As my friend Curtis and I both despised what J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof and their team did to Star Trek with their “re-boot” (more like a boot to the original’s crotch) in 2009, it would be fair to ask why the heck we decided to go and see the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, on opening day. There are actually a couple of answers.
First, given that this will be the cultural behemoth of this summer’s movie season, it would be difficult to complain about it without actually going to see it, so a weary sense of duty gave us a push. But the more compelling reason was the presence of Benedict Cumberbatch, who has quickly become one of the most interesting actors working today. As big fans of his turn as Frankenstein’s creation in Danny Boyle’s recent successful stage version of Mary Shelley’s story, and of course of Cumberbatch’s terrific updating of Holmes in the BBC’s Sherlock, we had some hopes for his villain in the new ST movie.
Suffice to say, there was far too little of Benedict and far too much of J.J. and Damon on show and it’s impossible to avoid SPOILERS in talking about just what makes Into Darkness such a wretchedly tedious experience.
Starting with the poorly written script (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman returning from the first movie, joined this time by the inexplicably high-profile Lindelof, who seems to be determined to single-handedly destroy everything he touches – need I say more than: Prometheus?), the movie is loaded with endless Trek references in the form of “dialogue” which doesn’t sound like anything spoken naturally by actual characters, but simply and repetitively quotes lines from the original TV series and movies to prove that Abrams and his team did bother to watch them before setting out to mess with the franchise. (Abrams was on The Daily Show earlier this week once again pointing out that he was never a fan – perhaps trying to suggest that he was bringing a “fresh perspective”, but instead giving the impression that he feels superior to something which has survived almost half a century as a major pop culture landmark.)
The bad writing undermines the actors’ attempts to create actual characters, resulting instead in a collection of impersonations, adding to the sense that the whole thing is mere pastiche, mocking the franchise while trying to “transcend” it with bigger, louder, longer (seemingly interminable) action/effects sequences. (And what’s with Abrams’ fetish for fistfights on precariously high platforms? He did it twice in the first movie and again at the climax of this one.)
But the bad writing isn’t limited to the dumb dialogue; these guys don’t know how to tell a story. Again and again, the movie has some massive event occur which turns out to have no consequences. When the Enterprise goes to the Klingon home world on a mission which is likely to start an intergalactic war, there’s no sign of the Klingon Empire. We’re told that Kirk and Co have touched down on an “uninhabited” part of the planet. I guess if the Klingons flew to Earth and landed in the Mojave Desert, no one would notice because we wouldn’t have any means of detecting their spaceship. But then, a bit earlier, when the villain decides to attack a high level Starfleet meeting with a kind of helicopter, it turns out that Starfleet, located in the centre of San Francisco, has absolutely no aerial defences and apparently anyone can fly an armed vehicle right up to their big glass towers and fire away without hindrance.
In the name of spectacle, Abrams and his team show us battles in which the Enterprise is repeatedly blown to pieces, only to somehow piece itself back together again and again – after being blown apart, there are only a few holes in the hull when the fighting is over. And for the big finale, after having transported 72 photon torpedoes into the villain’s ship and blown it up, the guy suddenly shows up at the end, unhurt, with a mostly intact ship which he crashes into San Francisco. It’s as if the people who made this movie have a weird kind of serial amnesia which makes them forget what just happened in the previous scene … but of course, that – on a much larger scale – is what they did with the first movie, erasing the entire Trek history in order to start their own parallel narrative which can conveniently ignore everything the rest of us have seen (and to various degrees memorized) over more than four decades of viewing.
And yet, having basically invented a new Trek universe, Abrams and crew have made the strange choice to base their second attempt on (BIG SPOILER) the Khan narrative from the first season episode The Space Seed (1967) and the second feature, The Wrath of Khan (1982). So the film is constantly evoking and then immediately violating our memories of the original. By the time we get to Kirk sacrificing himself to save the ship by entering the radioactive core of the warp drive, and we see Abrams et al. “cleverly” reversing the situation from Wrath in which Spock sacrifices himself, we know exactly where the sequence is going and how it’s going to end, forced to sit through fifteen minutes of skewed deja vu for no other reason than that these guys think they’re being clever while actually revealing their total lack of imagination.
Having shit all over Star Trek, Abrams of course is scheduled to take on Star Wars next. The only comfort there is knowing that it will be virtually impossible for him to do any greater harm than George Lucas did himself with the prequel trilogy.
Here’s a lengthy review which goes into much more detail about what’s wrong with the movie (with the reviewer being mostly attacked by all the commenters below the review for, apparently, having no sense of fun and “obviously” hating all movies – as usual, if a critic disagrees with you he or she must be an idiot). Although I’m not sure whether it originated with commenter Claude Parish, I was immensely amused by his transformation of J.J. Abrams into Jar Jar Abrams — seems quite appropriate with Abrams’ upcoming Star Wars movies and his exhausting attempts to get people to like him and his work by being as flashy and noisy as possible.