The much-anticipated sequel to J.J. Abrams 2009, pseudo-reboot of the Star Trek franchise is now two weeks behind us. I am still entirely underwhelmed by it. Why is that? It was a fun movie, wasn’t it? Sure it was! The cast was great, weren’t they? Absolutely! So, you must be one of those angry nerds that just hates everything, right? No way! I try to be as forgiving and positive in my media assessments as possible! So what’s the deal with Star Trek into Darkness?
Before I go any further, you should go see the movie. Catch all the fun surprises and all the action-packed adventure. To see why I think it’s so ludicrous; read on!
***SPOILERS BELOW THE CUT!***
Simply put, this wasn’t a Star Trek movie. What is important to Star Trek?
- The Science
- The Final Frontier
- An optimistic vision for the future of humanity
Not only did Into Darkness not have any of these, but if you’ve already seen the movie, you know it’s just a poor imitation of the original Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Okay, okay… I know! It’s just a silly fantasy movie! I know! It’s just that I grew up as a Trekkie (I reject the term ‘Trekker’). I loved it. Sometimes I feel like a spent my childhood on the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D. Yes, the beloved Galaxy-Class cruise ship of TNG. I wanted to be a starship engineer. I loved the terminology. I own a copy of the Star Trek Technical Manual and I know that you always reverse the polarity! I believe that’s where the magic of Trek actually comes from! The universe feels real. As a fan, I didn’t have to simply take it on faith that these things could happen, I feel like they tried their best to explain to me how these things could actually happen! Modern science even seems to agree that most of what we saw in the classic Trek material could someday become real!
Into Darkness decided to just throw those decades of intricate world-building into the rubbish bin! As silly as the idea of a matter transporter is, Trekkies know how they work. The range is limited. Targeting is difficult, if not impossible if the circumstances aren’t ideal. The power consumption is extremely high. And if there’s so much as a little thunderstorm happening, forget-about-it! Transporter is a no-go.
So what does JJ do? He comes up with this crazy ‘Transwarp’ transporter! Now we can beam on and off ships traveling fast than the speed of light. Now we can beam people insane distances! In Into Darkness, the villain even gets himself a handy portable version that he uses to beam himself to Qo’noS (the Klingon homeworld) to get out of a jam.
Where’s the drama? Why do we even have starships?! It was established in the first episode of Star Trek: Enterprise that Qo’noS is 90 light-years from Earth and the furthest any human had yet traveled at that time. It is an impossibly far distance! But with a battery-powered, magic transporter, John Harrison can get there in a (literal) flash! It’s sloppy, un-exciting storytelling and it ruins a major feature of Star Trek tech.
Though, at least we finally saw the Klingons! I actually liked the re-design, and will have much more to say when there are more images available to look at!
While we’re talking about traveling to the Klingon homeworld, let’s talk about warp speed… Or should I say LUDICROUS SPEED! Again, I realize this is a space fantasy. Warp drives do not exist… yet! But, in this movie we see the Enterprise get from the Klingon/Federation neutral zone to Earth in what appears to be just minutes! Even in ‘movie- time,’ it couldn’t have been more than a day! Without going into great detail on warpspeed scales and interstellar distances, et cetera, let me just say this: If the crew of the Enterprise can travel from Earth to the home planet of their enemy in an extremely short span of time, we lose a lot of mystery and intrigue, we lose a lot of drama and we lose the the ability to use the vastness of space as a tool to build suspense.
We have lost the Final Frontier. If we can zip around the galaxy at what appears to be at least tens of thousands of times the speed of light… If we can simply ‘beam’ ourselves across the known galaxy… Why explore it? Where is the Final Frontier? Where is there room for all of our favorite Star Trek conflicts? What of the Cardassians? What of the Ferengi? Why do we care about wormholes? How fast could the U.S.S. Voyager have gotten home? What of the Borg? At ludicrous speed, there won’t be anything left to discover. In 5 years, Kirk may actually complete the mission of seeking “out new life and new civilizations.” He may be able to ensure that there is nowhere left “to boldy go where no one has gone before.” It just doesn’t feel right.
So, forget about the Final Frontier. Been there. Done that. I guess… How are things back home? In my Star Trek, Earth has been united as one planet and as one species. There are no wars. No large-scale conflict among humans. There is no economy, we simply provide for one another because it is the right thing to do. It’s not perfect, and neither are we. But we have found a way to peacefully coexist for the benefit of all. Now, I’m not saying that these things are completely different in the new ‘Abramsverse,’ but the focus of the film has moved away from this optimism.
Admiral Marcus is a power-hungry war-mongerer. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He will commit terrorism, murder innocents and even seems willing and able to sacrifice those whom he is very close to. This type of internal threat is not what I want to see in my Star Trek! The threats should be external and mysterious and humanity should band together to fight them off! Also(!) – there’s something very sinister about a 23rd century that is still ruled by Nokia and Budweiser… I guess the corporations still rule the world in the Abrams version. That is sad.
So, I’ve nitpicked the hell out of some of the more egregious errors of Into Darkness. But those things are still mostly just very nerdy details. What about the story itself? What about the big reveal? What about…
When Benedict Cumberbatch finally reveals that his John Harrison is actually Khan Noonien Singh, I knew it was coming but it still brought my journey through the narrative to a screeching halt. I couldn’t believe they would actually do that! I thought it was a joke! A prank! Anything but what was actually happening in front of my eyes! But, that’s what they did. Somehow Starfleet discovered the Botany Bay years earlier. Somehow they kept it a secret. Somehow, in spite of knowing of the atrocities committed by Khan in the 20th century they made him an agent in Starfleet’s version of MI6! Then they use this to sloppily recreate scenes from the beloved Wrath of Khan.
I just couldn’t buy it! What were Khan’s motivations in this film? More importantly, what was my motivation to care? There was no empathy with him! That’s why the classic Khan is such a beloved character. The writers of his first appearance in the original episode Space Seed took the time to make sure we understood Khan’s emotions. They made sure we could feel the love and devotion he had for his ‘family.’ Those writers made sure we felt the pain of Khan’s betrayal.
The new Khan… He doesn’t have a crew (not as far as the audience is concerned – they remained in cryosleep for the duration of the movie). He joins Starfleet, just to become a terrorist against his own best interests. It makes no sense, and at no point did I feel any emotion for this situation.
Star Trek into Darkness fails to deliver on an emotional level and fails to suspend my disbelief. It was a fun, summer tent-pole action flick, but not much more than that. It left me wanting more, but that’s only because I love this cast and want to see what they can do in the hands of a capable writer.
Agree? Disagree? Please leave a comment!