Tony’s Review of “Star Trek Into Darkness”
J.J. Abrams has graced the silver screen with his follow-up to the successful reboot “Star Trek”, showing us as clearly as possible that he is not a fan of “Star Trek”.
Since the events of the previous film, newly promoted Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise are sent to the planet Nibiru to observe the indigenous primitive population. During a plan to save the population from an erupting volcano, Spock’s life is put at risk. Breaking the “Prime Directive”, Kirk chooses to expose the ship to the primitive population in order to save Spock. Seeing the large and unexplainable ship rising from their waters, the people of Nibiru start to worship the Enterprise. Back on Earth, Admiral Pike informs Kirk that he has been stripped of his command and will be sent back to the Academy for his actions. However, believing Kirk to be a valued officer, Pike later convinces Admiral Marcus to reinstate Kirk as Pike’s First Officer on the Enterprise. Pike and Kirk are called to an emergency meeting at Starfleet HQ to discuss the bombing of Starfleet Archives in London by Commander John Harrison. During the meeting, Harrison arrives in an attack ship and opens fire, killing several people including Admiral Pike. Back in command of the Enterprise, Kirk is given the mission of hunting John Harrison down, having fled to the Klingon home-world, and ending him, using 72 special long-range torpedoes, which are of a special interest to new crewmember Dr. Carol Wallace. These 72 torpedoes end up revealing Dr. Wallace and even John Harrison are not who they claim to be.
For this review, I had to do something very difficult, go into the movie and not be a Trekkie. I did everything I could to remove my preconceived ideas and just enjoy the movie. And funny enough, I really liked it. It’s a terrific sci-fi/action film, but it’s a mediocre Star Trek movie. This is mainstream in every sense of the word, focusing on action and sex appeal over story and substance. The original films all had some underlying theme behind the movie. "Wrath of Khan" was a retelling of “Moby Dick”, “Search for Spock” was about the then-current arms race, “The Voyage Home” addressed extinction in nature, “The Final Frontier” was about religion and brotherhood, and “The Undiscovered Country” dealt with the end of the Cold War. But both of J.J. Abrams’ attempts at a “Star Trek” story are just about action and sexy actors/actresses, nothing more because today’s audiences unfortunately don’t seem to demand more from summer films.
I did like several things about this movie. The effects and action are truly top-notch, obviously the key focus for the film makers here. The Enterprise itself is far more impressive in this film, especially in a fight with a ship twice its size. The cast also stepped things up a bit, with Simon Pegg’s Scotty playing a much more substantial role in the overall story, as it should be. Zachary Quinto seemed more at ease playing Spock, though the script may have been a key factor there as Spock’s human side is more prevalent this time around. John Cho’s Sulu doesn’t have the same screen presence as the first film, but in a way he’s better here. Instead of shining in an action sequence, Sulu instead has to take the Captain’s chair briefly while Kirk is on the planet surface, foreshadowing Sulu’s bright future as the only Enterprise senior staff member to get his own command.
Unfortunately, there’s several things that just bugged me to no end. Let’s get it out of the way, (SPOILERS) Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan, the Enterprise’s greatest villain from the original series and films. They do a great job explaining why Khan has been found years before he was in the original series, but they don’t bother to explain why an Indian with the name Khan Noonien Singh is played by the whitest man in the history of England. Yes, this is an alternate time-line to the original films, but a character’s ethnicity is not something that would change here, especially since the character pre-dates the events in the first movie that caused the new time-line. Though Cumberbatch does an amazing job with the role and is a highlight of the film, long-time fans are probably going to be uncomfortable with the white-washing of this iconic villain. In the same respect, I wasn’t impressed with Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Wallace/Marcus. During the lead-up to the film, no mention was ever made in the trailers as who this blonde in her underwear is supposed to be. Fans know Dr. Carol Marcus to be a former lover of Kirk’s and the mother of Kirk’s son David. Again, the background of the character is abruptly changed, this time from American to British. And Eve’s presence is half story-driven and half sex-driven. She plays a key role in the discovery of the true nature of the special torpedoes, but prior to that she’s in her underwear for absolutely no valid reason, a gratuitous scene that the writer of the film has recently apologized for.
As for the returning characters, the relationship between Spock and Uhura is just annoying at this point, feeling like it was written for a series on the CW. The “love story” of Star Trek has always been the brotherhood between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, but now we have the focus on Spock and Uhura, who start to have a lover’s spat during a mission. And finally, my biggest complaint of the first film was the rushed narrative, promoting Kirk from a cadet on academic probation to captain of the Enterprise after one mission. His rushed promotion is dealt with in this movie when he’s demoted back to the academy, but events result in him being re-promoted back to Captain within a day.
Overall, this film tried to straddle the line between appealing to people who never watched the originals and die-hard fans of the series. Unfortunately, the way they appealed to fans is by shoving in references to the originals every chance they got. While some worked perfectly, like Spock finally saying, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” and Scotty’s nick name of “The Miracle Worker”, the rest of the references just seemed like J.J. Abrams saying, “Ah! Ah! See that?! See what we did there?!” Given the use of Khan as the major villain, Abrams decided to parallel many aspects of the film “Wrath of Khan”, making this a completely unoriginal experience. Yes, key roles were switched around, but we still got just about everything we did back in 1982, the biggest difference though being the final sequence. Where the ending of “Wrath of Khan” was shocking and definitive, the parallel take in this film carried no emotional weight because they basically slapped the audience in the face with the resolution before the scene ever started. While in sickbay talking to Khan, Kirk abruptly asks Dr. McCoy a question about a dead Tribble. Hmm… a completely random insert into this scene. I wonder if that will come back into play later.
I did find this film enjoyable when I removed my fandom of the franchise. However, that’s not something I should have to do. This film carries the title and characters of Star Trek, but does very little to make it feel like a Star Trek movie. This will be a very enjoyable film for people with no emotional connection to the classics, but that’s not who this movie should have been made for. When a geek property goes mainstream it has to alienate the original audience to appeal to a broader audience, in this case sacrificing the character and story arcs of the originals for fast-paced action, three-ways with alien women, and a script that references the originals instead of paying homage to them. This movie feels more like a Star Trek film than the previous one, but overall it still falls short of living up to the original franchise. It’s the best sci-fi/action film in the series and something that anyone who didn't like the original Star Treks will find enjoyment in, but I don’t fault any fans who feel disappointed with it.