Don’t trust any future where people still use flip-phones.
What seems like a cute reference to the old TV show is actually symptomatic of the myriad problems of Star Trek Into Darkness, a film that uses the fact that you’re a lame nerd who likes Star Trek to distract from the fact that it’s somehow more dumb and ponderous than its dumb, ponderous title — that is, until its reference just serve to point out how dumb and ponderous it is. Also, why every movie title these days gotta sound like Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever?
We re-join the crew of the USS Enterprise as they save an M Class Planet (whatever that is) and its spear-throwing indiginous people from a massive errupting volcano, which is actually a fun reinterpretation of what the original series is about. Gone are the ’60s extras in shiny suits and rubber monsters and people standing around cardboard sets delivering wooden exposition — this is a movie and you can re-imagine the concept of the show on a huge scale as characters dive into an active volcano to stop it from erupting.
In the process, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) saves Spock (Zackary Quinto) from lava-related death at the expense of those space laws that prevent cool things from happening in Star Trek, and thus Kirk gets demoted to first officer of his own ship under Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and Spock gets transferred to the Bradbury (haw) for five minutes.
After their alotted five minutes, a guy who is obviously going to end up being Khan (Benedict Pumpkinpatch) blows up a secret Star Trek office on Earth, which necessitates a meeting of the bigwigs of this vaguely defined organization. Turns out it’s just a ruse for this guy (who’s totally Khan) to pull a Godfather Part III on this room full of important people, killing Pike and allowing Kirk an opportunity to pull a Die Hard and use what may as well be a firehose to make what may as well be a helicopter fall down into what may as well be the lobby of Nakatomi Plaza.
Before we know it, Kirk’s back in his old job on the Enterprise, and gets Spock transferred back to his old position as guy who goes, “I do not believe that is a wise decision, Captain.” It’s at this point where the movie loses me. After getting all the characters united on the ship in the first film, this movie had to waste half an hour coming up with a way to break up the band, then break up the band and then not even spend very much time reuniting the band? That’s some first draft shit right there.
Bent on revenge, Kirk gets clearance from the boss of Star Trek (Peter Weller, whose presence in the movie was more surprising than the fact that this other guy is Khan) to track this renegade Star Trek agent (Khan) to an abandoned district of a Klingon planet, where there’s a Star Wars trench run and a confusing action scene, after which this guy who’s obviously the main villain of Star Trek 2 reveals himself to be, you guessed it, Gary Mitchell. No, it’s Khan.
Star Trek Into Darkness is the kind of sequel where every single beat from the first film is rehashed. Kirk’s maverick nature is introduced with a Beastie Boys song in the background. Pike’s the captain but Kirk replaces him. There’s some lip service to the villain having a tragic backstory. There’s an action beat where people get in cool space suits and dive at something. Scotty’s not a crew member but is a vital lynchpin to help the crew on their way*. Leonard Nimoy shows up. Star Trek Headquarters in San Franscisco is in danger from a big space ship once again. I don’t know why they needed Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who have absolutely no cred at this point) and Damon Lindelof (who can’t squander his cred fast enough) writing the script. Either Lindelof was only there to plug in some references to the TV show, or his script was so similar to the first that Writer’s Guild arbitration had to credit Orci and Kurtzman too.
Come to think of it, Star Trek Into Darkness is basically Oblivion but more aggressively stupid and unoriginal instead of boringly mediocre and unoriginal. Both films have frozen people and corrupt bosses as plot points, a chase scene where a ship has to go through a tight space to avoid the bad guys and a bullshit “have your cake and eat it too” moment where they try to feed you the emotional beat of a big character death and a happy ending involving said character’s resurrection, technical or otherwise.
JJ Abrams is the Geoff Johns of movies — someone who desperately wants to be in the canon of his particular strain of pop culture but can do little but parrot what came before. Just as DC Comics writer Johns’ only influences are other DC comics, the Spielberg-aspiring Abrams seemingly only influences are Spielberg movies**, and it shows. He wants to have big moments and make you feel things, but Spielberg (almost always) has the filmmaking and (usually) the scripts to back it up. Steven Spielberg did new things with old stuff in his heyday, and with his heyday JJ Abrams is doing old things with old stuff.
Anyway, what made the first installment of the Star Trek reboot work certainly wasn’t its script (though that one was a lot better), but rather its cast. One can never call Abrams talentless because he’s always been able to get great performances out of his actors regardless of how badly his movies collapse in the face of logic (see: Super 8). I like the cast of Star Trek — they have great chemistry and I like watching them go on adventures together — but for a catastrophe like Star Trek Into Darkness, it’s not enough. Maybe if he directs a movie with a writer who he didn’t work with on Alias or Lost, he might make something special.
Either way, JJ Abrams and his “mystery box” bullshit has never worked, and the only reason to employ it for something like Star Trek Into Darkness is to hide the fact that he straight up tried to remake Wrath of Khan but with Kirk and Spock on opposite sides this time (right down to the classic hands on the glass) and Spock being the one to scream the famous line. This is so egregious that there’s a scene of the movie where Old Spock calls in on the video phone and New Spock literally asks him for Wrath of Khan spoilers.
I can’t believe this was an idea somebody had, or that somebody thought it was a good idea. All that stuff worked in the original Star Trek II not just because it was powerful, but because it was unexpected. The only thing surprising about it in this film is that they had the audacity to do it.
Star Trek Into Darkness is complete horseshit — unoriginal, dumb, fan-baiting and infuriatingly stupid. That said, I cannot wait for JJ to take on the new Star Wars saga — the day Episode 7 comes out is the day I die of schadenfreude. Fuck nerds.
*Seriously, this is how regressive this film is. Scotty quits just so the script can do what they did with him in the first one — help out at a vital moment and then join the crew. Though, I will say, I Simon Pegg has more agency in this film than most of the other crew members. That’s cool, I guess.
**You better believe there’s a Raiders-style warehouse scene at the end of this movie.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, “Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men,” over at Champion City Comics and check out his Tumblr. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, recently ended, so now you can read it in its entirety.