Since Star Trek Beyond is coming out in the next week, I thought it best to jot down a few thoughts on the reboot franchise as a whole and of Star Trek Into Darkness in particular.
In general terms, I’m a fan of the reboot franchise. I recognize it’s not as Trekky as the original films, but that doesn’t bother me. There hasn’t really been a proper Star Trek film since The Undiscovered Country.
And right here I’ve lost a few people. I don’t care for First Contact. It’s an okay film, but it’s not very good Star Trek. Oh, it’ll enjoyably entertain you for a couple of hours, but it’s an empty couple of hours. If I ranked all TNG episodes and films, I figure I’d list at least twenty episodes ahead of First Contact. (Just for kicks, I did it. Came up with 37 just on a quick glance. And at least ten of those are in a completely different league than First Contact.)
Why? It’s an action movie. A fairly slick one, I’ll grant you, but that’s not what we needed or wanted from Trek.
And yet here I am defending the reboot franchise that essentially turned Star Trek into Star Wars. Action movies. Here’s the deal, though: The TNG cast wasn’t suited to action. The reboot cast very much is.
It’s true I might’ve preferred a slower, more thoughtful reboot, but it’s not what we got. What we got was a rip-roaring action film that makes little sense but looks fantastic and is enjoyable as hell.
And then we got Into Darkness. Sigh.
It’s not that I hated the film. Like its predecessor, it looked great and was plenty entertaining. But its overall impact was weighed down by the freight of so. much. fan service. And the references, my god, the references!
So here I am covering Into Darkness in a remake column, but here’s the thing: it’s not a remake. That is, it’s not a remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, though it’s commonly considered to be just that. (And it dresses itself up like one.)
Instead, it’s more or less a remake of “Space Seed,” a fairly crappy original series episode that just happened to introduce one of the greatest Sci-Fi villains of all time. Now, I saw Star Trek II without having ever seen that original episode, because my sisters dragged me to it in the theater. (Yes, I’m old, but they’re older.)
I didn’t get it, or at least not really. The battle in the nebula is still fantastic to this day, and to a nine year old, it was amazing. The ear slugs gave me nightmares. The jump scare when McCoy discovers the Regula One crew hanging from the rafters (dead) gave me nightmares.
All the stuff about Kirk aging and never facing loss was completely lost on me. (Though now I get it, and Spock dying is still one of the most moving scenes in any film to me.)
But there was Khan. Magnetic, appealing, frightening. His presence is the main memory I have. So watching the original episode left me a bit cold, because he just wasn’t quite himself yet.
So here we have a terrific, near perfect film with an iconic villain. We never need to go back to that, do we? Do we, JJ?
Sigh. What can I say about this film? My usual criteria don’t really apply since like I said, it’s not a remake. But it tries SO hard to be one. And what we ended up with was a decent enough story about secret weapons programs and covert attempts to start a war that some in Starfleet wanted to happen, with an insider taking revenge for acts perpetrated against him and his people.
I like that story. When it’s not wrapped around ham-handed attempts to recapture Wrath of Khan. I even like the bits of character development Kirk got throughout the film.
I don’t even mind that the character of Khan was used. I certainly think it was unnecessary to the story, but let’s go with it. Why not actually remake Kirk’s first encounter with Khan? Like I said, the original encounter on TOS wasn’t anything to write home about. (At least to me.)
And that’s the critical bit. Wrath of Khan as a film was predicated on a preexisting relationship between Kirk and Khan. It was further built on the notion of Kirk coming to terms with his age and being promoted out of the action he still desired. A film with Chris Pine playing Kirk cannot hit those same beats.
To its credit, Into Darkness doesn’t try to hit those beats. But it swings and misses at so many others. And I guess this is the one point I can pull in from my general Remake Room guidelines:
Pay homage, but don’t go overboard.
Any remake film (even if it’s just kind of a virtual remake like this one) should pay homage to the original film. Fine. But there’s a line between referencing the original and drowning in nods. Here we have the latter case.
I suppose I should start by mentioning any references I liked:
And that’s my list. Yep, nothing. Every single reference to Wrath of Khan made this film worse. Maybe I could say I didn’t mind introducing Carol Marcus, though the fact that they had her pose in her underwear for no reason make me think, nope, not liking that either.
So what about the swings and misses? There are a number of them, but let’s hit the big two: fixin’ the reactor and the scream.
Okay, so I’ll admit that when Kirk went to fix the reactor, I was at least somewhat surprised, since we’d established earlier that Spock was quite willing to lay down his life. (And he got so much crap from his GF about that! Which BTW, nice job with your female characters, JJ!)
The problem isn’t that he went for the reactor. It’s not even that the scene with him trying to realign to dinglehopper and the flarpstreamer was actually quite lame. (Kicking downward at something you want to move to the side, Kirk? Really?)
The problem is that the moment isn’t earned. It’s not reasonable for JJ to expect the audience to really care that much. With Wrath of Khan, at least to its original audience, we’d grown to love Spock watching the show. Here we had, what, 180 minutes of connection with Kirk? No workee for me.
And then there’s the scream. Nobody out-Shats the Shat, dude. Unfortunately, Zachary Quinto’s scream felt more like parody than nodding to an iconic moment. I’ll take Sheldon Cooper’s “Wheeeeeaaaton!” any day over this crap.
Have I ranted enough? I think I have.
The main problem with Star Trek Into Darkness is that it didn’t take us anywhere. The 2009 film did something I liked: it broke off with continuity so we could have new stories with actual stakes. (Incidentally this is my main issue with the MCU. Where exactly are the stakes in Civil War when you know Infinity War is coming?)
Star Trek Into Darkness didn’t pick up that continuity ball and run with it. Instead, it hiked the ball into the end zone for a safety, and if there was ever a more tortured metaphor, I’d like to know it.
Seriously, we needed a new story here, and we didn’t get it. Here’s hoping Star Trek Beyond give us one. I may even drop in an edit if it does.
(So I kinda crapped all over Into Darkness, but I could watch it right now and be entertained. It’s not Star Trek V bad. Just to be clear.)
Also, I’m not going to write about Ghostbusters. Except to say this: I loved the hell out of the original (saw it in the theater a couple of times), but I’m not very attached to it anymore. I don’t care that the new one has an all-female cast. I can’t muster any nerd rage. I also probably won’t see it. But I don’t object to it existing.
Seth Heasley is co-host of Take Me To Your Reader, a podcast covering adapted science fiction. You may be interested to hear the episode in which they talked about Leonard Nimoy by covering the Outer Limits adaptations of Eando Binder’s I, Robot.