Star Trek Into Darkness

Published on May 17th, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness: When What the Fans Want Isn’t What Would Be Best

I actually had an entirely different column ready to go for today, but after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, I decided I really wanted to use my soapbox here to talk about it. So you’ll have to wait until later for “Bronies: What the Fuck?”

And look, I’m going to spoil the shit out of the new Star Trek movie here. Seriously. I usually try to steer clear of spoilers in this column, but I can’t have the discussion I want to have without spoiling the movie. So if you haven’t seen Star Trek Into Darkness, stop reading. Go away. Right now. Scamper off. Come back when you’ve seen it, and we can talk then.

Are they gone? Ok. Let’s do this.

Let’s establish my credibility here: I am, probably at best, 65% to 70% of a Star Trek fan. I have seen most of the episodes of the original series, and every episode of Next Generation. I didn’t really care for Deep Space 9, didn’t watch Voyager past the first season, and avoided Enterprise like the plague. I’ve seen every one of the Trek movies multiple times, except for Nemesis, which I thought was a hot mess. (Yes, I have sat through Star Trek 5 three times. I am not proud of this.) My favorite Trek movie is Wrath of Khan, which is, I have found, pretty much EVERYBODY’S favorite Trek movie.  And therein lies the problem.

StarTrekIntoDarknessI really loved the Stark Trek reboot. REALLY loved it. Like, way more than is probably healthy. I thought the casting was pretty much perfect across the board. I thought the special effects were amazing. And I LOVED the way they managed to do a Star Trek reboot but make it completely consistent with all of the earlier pieces of the franchise. I thought that was BRILLIANT, and showed that J.J. Abrams respected the fans of the series enough to want to do his own take on the universe while still dodging any fanboy complaints of the original materials no longer “mattering”, the most common complaint of reboots (ask anyone at DC Comics).

So I went into this new film with pretty high hopes. Maybe too high. This is always going to be a problem for fans of genre films. When you go in with certain expectations, it is often difficult, if not impossible, for the movie to fulfill those expectations.

(Side story: After the movie last night, my wife and I were in the elevator in our apartment building. Another woman was in the elevator with us, and I was trying to explain to my wife the problems with my anticipations getting in the way of the reality. “The key to enjoying movies,” I said, “is probably to expect the worst. And then, even if the movie is terrible, you can still be like, ‘Hey! Popcorn!’” The woman looked at me and said, “I just had this same conversation with my boyfriend, except it was about life.”)

For the first third of the movie, I was hooked. On the edge of my seat watching the spectacle unfold, and loving every minute of it. The pre-credits action with Spock in the volcano, the Enterprise emerging from the ocean, all of it was visually stunning and thoroughly exciting. I was right on board as Kirk gets demoted. I was engaged by Benedict Cumberbatch’s plots and plans. I loved the action scene on Kronos, and thought the Klingon redesigns were amazing, and that the fight scene with the Klingons was fantastic. And then they dropped the bomb that Cumberbatch’s character was Khan.

I don’t know if everyone else knew this going in, or not. I, personally, didn’t. So this revelation took me completely by surprise. I gave a little fanboy gasp of joy, and congratulated Abrams and company on successfully concealing a really cool twist and a beautiful nod to the original films.

And then the movie completely fell apart for me.

Here’s why: In the immediate wake of the reboot, fans online were furiously speculating that the second movie HAD to have Khan as the villain, right? They just HAD to. I wasn’t so sure. Khan is a great villain, to be sure, but the Star Trek universe is vast. There are a million amazing races and threats and challenges to explore. The first movie in the reboot franchise had been so clever, so much its own thing, that to immediately turn around and do a reboot version of Wrath of Khan would be, in my opinion, the laziest, most obvious sequel possible.

And that’s exactly what they did. They made the laziest, most obvious sequel possible.

From the minute of the Khan reveal, the movie becomes a winkingly clever reboot version of Wrath of Khan, filled with more fan-service Easter Eggs than actual plot. Almost every part of the film from that point on is a nod to Star Trek 2, but with a twist. It was incredibly frustrating to me to see the possibility of the reboot get flushed in favor of a far too self-satisfied rehash of the earlier movie. It essentially caused Star Trek Into Darkness to go from reboot to remake, and therefore completely fail to deliver on the promise of the earlier film.

And there, I suppose, becomes the danger of giving fans what they think they want, instead of delivering what they REALLY want. You give them Bones saying, “Dammit, man, I’m a doctor not a…” You give them someone dying in the reactor core. You give them someone yelling “KHAAAAAAAANNNNNN!”  You give them Tribbles. You namecheck Nurse Chapel.  You give them Leonard Nimoy (for no apparent reason). And you gloss it up with state-of-the-art special effects and lens flare, and you call it done. You’ve made a fun movie, and the fans will love it.

And make no mistake, Star Trek Into Darkness is fun. It is big, loud, bright, dumb, fun. But it is also, once you think about it, hollow. And sort of boringly perfunctory.

The actors all do a great job with what they are given, which isn’t much. Poor Karl Urban is doing a fantastic job of channeling his inner DeForest Kelley, but he is saddled with the worst, hackiest, lines of dialogue. The cast never really gets a chance to gel together, most likely because they’re almost never in the same place at the same time. We never get a feeling for why Spock and Kirk are friends. We’re TOLD they are, but there’s nothing in the film to really make us believe it. What the new Trek series needs to do is slow down for five minutes, and let the characters actually get to know each other.

I will also say that I have the same problem with this movie that I do with a LOT of movies Damon Lindelof has a hand in writing: There are huge plot holes that get glossed over in the rush of action and speed and spectacle. For example: What caused the Enterprise to break down in Klingon space? Is there a saboteur aboard the ship? And since it is implied that Scotty could have probably fixed the problem, are we expected to believe that Admiral Marcus somehow knew that Scotty would quit?


Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant, by the way, and is perfect as Khan. Unsurprisingly, all of his scenes are the strongest in the film, and Khan is ultimately a more compelling character than Kirk or Spock.

One final quibble. Alice Eve is a stunning woman. But did we really need the scene with her in her underwear? Is there any way, shape, or form in which that scene served the plot?

I hope they make another movie set in this Trek universe. I really do. But I hope the next time they make something that stands on its own, and doesn’t rely on nodding familiarity and feel good nostalgia to take the place of plot and character development.

In other words, if the next movie has them going back in time to save whales, shame on you, J.J. Abrams.

Follow me on twitter @travisholyfield and you can tell me how wrong I am about all of this. I can take it.

Live long and prosper.

Travis M. Holyfield