***WARNING: This review will contain spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film yet, don’t read any further and go watch it. Or, better yet, just spare yourself the trouble and go watch Star Trek II. And on that note, if you haven’t seen Star Trek II, not only are you missing out big time but you probably shouldn’t read this review because I’m spoiling that one too. (Seriously, though, watch that movie.)
A little bit of context: I am about as big a Star Trek fan as it gets.
I have seen every episode of the original show and all of the movies featuring the original cast. I have seen most of The Next Generation and all but one of the Next Gen movies. The only reason I didn’t finish TNG and start with Deep Space Nine was because of The X-Files.
When it comes to the original series, though – which is by far the best – I am as devoted a Trekkie as it is possible to be. So you can imagine that when the first film of the new series came out in 2009, I was judging. Hard.
And, after seeing the second film in the new series, I have come to the following conclusion: the writers of this new film franchise are not real Star Trek fans, and they don’t know how a Star Trek film is supposed to work. They seem to have a fairly good grasp of the characters, the visuals, and the aesthetics, but they have no idea how to weave those elements into a true Trek story.
Which is why Star Trek: Into Darkness is a complete failure as a Star Trek movie.
Let me briefly explain what my experience of watching this movie in the theater was like. Actually, it’s probably just easier if I do it like this.
1st oh, 30 minutes or so:
Next 30-ish minutes:
And it wasn’t just because of Khan, either.
But before I explain what I didn’t like about the film, I need to be very clear about what I did like.
First of all, and this is definitely the most surprising for me, I really like the new cast, particularly Kirk, Spock, and Bones. The actors they picked do a good job of playing these characters as well as bringing new life to them – that is, when they’re not restrained by the poor writing, but we’ll get to that later.
Second, the visual effects are awesome. That can’t be denied.
Third, I really like the soundtrack. As someone who loves film scores, this is a pretty big deal for me, even if it may not be for most people.
Star Trek: Into Darkness got off to a GREAT start. As I was sitting in the theater watching it, I actually thought I might be getting what I’d come for: a Star Trek movie. The last film had some good things in there, but unfortunately it traded the potential Star Trek magic for overused plot devices and annoying action movie clichés. I felt like I was watching a movie that was called Star Trek and had some elements of Star Trek in there that worked, but those elements were threaded into an action movie formula that has been used again and again and again. Which is precisely the opposite of what Star Trek is.
But what I couldn’t deny was the feeling that the cast and most of the crew that made the first film had potential. Maybe they hadn’t made that Trek film their first try, but perhaps they were just finding their footing. Now that they had an established cast and lots and lots of money, they could spend time and energy making something every Trek fan and newcomer alike would love to see.
I can’t speak for the newcomers, but I, as a Trekkie, was disappointed beyond repair.
It would be one thing if the film destroyed my hopes right from the beginning, but it does exactly the opposite. Sitting in that theater, I found myself enjoying the film so much that I was sure it was going to be great. We had Spock and Kirk dealing with actual issues, like rule breaking, the prime directive, and other moral questions which make Star Trek what it is. We had a well-established conflict, a mysterious villain, and high stakes. We had interesting, and at times familiar, interactions between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Everything seemed set up perfectly to succeed. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, in short: everything.
By the time the middle third of the movie comes around, it’s basically just one explosion after another with almost none of the moral issues raised in the beginning ever having significance in the story again. Actually, there were so many explosions and battle scenes that I found myself growing more and more confused about what the conflict even was. What happened? Where are they? Where the fuck did the movie go?
But things took a serious turn for the worse when “Khan” showed up.
I call him “Khan” because he’s not actually Khan. I don’t care what the movie says, I don’t care what the writers say, I don’t even care what the fans say, he is not Khan. Not because he doesn’t look like Khan. I couldn’t give two craps about what he looks like; it’s an alternate timeline, I get that. No. This guy doesn’t act like Khan at all. He doesn’t talk like Khan, he doesn’t think like Khan, he doesn’t even fight or move like Khan. Therefore I must conclude that he is not Khan.
You see, all ye that know not of what I speak, the real Khan was a thrilling, powerful adversary who absolutely exuded fire, drama, rage, and power. Every word he says is dipped in some sort of verbal poison. He chews words, rolls them around, quotes famous authors, and treats every action he does with care and importance.
This “Khan” has a blank expression on his face and screams “NOOO!” sometimes. That’s about all the rage we get from him. There is nothing about this guy that is different from any other bland, generic villain in any other bland, generic action movie. This is not Khan. He is Insert Bad Guy Here.
But the part that really pissed me off, the part that literally made me cover my face in the movie theater, not in fear as my poor friend sitting next to me mistakenly thought, but in disgust – was the end. I have never felt so unbelievably violated by a movie before.
It’s not just that it’s a ripoff of Star Trek II, because it really isn’t. It’s someone ripping off Star Trek II who has never seen Star Trek II before, or if they did, only saw the last scene and therefore had no context with which to experience the full emotional impact of the movie or the thought-provoking questions the film raised.
I suppose I should take this opportunity to mention that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of my favorite movies of all time. Not one of my favorite Star Trek movies or science fiction movies of all time. One of my favorite movies of all time, period. It is everything a Star Trek movie needs to be and more. It deals with complex issues of life and death, the effects of growing old, the no-win scenario, revenge, friendship, it’s got it all. And those themes come together beautifully, which is why the end is effective. Spock sacrificing his life and saying those words to Kirk aren’t meaningful because he sacrifices his life and says those words to Kirk, they’re meaningful because of everything that’s happened in the film up until this point, and everything that’s happened in the show up until this point.
In Star Trek: Into Darkness, the scene where Kirk sacrifices his life is preceded by…a lot of explosions.
That. Does. Not. Work.
And when Spock goes crazy, screams Khaaaan, and then runs off to beat “Khan” up, I literally thought I was watching a joke. Honestly, did they even think about how that would come across? It’s absolutely ridiculous. If I was in a good mood, I might laugh my ass off. It looks comedic.
And it really pisses me off.
What makes me mad about this is that newcomers won’t get why Star Trek: Into Darkness isn’t a good film because they don’t know two things: what a Star Trek film really should be and what a glorious masterpiece Star Trek: Into Darkness was so heinously referencing. And if this is what people are going to think of when they hear Star Trek, if younger audiences are going to be introduced to a Star Trek like this, I envision some dark days ahead for humankind.