Star Trek: Into Darkness,
directed by J.J. Abrams
(Paramount, 2013)

I love Star Trek. Put Kirk, Spock and McCoy in a story, and chances are I'll find something to like. (This statement does not always hold true with stories set within the Next Generation era, by the way -- but that's not relevant today. We'll move on.)

The 2009 Star Trek film showed that, despite my own fears to the contrary, it's possible to put new actors in those iconic roles and still make the franchise work. Let's face it, I love the new Trek largely because the major characters -- Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as McCoy -- very obviously studied their predecessors in the original series and are doing their best to emulate and build upon a rich tradition. Zoe Saldana, as Uhura, even manages to exceed the past; through no fault of her own, Uhura Prime (Nichelle Nichols) was restricted largely to the role of a telephone operator; Saldana is actually given opportunities to excel ... although she does, let's be honest, choose inappropriate times and places to talk about her feelings and hash out relationship issues.

That brings us to Star Trek: Into Darkness, the second film in the reboot series directed by J.J. Abrams.

There are so many things I want to comment on, but most would involve revealing things best kept secret until you've seen it.

That said, I feel that the new Star Trek franchise shot its wad on some plot points a little too quickly in the ongoing reboot, revisiting certain landmark encounters too early in New Kirk's career and ensuring that some of the most amazing stories in Old Kirk's adventures will now never have the possibility of occurring.

Even more dire, Abrams here dips a little too liberally from the existing well, lifting situations, scenes and entire swaths of dialogue from a previous Star Trek film and shoving them into a new circumstance -- again, perhaps just a bit too early in these characters' developmental timeline. And honestly, don't call it a homage -- I'm not buying it. It's a bold theft of someone else's creativity, and it feels less like a tribute and more like lazy writing.

C'mon, J.J., it's too soon in this series to be recycling so much.

Oh, and reversing certain roles from the original yarn was silly, robbing the original of its dignity and earning more laughter than tears from the audience the second time around.

Or ... did you want this series to become a parody of itself? I hope not. Because, believe me, no one laughed the first time I heard those lines, all those years ago.

Oh, there's still a romantic subplot that feels awkward and, dare I say it, illogical. And J.J., it doesn't hurt the pacing to let the audience assume it might take a few hours -- maybe even days or weeks -- to cross vast distances of space. Now that we've established that every planet of consequence is mere minutes from Earth, you've made the universe too damn small.

A brief but unnecessary cameo appearance -- which I expected but still hoped not to see -- felt forced. And where did they get a tribble? This movie is set before the Enterprise crew discovered them!

I also resent the deus ex machina that was abruptly thrust into the plot to solve a major issue. Again, it's hard to comment without saying too much, but they've introduced a cure-all problem solver that absolutely must be ignored in all future stories, but for which there is no logical reason it shouldn't change, well, everything. And, again, it made the big tear-jerking moment you were going for a few minutes earlier entirely pointless.

One more picky point -- and yes, there's a bit of a spoiler here, but it's not a major plot device, just a background set piece that raised an eyebrow or two, but if you really don't want to know about it just skip the bit in italics -- is that our brief glimpse of the Klingon homeworld -- and, more importantly, its moon -- seems to suggest that the events of The Undiscovered Country have already occurred. What? Why??

OK, there are plenty more plot holes and poor decisions we could discuss, although they'd likely require more italicized spoilers and I want to avoid that. So ... what did I think of the film overall?

Damn it, Jim ... I loved it.

See, that's the thing. I have a lot of problems with the storyline that Abrams and his team of writers crafted. A lot of stuff just didn't make sense, and some choices were obviously made because of the high-energy special effects they'd require and not the rationality of the story they were trying to tell.

But all that aside, it is a fast-paced, high-energy thrill ride starring Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and the cast in this new old generation is exciting to watch.

Add to that the dynamic presence of Benedict Cumberbatch as -- um, OK, if you don't know the highly telegraphed twist, we'll just call him John Harrison for now -- our villain, and you've got a great action-packed outing in the Star Trek universe. Yeah, it's not steak, but sometimes candy can satisfy those hunger cravings, too.

There is at least one more Trek film coming with this cast, and I definitely hope for more down the road. Star Trek: Into Darkness didn't match the awesomeness of the previous film in this series, but I can hope that the third movie -- which the ending suggests will take place out in deep space, out on some kind of trek to the stars, rather than in Earth's orbit -- will achieve a higher level of greatness.

review by
Tom Knapp

1 June 2013

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