J.J. Abrams’ s original re-boot of “Star Trek” in 2009 was an inspired, highly entertaining take on Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train” to the stars. Its main priority was to show the viewer a good time and make the “Trek” world as accessible as possible to moviegoers. I think it thoroughly succeeded in those areas.
Now comes the much anticipated follow up and Abrams (with writers Roberto Orci,
Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof) has decided to liberally connect his film with the best of the original cast’s canon: “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn”(1982). So much so that, in one instance, a very pivotal section of “Kahn” is re-created almost verbatim and my heart just sank as it unfolded. Why? The whole scene is so key in the original and it is supposed to be key here but it is so flagrantly lifted and carried out that it undermines everything. I saw the film yesterday and I am still bothered by it today as I write this.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” tries earnestly (like the original series) to embrace our current cultural fears; more specifically terrorism and government mistrust. It embraces these ideas only superficially with little to no pathos or repercussions. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch (hot off Sherlock and excellent here) plays a rogue agent of Star Fleet who has blown up a secret facility and killed some high ranking officials. He escapes to the Klingon planet of Kronos. Kirk and crew are sent after him. It’s at this point that the film starts to come together and get interesting. It’s also here that the writers begin fussing with making sure that this new film fits into the story structure of a film made over 30 years ago (see George Lucas).
Now that we are two films in, things that were minor complaints in the first film seem to be amplified. Like, the way that Bones, Scotty and Chekov all seem to be cartoonish versions of the original cast (poor Bones is given the least to do and seems to be in a constant state of crankiness). Spock (solidly played by Zachary Quinto) has had his emotional side purposely pushed further than the original show/films ever did and while it was interesting and tastefully explored the first time around; here it seems positively exploited. The with-only-seconds-to-spare, near-death situations have also lost some of their edge. The whole film suffers from the mechanical decision of studios and filmmakers to incorporate the exact same ingredients of a successful first film. Even Abrams’ s choice of directorial beats (lets show an alien crew member we haven’t seen before in sudden close up during a tense scene) seem recycled. Most discouraging is this idea of being tethered so tightly to the Trek of old (of which I am a die hard fan). Here, it prevents the film from moving foreword with the characters; tying them down further to the past (worst offense: Leonard Nimoy is dragged back out again in a scene that feels positively unnecessary). Unfortunately, the fresh, energized spirit of Abrams first film shows up here intermittently.
I am still hopeful that Abrams will make an exciting Star Wars film. The sensibility that he brings to Star Trek is actually better suited for the Star Wars universe. As for the current state of Star Trek, I hope that the next time around they boldly go where (almost) no sequel has gone before: foreword.