'Star Trek' succeeds despite itself

"Star Trek Into Darkness," J.J. Abrams' follow-up to his 2009 reboot "Star Trek," is a pleasant diversion, but hardly the intense thrill-ride its marketing would have you believe.

The film concerns the Enterprise's battle with domestic terrorist John Harrison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch as he unleashes a plot of revenge so convoluted it rivals the Joker's machinations in "The Dark Knight."

The plotting of the film feels as if writers Roberto Orci, Alexander Kurtzman ("Transformers") and Damon Lindelof ("Prometheus") were given a list of set pieces and concepts, and were forced to reverse-engineer a script from those disparate elements. The nigh-incomprehensible plot bounces around from idea to idea without ever taking into account character motivation or logic - Spock would be particularly disappointed at the last point.

In the end, though, these flaws hardly affect the film itself. The character interactions are well-fleshed out, even if their actions don't always correspond, and the entire film skates by on the actors' likability.

If nothing else, Abrams has a gift for casting, and watching these beautiful people do unnatural, yet oddly pleasant, imitations of the original cast gives the whole piece the veneer of children at play. It's clear that everyone is having fun, and it's hard not to get caught up in their joy.

Abrams love of Spielberg comes out in a few well-thought-out set pieces that balance a sense of danger and fun, and are genuinely compelling - a surprisingly rare feat in the age of "Transformers."

It's hard not to imagine just how fun this movie would be if it made a lick of sense. Abrams is leaving the franchise to go launch Disney's new Star Wars films, and with any luck, Paramount will find new writers for the next Star Trek film. With this cast and design, a well-written film would be a home run. "Star Trek Into Darkness" is more like a solid base hit.