At the end of an interview in TIME back in April, LeVar Burton was asked what he thought of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. Burton replied that he was eager to see Into Darkness, but added that he wants “to see what it is [Abrams] wants to talk about. Star Trek’s always about something. What’s J.J. trying to say? That’s what I’m very interested in discovering.” [Emphasis his.]
At the time, Abrams had already wasted 127 minutes of Star Trek, all of which had signified nothing. It was an origin movie for ordinary people. Kirk came from a broken home. Spock also had a difficult childhood. Uhura probably had a cold, distant father, sending her into emo-Spock’s arms. A random Romulan named Nero lost his family and used his future tech to destroy Vulcan. All in all, it was no different than the latest Wolverine film: a lot of noise and shouting and action movie justifications for killing each other.
So, Geordi threw down the gauntlet: given another 132 minutes, would J.J. Abrams finally use Star Trek to say something? No. He didn’t.
Before we get into the meat of this review, let me state two things in advance:
1. There will be spoilers. Abrams cheated. He intentionally made a film so full of twists — and entirely devoid of actual plot and character development — that to “spoil” those twists would ruin what little movie remains. This is why every review so far written is limited in details: by making all of stupid parts of the movie out-of-bounds as “spoilers,” this brain-dead blockbuster with Star Trek characters is essentially unassailable.
2. I know who I sound like. I get it, man, trust me. I’m fully aware that this is gonna read like, as Adam Frazier from Geeks of Doom put it, a “die-hard bellyacher,” using my “TI-83 scientific calculator to formulate all the ways Abrams has ruined [my] favorite franchise by making it fun, fast-paced, and watchable.”
And Adam (who is a friend) would be absolutely right … had he not just written not one, but two articles about Iron Man 3: the first to explain why he’s not mad, just disappointed, and the second to present how he would have written it. Truly, a better example of the lantern calling the arrow green has never been written.
(Also, his movie would have been the better Iron Man 3, which is why you should always take the expert’s opinion over a casual fan’s. After all, would you trust a vegetarian’s review of a steakhouse?)
So, where to begin? How about this: Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan.
I told you that there would be spoilers. And now that you know that J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof (Cowboys & Aliens, Prometheus), and Roberto Orci (Transformers, all you need to know) couldn’t write a Star Trek Too: Look Who’s Trekkin’ Now without making it a retread of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Do you see why this spoiler is the only thing that makes the review worthwhile? I mean, if you can’t name your villain without spoiling the whole damn movie, then it’s pretty damn flimsy.
Not only does this movie attempt to retcon the only Star Trek movie that fans and non-fans agree on as being the best Star Trek movie ever made, it does so through role-reversal. In Soviet Russia’s Star Trek, Khan fights side-by-side with Kirk, Kirk dies to restart the Enterprise’s warp core, and Spock screams “KHAAAAAAAAN!”
Oh, and Carol Marcus is back, but younger, bustier, and as a torpedo specialist — indicating that this writing team missed the whole point of WoK‘s Project Genesis: to create living, habitable worlds. She now sneaks aboard the Enterprise due to Daddy Issues. No, really. I wish this were all satire and that, really, I want to blow your mind the way Abrams thought he would by giving Dr. Marcus a fake last name. But, no. This is an actual movie that was actually made.
I could go into the plot and why Kirk and Khan start out on the same side and then end up fighting each other, but you know what? You, I, and even Original Universe Spock (played once again by Leonard Nimoy, who got dragged into the make-up trailer for a quick video conference) already know that Khan is evil, so why bother?
And that’s the main question for the writers, on whom I’m heaping all of the scorn I can muster: why even bother? There’s some bullshit about 9/11 (followed by a dedication at the end so you can’t critique how ineptly they wrote it), and Peter Weller is trying to militarize Starfleet against the Klingons who look like Xerxes from 300 now.
The worst part, though, is that the movie starts off so promising. It opens with the scene we all know from the trailers: Kirk and McCoy on an away mission that has gone to hell. They’re on the run from a pre-warp alien culture because the aliens want to kill them and the Prime Directive means they’re not allowed to reason with them. Spock, in the meantime, is ready to die to stop the volcano that’s about to destroy their world so that those aliens will never know. This is the Trek that the end of 2009’s Star Trek promised us. And it lasts for all of 15 minutes.
After that humdinger of an opening, Star Trek Into Darkness descends into dumbness faster than the long, drawn out crash into Earth at the end. Kirk loses his command. Chris Pike lives through the first movie to die in the second, which is still better than being a vegetable in a chair … or will he back in Star Trek to Three or not to Three?! (Yeah, I’m saying it: even the title sucks, and that’s a hell of an achievement in a franchise that includes Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis.)
J.J. Abrams admitted years ago that he was not a Star Trek fan. What he is a fan of? Delivering mediocre adaptations of other people’s work to sell popcorn. And it’s been downhill. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was one of the better Mission Impossible movies (he said, knowing that somewhere online, there is a MI fan as pissed off as I am at STID and Frasier at IM3.) Super 8 was Abrams’ best attempt at something Spielberg hasn’t done since the 1980s: writing a movie about children that makes adults wish they were that age again. Sure, it was cheesy and felt like someone else’s homework at times, but it was still good. Star Trek was better than I expected.* But, the red matter and basic errors indicated that he was getting lazy.
*Full disclosure: I walked into the 2009 Star Trek expecting it to suck. That’s not just because it was an adaptation of the original series. It’s mostly because, as a Star Trek fan, I know that Star Trek movies are always hit or miss. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is as boring as it is literally titled. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock only exists because Nimoy wanted out of the series … until WoK was a success. IV is goofy and fun. V is proof that, although they didn’t find the real God at the center of the galaxy, he does exist and is angry at us … but, I digress. Point is, I was delightfully surprised. This time though?
Abrams made the kind of movie he is a fan of: Star Wars. And so it’s probably for the best that now he’s making those films … or is it?
What’s to stop Abrams to decide that the problem with Star Wars is everything you love about it? That what it needs is more mass appeal and to dumb things down for the kids that weren’t around 30 years ago when the original series was made. That’s exactly the mentality that went into the Star Wars prequels, and that was by the guy who invented them in the first place, the person they should have been safest with.
I’m a Star Trek fan, and I’m a Star Wars fan. And I can say that, after seeing Star Trek get turned into a dumb action movie — complete with a rooftop fight on a flying train something or other — I don’t trust Abrams with Star Wars. And neither should you.
In the end, Star Trek Into Darkness promises that the U.S.S. Enterprise’s five-year mission to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before, starts now. For real this time. No, really. Even though they already found tribbles and Harry Mudd, this is where real Star Trek begins!
Yeah, we’ll see.