Looking at the Star Trek series as a whole, it really is a monolithic franchise; it spans almost 50 years, it contains hundreds of episodes across multiple series, with dozen’s of unique characters, and it has no less than 12 feature films to its name. You can get lost at Memory Alpha for hours at a time, and this exists…*
To get back on track here, i came out of Star Trek (2009) exhilarated the first time but more than a little troubled the second. Mostly because even on a casual examination the reboot of the series had a serious lack of anything approaching ideas. So based on these assertions i decided that the next film in these reboot films would be the make or break film of this new franchise for me. The next film had better have a bit more to it than explosions, or i will just have to ignore this entire franchise until they reboot it again.
Well i can say that Star Trek: Into Darkness did its duty and had just enough below the surface (just barely i might add but more on that later) to keep me in tow at least until the next film in the franchise.
Everything good about the reboot returns for the sequel, All of the cast still retains a good chemistry together, which is vital to the entirety of the franchise as a whole as so much of it depends on interpersonal relationships that began with the Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Here with the introductions over with, Kirk and Spock getting the lions share of attention and develop their friendship to a suitable conclusion, but overall the main cast gets a little bit more time to breath and flesh out.
Into this already good cast comes Benedict Cumberbatch**, and i say with absolute confidence that he succeeds in filling out Ricardo Montalban’s rather large shoes. He chews up the scenery with the same relish, he although less flamboyantly has just as good a physical presence, and just like Montalban’s accent gave Khan’s lines a memorably exotic and sophisticated flair Cumberbatch’s deep, masculine voice adds to the character’s larger than life persona.
As for those “ideas” that i found to be rather necessary in my continued enjoyment of this rebooted series what the writers decide to do is to look back on some interesting ones from previous films. On top of the arrival of Khan (whom i was expecting, and honestly looking forward to), we have the borrowing of elements within the federation that wish to declare war on the Klingons (Undiscovered Country), and the welcome attempt at getting Kirk to stop being such a douche bag and accept/understand the responsibility and consequences of command. Here the incredible short slightness of the Federation deciding to award a Cadet with the commission of Captain, and allow him to be Captain of the Flagship of the fleet is shown to be the idiocy it is.
Michael Giacchino, continues to impress with his musical contributions to the series (seriously, listen to this as loud as humanly possible, trust me). I have a feeling that the future of humanity will indeed be a place of discovery, while not being as filled with discovery and mystery that the best scores of the series has (The Motion Picture) Giacchino’s score perfectly encapsulates that sense of adventure and pioneering spirit that the people living in the future may have.
Just like its predecessor, i find a lot of things to dislike about the film when i scrutinise it carefully. There’s the usual bad writing in not understanding much about the subject matter of space travel or even the basics of naval ship terminology; like that line Khan says about destroying the life support behind the Aft Nacelle and the fact that makes no sense at all (would it kill you guys to look up a diagram? Look information like that is free even!), or how the Enterprise somehow gets pulled to Earth in an instant when it sat drifting in orbit around the moon (why wouldn’t it just fall towards the Moon???). Plot holes abound as well, like how the Klingon’s wouldn’t detect two uncloaked federation ships that are within viewing distance of their home world, or how Scotty’s transporter invention makes space ships completely and utterly obsolete. All of this i can forgive, with the exception of the fan service that is thrown haphazardly around.
Squeezing in homage’s and borrowing ideas while in theory and practise can strengthen continuity but when it is as poorly written as it is here, the fan service only serves to confuse me, the type of person who would appreciate it. Visual tidbits like Praxis having been destroyed above Kronos when it isn’t due to be destroyed for a couple of decades. Or like the word Trans-Warp is being thrown around when the Federation won’t be able to achieve that for a hundred more years, make me question whether or not the writers even care about the in universe implications these two events have to the entirety of the Star Trek universe.
Worst of all is the “borrowing” or “re-imagining” of Spock’s death scene from Wrath of Khan. I can see the intent behind the swapping of death roles between Kirk and Spock. The idea itself is a clever and even a daring one to further distance the reboot from the original universe. It’s nicely written***, it’s nicely acted***, it’s nicely scored, and even well motivated within this movie’s narrative, however it’s just horribly thought out. The death of Kirk is mostly used to complete his character arc, as he starts the film out as an utterly selfish and unprepared commander, to one that has by the end of the story paid the ultimate consequence of his own actions while at the same time saving those he put into danger. But then the writers cheapen it by having him pop back into life inside of 15 minutes. That is the worst and i repeat absolute worst thing you can do to a character that dies.
