Star Trek Into Darkness is a good film, but is it really Star Trek?
Star Trek Into Darkness will obviously be one of the top grossing films of the year. Most of the critics seem to love it, but for me, this is one review I had difficulty writing. On one hand, I loved the movie – it was one of the more entertaining things I’ve seen this year. On the other hand, this doesn’t really feel like Star Trek to me. Sure, the names of the characters are familiar, but at the same time, this alternate universe that Abrams has developed just feels all wrong.
I blame Abrams due to him openly admitting his initial dislike for the Star Trek series. It’s evident to me when you watch the films that this could be the case – he didn’t like where the series went, so he decided to completely re-write Captain Kirk’s story to suit himself and then explain it as a parallel universe to the version of the story we’ve already grown to love. As a fan of the original series myself, this just feels like a slap in the face.
But on the other hand, I get it – Abrams is trying to make his own mark on the Star Trek universe. However, I think it would have been much better with new characters and a completely different Enterprise. It’s too close to what we already know – when Abrams’ Trek deviates from the storylines ingrained in our heads, it just feels completely and utterly wrong.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a good example of this. As a standalone project, the film is good. The story is good. The cast is good. The effects are mind-blowing. And if I weren’t already a Trekkie, I would probably be completely happy with this retelling of a familiar story (and yes, without giving too much away, expect a lot of familiarity with this particular plot and certain characters).
So we’ll start with the good. There is much about this movie that reminds me of Lost, Abrams’ most successful television show to date. The plot of Star Trek Into Darkness centers around John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a terrorist of a different kind, determined to destroy Earth and everyone on it. The twists with his character might have been expected by fans of the series, but still felt fresh and new. The story created to set this up is all part of the great writing behind this film.
Also good is most of the cast. Cumberbatch was born to play this particular villain, seemingly heartless and cold, but also sympathetic. At times, it’s easy to forget that he is the enemy, until he pulls out his evil card and tries to kill Captain Kirk. The rest of the cast are equally as memorable, particularly Karl Urban who steals every scene he’s in as lovable Dr. McCoy. He must have been channelling DeForest Kelley – there’s no other explanation for his fantastic performance.
However, the breakout star of Star Trek Into Darkness is Noel Clarke. And no, I’m not just stating that because he’s from Doctor Who. Clarke doesn’t deliver a line of dialogue in this movie, and yet it’s his performance that sets up the beginning of the film. The pure depth of emotion on his face as he meets the villain and makes a difficult choice is amazing. Clarke really shows that he’s got the right stuff to handle scenes with such levity.
Now, back to the bad. This story is a familiar one as the villain is, in fact, who we all wanted and/or feared it to be. The only problem is that the story has been entirely re-written. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance as alt-Spock to remind us that this is a parallel world and that this Trek is not our Trek. In fact, it was that appearance that disturbed me the most. It was a reminder that this is not my Star Trek, but some other Star Trek. And I don’t like the disconnect that occurs after realizing that. Suddenly, Star Trek Into Darkness just doesn’t really feel like Star Trek. Regardless of Abrams’ intent, you cannot argue with nearly 47 years of history that the previous films and series have given us.
In the film, Pike (Bruce Greenwood) says to Captain Kirk: “Respect the chair.” And that’s where I think Abrams is failing. Instead of respecting the chair he is crapping all over it. That chair has housed numerous captains, whose histories have now been completely re-written. That may very well be an unforgivable offense.
So I left Star Trek Into Darkness somewhat entertained, but also somewhat angry. Fortunately, we live in a world where my Star Trek still exists on Netflix. I’m off to go watch Enterprise now to get the bad taste out of my mouth that Star Trek Into Darkness left me with.
(I thought about mentioning the lack of women in leadership positions in the film, along with a completely unnecessary underwear scene, but the wonderful Felicia Day covered that better than I could – don’t click on the link, though, if you haven’t seen the film.)