleet still cartoonish and laughable, its cocktail of references to the old films and series serving as reminders of how little its creators "get" any of that material (and that's before we get to "Khan"). It is mostly still Trek for people who never gave a shit about Trek -- it's no accident that half of those raving about it usually preface it with "I never really was into Trek, but" -- and just as with the first installment has decided to sacrifice the franchise's unique aspects to make it a contender in the brainless-actioner market. Apparently not understanding that the "I never really was into Trek" audience won't have any more loyalty to this series of brainless actioners than any other.
Having said that: at least "Into Darkness" had a plot. Its pieces fit together logically in a way that just can't be managed with its predecessor. Granted, much of that plot was cadged from the far better film The Wrath of Khan -- but there was at least fleeting entertainment to be had in watching them reverse the old "beautiful death scene" from that film, and I actually quite enjoyed Quinto's call- out to the old "KHHAAAN!" yell. Of course all the action could have come from any other action franchise (like the "Millennium Falcon" chase on the surface of Kronos) and the wearily-inevitable Leonard Nimoy cameo can go die in a fire along with Scotty's rock-monster sidekick, and the action is unfocused and frenetic and poorly-paced and fades even a performance as good as Cumberbatch's into the background... but what was anyone expecting? We know by now that the Abrams version of the franchise is the Fast and the Furious in Space.
The really great strength of the Abrams films has been not the effects, but the cast. Everyone -- even Yelchin, this time -- does their absolute best with their screen time and with the uninspiring material they're given to work with. These people can act, and clearly love their roles and clearly try to make some emotional impact; it's not their fault that the scripting and pacing is so mediocre. One keeps seeing flashes of what could have been in the hands of a better directing and writing team: like the power Cumberbatch could have brought to his own villain role instead of being forced to serve up a retreading of Khan in minimal screen time.
Oh yeah: the effects are great, and the action set-pieces are visually spectacular. But we know it takes more than either of those things to make a movie, right?