When Spock died, it had a sense of finality to it, Leonard Nimoy was always on the verge of quitting and with his death the fans now had a suitable, if sad closure to his character. When convinced to come back, his crew had to undergo a long and costly journey to save him (the Enterprise is blown up as is an entire planet, Kirk’s son is killed trying to rescue Spock etc.). The Search for Spock felt like it had weight to it, like it was a once in a lifetime chance that had terrible consequences for everyone involved, truly it was a story about the needs of the one, outweighing the needs of the many. That’s how you bring a character back to life, that’s how you retain their original sacrifice’s gravitas. But here in Into Darkness Kirk is given some magical blood and wakes up completely intact, and without any consequences(!?).
This series being a reboot, allows me to make a lot of concessions in regards to what you can and can’t do. But writing this shoddy is the death of this series, and i haven’t even gotten to how Into Darkness‘ other borrowed ideas are better done in previous films. Or how through the miracle of contrivances and bad writing the Enterprise is fully operational in one year, and how the Klingons somehow haven’t declared war on the Federation in the mean time.
Listen, i can nit pick Into Darkness into oblivion (much like i can with the first film), i will however spare anyone who is reading this, that type of whining and will stop with The Bad of the film here in order to keep this review at a manageable length****.
It is very clear to me that Star Trek is now in the hands of people who really don’t have any good ideas to their names. Most of what we have here, has been seen before and is superior in their previous incarnations (other than its SFX that is), and if it is to be judged against the previous films or worse if you try to see them as a replacement to them, then this new franchise fails miserably. However, i can still distance myself enough from this reboot to take it as an addition and not a replacement to the original series and as a result, i can judge it as its own entity.
Therefore Star Trek: Into Darkness***** improves upon the previous film by being just as fun a popcorn flick as the prvious entry and also injecting some much-needed substance to its proceedings. While its ideas are borrowed from superior source material, it nonetheless is a promising step forward for this series which hopefully can be followed up on and expanded.
RATING AS A PART OF THE NEW SERIES **** OUT OF FIVE
RATING WITHIN THE STAR TREK FRANCHISE ** OUT OF FIVE
*not that it’s a bad thing, honestly i took time to look up and read all of the in-depth specs and in universe design history of all of the federation ships. Its fascinating, to say the least and more than a bit dorky… But fuck it, i love Star Trek!
**This is a big can of worms to open up, and it is a subject that probably needs more than just an annotation to address fully, but i just want to talk about the accusations of racism in the casting of Cumberbatch. I’m not denying that racism still exists in Hollywood (after all Shredder in that new awful looking TMNT movie is bizarrely enough played by a white man, when he could easily have been Japanese), and i’m not saying that such racism shouldn’t be criticised and stopped (again why can’t the Shredder be played by a Japanese man?).
But i believe here at least, the old and disputed argument “best person for the job” applies. Cumberbatch is a popular actor that aids the series with attracting some new audience members, he does a great job of making Khan his own distinct character within the rebooted series, Ricardo Montalban himself was not East Indian himself but did a good enough job to not have that matter, and quite honestly a lot of the arguments i read that criticised the film for his inclusion, boiled down to wanting anyone else to have been casted so long as they weren’t white, which to me is rather racist to begin with.
In the end i want to make it clear that i have zero issues with anyone having been casted for this role, so long as the actor gave us a good performance Khan could have been made into an Asian woman and i would have accepted it on the grounds that this is a rebooted series.
I know that there is a lot of subtext, and history that this statement probably glances over, i am not blind to racism in media and not oblivious to the fact that it is a cancer that plagues the human race to this day. I thought long and hard on this subject and i find that here with Into Darkness at least, this argument doesn’t hold much water. If people were and are offended that’s their right and they have their reasons, i for one am not.
***except for Spock yelling out KHAAAANN!!! Why would Spock yell out Khan’s name??? He didn’t yell out NNNNNEEEEEERRRRRROOOOOO!!!!!, when Nero destroyed his planet after his mother died before his very eyes. It doesn’t add to the scene, it doesn’t add to Spock’s character, nor does it strengthen his relationship or sense of loss about Kirk. Its only here for fan service, and because (much like many of the rest of those inclusions) it is so poorly thought out IT MAKES NO SENSE and i bang my head on my desk when i think about it.
****i was rather disappointed that we didn’t get a decent space battle like the one in Nemesis in this one, as the movies are rather stingy with them overall, and no a space battle is not the Enterprise being shot at while it helplessly floats in space (i’m looking at you Undiscovered Country).
*****Also, why did they have to waste such a good title on a ho hum movie? Just look at that poster, and read that title again Star Trek: Into Darkness. The type of story that i think of is most certainly not what we have here. When i read a phrase like “into darkness” the type of story i think of is one of tremendous and irrevocable consequences that if surmounted at all, are only done at great cost. It’s a shame that is most certainly not the case here.