I finally watched Star Trek Into Darkness last night, something that would have happened sooner but for a really stupid mishap where I bought tickets to see it in the theaters and then didn’t show up at the right time… yeah. Just as well. The venomous hatred that has built up around the movie in the time since has had a chance to soak in and lead me to expect one of the worst cinematic disasters in the history of film, when in fact the real thing is merely a decent, if typical, contemporary action film that happens to dangle a lot of Star Trek references in front of audiences. I think they were meant to entice audiences, but mostly they seem to have enraged them, like a flag before a bull. So thank you, frothing overreacting manchildren of the Internet, for helping to set my expectations so low that the reality greatly surpassed my desperate hope to eke out even a feeble hint of entertainment.
That being said, let’s roll out some danged spoilers.
“This is why I’m glad we’re moving.”
“Ugh, are they destroying San Francisco again?”
“Yep. Thank God no one ever trashes Raleigh.”
So, hey, Paramount, question for you. Now that two of the last three Trek films have regurgitated the entirety of Wrath of Khan, can we go back to telling original stories with this franchise? In fairness, Into Darkness‘ Wrath elements were somewhat justified, and its cringeworthy parallels to certain classic scenes could even be justified with some sort of hand-waving about the timeline trying to repair itself or whatever. But seriously. Wonderful movie, back in 1982. Still a great. But Trek used to be about exploring new frontiers and telling new stories — or even old stories in interesting new trappings — and it would be OK if you stopped clinging so desperately to a moment of former greatness and dared to strike out and do something original in the here and now.
Did you realize, Paramount, that it’s been 30 years since The Wrath of Khan; and “Space Seed” (the episode The Wrath of Khan was riffing on — the one whose distance in the past at that time gave Khan the narrative weight and personal meaning Into Darkness lacked) was only 15 years old in 1982? Stop and really think about that. I know the big-budget Hollywood machine is terrified of doing anything that isn’t a proven success, but I can’t think of a better example of just how craven the film industry has become. You guys are like AAA game publishers or something.
That being said, I do think the movie has been treated unfairly. I had something like half a dozen nerds crawl out of the social media woodwork last night when I mentioned Into Darkness‘ unexpected commentary on the modern American drone- and remote-warfare state, all of whom wanted to rage about the fact that the script apparently was the work of a 9/11 Truther and that broken, paranoid mindset is all over the script. I’m not really sure about that. It’s not like Truthers invented the concept of false-flag justifications for war — heck, it’s not like Admiral Marcus is even the first shady Starfleet commander to have tried to pull that kind of stunt. I just figured this was more plot recycling, this time from the second-best Trek movie (Star Trek VI). Heck, they even recycled actors — Peter Weller played basically the civilian equivalent of Marcus in one of the final episodes of Enterprise. So, let’s not make hasty conclusions here lest we become as paranoid as those we revile, OK? Frankly, the naked political allegory of its initial plot setup was the one element of the movie that felt genuinely faithful to the original Trek spirit. (Spoilers: The Negrons are white!)
Speaking of which, there were only two parts of the story I found genuinely off-putting. They actually managed to justify the inclusion of Khan as an outcome of the previous film, which I didn’t expect them to pull off… although using Pike’s death as a shortcut to lending the Kirk/Khan rivalry a personal angle felt cheap. But when did Khan bleach his skin? Didn’t he used to be from the Indian subcontinent (by way of Mexico)? Surely it’s OK for an ubermensch to be dark-skinned, especially in this day and age, when it’s not only OK for interracial couples to kiss on TV, but even interracial same-sex couples. Secondly, the use of Leonard Nimoy as a get-out-of-jail-free plot device simply ensures this new Trek franchise will continue to dwell in the shadow of the old.
But on the whole, as big flashy action movies constructed from little pieces of a classic franchise go, this one wasn’t so bad. Contrived in places, sure. Coasting on Trek‘s legacy, definitely… though in fairness, Trek was coasting on its own legacy for quite a while there already. Anyway, J.J. Abrams is moving along to Star Wars where he belongs, so maybe the next Trek movie can consist of something more than little snippets of older movies’ scripts pasted together in slightly interesting new ways. (Though I’ll admit I did smile when Pike echoed “They gave her back to me, Scotty.”)
Just kidding. Trek III will involve a three-way battle between Enterprise, the Klingons, and a Borg-controlled V’ger. Oh well.