I left the theater after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness vowing to never see another Trek movie directed by J.J. Abrams. This surprised me since I had a good time watching the first of Abrams’ reboots of the Star Trek movies. I admit, the plot had some sketchiness. But I liked the new look … and Simon Pegg and Karl Urban as Scotty and Bones, respectively.
So what went so wrong with the second edition? I’ll break it down in no particular order. And I’ll even end with a few positive bits.
Spoiler Warning: Read no further if you haven’t seen Star Trek Into Darkness. Unless you just don’t care about that sort of thing.
Repetitive Action Sequences
There’s a wonderful meme featuring William Shatner’s Kirk. It shows him issuing a beat-down to a blue-skinned alien. The caption? “Diplomacy: Words Don’t Always Solve Problems. Sometimes You Just Have to Punch an Alien in the Face.” J.J. Abrams interpreted “sometimes” as “early and often.” The punch count in Star Trek Into Darkness is well above a night of UFC action. It gets old quickly, especially since the characters fight everywhere short of the top of a moving train.
The Indestructible Bad Guy Trope
In both reboot movies, we’ve had the same setup: The Enterprise is the latest and greatest, the pride of Starfleet. Yet something bigger and badder comes along and blows holes in it (only the plot has more holes). In the first movie, it’s a Romulan mining ship from the future. In Star Trek Into Darkness, it’s a black-ops starship.
Think of Wrath of Khan: The bad guy relies on trickery and wiles, not overwhelming firepower, to get the upper hand on Kirk. Is it possible for the writers to pit nearly equal enemies into a contest where they have to use their heads? And where blind luck and contrived plot devices involving Mr. Scott don’t pivot the action in Kirk’s favor?
Heavy-Handed Socio-Political Overtones
A military guy who vows to keep everyone safe from the bad guys. A conspiracy to start a war. Even a terrorist crashing a ship into buildings.
Look, I have no problem injecting commentary into a movie. But does it have to be so ham-fisted and obvious? Subtly, folks. Just a little bit of it. That’s all I ask.
A Brewery on the Enterprise?
The Enterprise bridge looks like Steve Jobs led the design team. The engine room … well, it looks more Anheuser-Busch than Apple. All that’s missing are bags of grain, a bar and a pile of pint glasses. Want to see how to add a grit to high-tech? Check out the rebooted Battlestar Galactica.
Too Much, Too Soon
Kirk is practically still in short pants when he meets Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. I don’t advocate that the timeline of the original series and movies should govern everything. But the Mark I version of Khan … his hatred for Kirk simmers over decades. It involves the loss of his wife, and being marooned on a planet that becomes a wasteland. I’d bet Khan will come back in a later film still. But this treatment feels rushed. I prefer the animosity percolating over time, and Khan’s shock re-emergence into the universe.
Also, Zachary Quinto is a fine Spock. But he can’t out-Kirk William Shatner’s epic bellow of “Khaaaaaaan!” (I can’t believe I just used “Kirk” as a noun.)
Khan You Dig It? No
And let’s talk about that Khan, this time played by Benedict Cumberbatch. A great voice … but such a flat appearance and one-dimensional bad guy image. Khan should have charisma. He should make you like him, nearly to the point of rooting for him. Cumberbatch’s Khan is just creep through and through. He is the most overrated part of the movie.
Trek fans will also tell you that Khan should be a Sikh. So it is kind of odd to have a Khan who sounds like a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company – even more laughable considering the first Khan had a Mexican accent. I suppose people pick up accents, and Khan was hanging out in London. But Cumberbatch’s accent and appearance stretched my credulity.
Something Cool to Build On?
The latest film gives us a cool look into the Klingon homeworld. I’d love to see more of it, because it looks like bleak chaos. I also loved the new look of the Klingons.
I’m not a reflexive J.J. Abrams hater. I liked Super 8 (which many people considered too derivative) and enjoyed his first Trek enough to forgive many faults. But this second episode hasn’t won me into his camp … and it makes me fear for what he’ll do to Star Wars.