As a long time Star trek fan I had high hopes for Star Trek Into Darkness.
After ST:TNG (if you don’t know what that stands for you should probably stop reading now) I went through an similar pattern of initial excitement followed by disappointment and finally ambivalence on each of the Star Trek on television shows (DS9, Voyager, Enterprise) to the point where I didn’t even watch the final few seasons of each.
Each had its problems; DS9 (how could it there be an interstellar war and the Enterprise not be there?), Voyager (ugh, another alpha quadrant race in the delta quadrant, again with the Borg?), Enterprise (snore…) and after an absence that saw the ST:TNG movies sputter (another ugh- Nemesis) on the big screen I was excited when JJ Abrams was selected to reboot Star Trek.
I enjoyed the reboot more than I expected. It payed homage the original series and incorporated enough of the Star Trek canon while entertaining a new generation of movie goers. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darn good. I liked it so much I even ignored some of the nits that would have driven me crazy in a lesser movie- shiny phasers? Interwarp beaming?
The stage was set for a new movie, with a great new cast and a ton of story possibilities in the alternate time line created by the reboot.
I scored early preview tickets and settled in to watch after a a year or so of diligently avoiding spoilers and internet leaks. I had limited myself to only the official trailers. I thought I had pieced together the plot but was pleasantly surprised by some of the twists and turns.
Like Star Trek at its best, the movie delivers action with equal parts commentary on current events. The plot revolves around a terrorist, John Harrrison, a former ally who has turned against the federation whom he believes has murdered his crew. Harrison is eventually revealed to be Khan one the most famous villains in Star trek lore. And this version of Kahn is a badass. Genetically engineered to be superior in intellect and physical strength with a ruthless nature to match, it’s hard to imagine how he and his crew were ever forced to leave to Earth in the first place. The parallels to 9/11, drone warfare, and hunt for Osama Bin Laden are obvious as the Kirk volunteers to take the Enterprise to the edge of Klingon space and launch special long range torpedoes to kill Khan when he goes into hiding on the Klingon home world. An act of sabotage leaves the Enterprise crippled unable to escape and vulnerable to the Klingons who are expected to destroy the ship and starting a war desperately wanted by a faction of Starfleet who crave such a conflict.
There are plenty of ship chases, battles with Klingons, and explosions to keep the average movie goer entertained. On that level I enjoyed the movie.
But ultimately as a Star Trek fan I was disappointed. First I want to acknowledge this article, The Braver, Better Movie That Star Trek Into Darkness Could Have Been from Wired which makes some great points.
The good Star Trek movies have been about loss, consequences, and the search for one’s true self.
In Star Trek: The Motion Picture (ST:TMP) both Kirk and Spock struggle with their destinies. Kirk makes a choice to reject his promotion to Admiral and reverse his career path to get back to his “…own best destiny,” commanding a starship. Spock learns that rejecting his human emotion isn’t worth the life of isolation from his friends that it would require.
In Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (ST:TWOK) the Enterprise crew suffers the loss of Spock who sacrifices the himself “…for the needs of the many.” The decision to maroon Khan and his followers and without ever checking on their progress has dire consequences the Enterprise and her crew. Kirk also comes face to face with his life that could have been- a son who despises him.
In the Star Trek: The Search for Spock (ST:TSFP) the crew sacrifice their careers and ultimately the Enterprise herself to recover Spock. Kirk’s son is also murdered by the Klingons.
Ignoring Star Trek: The Voyage Home and the unwatchable Star Trek: The Final Frontier
Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country (ST:TUC) has the Kirk struggling with change. Will he allow his distrust of the Klingons and bitterness over the death of his son start a new war for the federation, “…If there is going to be a ‘Brave New World’ our generation is going to have the hardest time going to live in it.”
Star Trek Into Darkness (ST:ID) was looking great. Khan had been re-introduced, still ruthless but with a legitimate gripe against the Federation and this version of Kirk had come to realize that he needed to temper his gut feelings with the input of his stellar crew. And in a flipflop of ST:TWOK he sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise.
“It’s a miracle!”
“There is no such thing,” replies Spock.
I was stunned with the notion that they would kill Kirk. And if the movie had stopped there it not only would have been a great summer blockbuster but a great Star Trek movie as well.
In 1982, when I saw ST:TWOK I had no idea what to expect. I can remember sitting in the theater watching Spock die after saving the Enterprise in utter shock.
“…I never took the Kobayashi Maru test until now. What do you think of my solution?”
At the time I had no idea that Spock would be resurrected in the next movie. For all intents and purposes that was it and probably the end of Star Trek movies altogether.
Flash forward to ST:ID. The tension and dread of Kirk’s death were washed away in the final minutes of the film. Kirk is revived by Khan’s blood (I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker), Khan is recaptured and put back into deep freeze, and the Enterprise embarks on its five year mission of exploration. Roll credits.
Maybe JJ couldn’t help himself. Since he’s moving on to direct the next Star Wars movie, perhaps he couldn’t resist leaving Kirk’s return to another director.
But the resolution is too trite, too clean.
How did Spock change? Why not have him compromise his values to save Kirk? “The needs of one outweigh the needs of the many…”
No play on the “I have been and always shall be your friend?”
Why put Khan in deep freeze? Isn’t a universe with Khan escaping a lot more interesting then leaving him in a freezer at Starfleet command? The next movie wouldn’t necessarily have to be about Khan just because he escaped. Isn’t that a decision best left up to the next director?
What’s the deal with McCoy synthesizing an formula to help Kirk recover from death. Haven’t you taken the jeopardy out of death for the rest of the series?
Ultimately JJ Abrams took ST:WOK, considered by nearly everyone to be the greatest of the Star Trek movies, and re-imagined it as a Star Trek episode ending with a giant reset button.
There is no price paid for Kirk’s recovery.
There was no character growth by Spock to make it happen.
There are no fans eagerly waiting for the next movie to see how Kirk will be recovered and wondering about what Khan is up to…
In short while ST:ID is a fun movie it adds little to the Star Trek mythos.
Long suffering Star Trek fans deserved better and certainly the potential for greatness was there but unfortunately ST:ID comes up short.
To paraphrase James T. Kirk from ST:TWOK, “…like a poor marksman, JJ keeps missing the target!”