By Chaz Lipp
What a mess. Intermittently entertaining, yes, but a mess nonetheless. Star Trek Into Darkness is nearly impossible to discuss at any length without spoiling it. Most of what I write here will be preceded by one big spoiler warning, intended only for those who have already seen the film, but suffice it to say that Into Darkness hinges on one very bad idea. After clearing the slate by establishing a totally new timeline in 2009’s Star Trek, director J.J. Abrams and company were free and clear to send the crew of the Enterprise in any direction they saw fit. So what did they decide to do? They took one of the franchise’s most iconic characters and squeezed him into a retread of an old story. Only with more fights and chases.
Okay, on with the spoilers…come back later if you haven’t seen the movie already.
I’m not a hardcore Trekker. But I do love the original series’ characters. Most of six movies they starred in have at least something to recommend, but Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is something special. One needn’t know the first thing about Trek to become fully invested in what was, Roman numeral aside, a great standalone film. No qualifiers or apologies necessary to defend that one. The last thing I wanted to see J.J. Abrams do after his triumphant reboot, a film that simultaneously thumbed its nose (playfully) at the hardcore fan base while also managing to treat the brand’s legacy with respect, was to remake the greatest cinematic Trek chapter.
Things get off to a fine, if overblown, start with Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), and McCoy (Karl Urban) blithely ignoring the Prime Directive by detonating a cold fushion device in an active volcano in order to save a planet’s primitive inhabitants. For some reason, Spock believes that letting these natives see the Enterprise is a greater violation of the Prime Directive than actively preventing their natural extinction. Anyway, that lapse in logic becomes relatively easy to forgive once the plot really gets underway.
Once a terrorist bombing in London leads to an assembly of Starfleet captains and first officers, Kirk and Spock get their first direct taste of the man who turns out to be the genetically-engineered superhuman, Khan Noonien Singh (Benedict Cumberbatch). Okay fine, they went there. Instead of a brand new villain —a creative new threat of some kind—they chose to redo the Kahn storyline. It’s not hard to figure out at this point that where the story is ultimately going. But the least they could’ve done was built a compelling story around the re-envisioned Khan. That’s not what happens though. We get some dirty-dealings involving Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), who thawed Khan out of cryosleep in order to plot a preemptive strike against the Klingons (or something along those lines). It all has very little to do with the best Star Trek science fiction and more to do with typical action film machinations. The bones of the plot itself seem to have been cobbled together from remnants of James Bond movies and 24.
But it moves along fast enough and manages to be quite a lot of fun to watch. Into Darkness is less traditional Star Trek than the previous film. That simply has to be accepted in order to enjoy Abrams’ (and screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof) work for what it is: big budget, summer entertainment with a heavy emphasis on visceral thrills over thought-provoking ideas. Unfortunately, then we get to the climax. First of all, while I always welcome an appearance by Leonard Nimoy I have to wonder how (and why) young Spock has old Spock on speed-dial. Unlike his organic and, yes, logical role in the 2009 film, Nimoy shows up this time more to goose the audience by foreshadowing what astute viewers will have already figured out. Somebody’s going to die.
I don’t want to get into particulars. You’ve seen the movie if you’ve read this far. Call me overly sentimental, but the climax of Wrath of Khan is a perfectly realized moment of emotional resonance that provokes well-earned tears (from me, anyway, but I defy anyone with a heartbeat to say they don’t at least get choked up). Abrams and company turn that into a weird Twilight Zone novelty by inverting it in a “what if” scenario, even repeating some of the original dialogue. It took me right out of the movie. Plus in the original Khan, we didn’t know at the end that Spock would eventually come back. And even if we suspected it, we had to wait two years to find out. Here, we know the onscreen death of a major character would stop the new franchise in its tracks, only two pictures in. So everything is set right (far too conveniently, and more nonsensically than in The Search for Spock, despites that film’s own plot contrivances) in mere moments.
What could’ve been a fun, albeit unfortunately too generic (in terms of CGI spectacle and improbably fight/chase scenes), adventure is sunk like the Titanic. It’s hard to say exactly what the iceberg was, but I suspect it simply may have been the overconfidence of Abrams and his writers. They hit paydirt in ’09 and didn’t realize they needed something equally fresh and new to do it again.
(Photos: Paramount Pictures)