27 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

After my boycott of Iron Man 3, I will officially start my summer season with a look at JJ Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness. I think, as far as summer sequels go, that this one is pretty entertaining, with a great villainous turn by Benedict Cumberbatch.

In the movie, Cumberbatch's John Harrison is a Starfleet agent who goes rogue and stages several acts of terrorism against the fleet. The Enterprise is dispatched to bring him in so he can face justice. I don't want to discuss more for those who haven't seen it. Actually, if you haven't seen it, stop reading. Know that if you aren't hip to Star Trek you will really enjoy this movie, and if you are, the jury is out.


I think there is a fine line between delving into a mythology to tell a story, and simply retelling the myth. Into Darkness doesn't make that distinction, and as a consequence merely retells everybody's favorite Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan. It really feels like an okay cover of a great song. But it doesn't start out that way. Actually, it hums along quite nicely until they capture John Harrison-Khan. Then it feels like a re-write. All key plot points remain essentially the same, with minor alterations to go along with the alternate reality thing established in the 2009 film. That in itself is kind of a Star Trek-y idea, but it doesn't resonate.

I guess it bugged me for two reasons. One, the source material was great as it stands, and not in need of tampering. Two, what was done with it was not nearly as cool as it originally was. In Wrath, the scene in the reactor where Spock is dying and puts his hand on the glass is one of the best the whole franchise has to offer: yes, indeed, he has "humanity", and he doesn't need to stop being Spock. Here, with the role reversal, there is no real emotional connection because Kirk is only a sacrifice to bring about Spock's rage. Instead of appealing to our greater human nature, it only appeals to our inner animal.

I also think it missed on the key thematic material, opting to spell it out to us in a eulogy/christening speech by Kirk. It feels like an afterthought because we have to see Spock go postal on Khan, when really Star Trek has never been about the action so much as the questions our explorations make us confront.

All of that said, it wasn't a bad movie, especially if you aren't familiar with other installments. I think the one improvement is Cumberbatch as Khan. He provides a depth to the character that is uncommon to see in a villain. He is also very convincing through the second act: I thought the twist would be that he really is going to help them, that the only reason for his hatred in Wrath was from his previous contact with Kirk. His is the standout performance of the movie.

Overall, I was disappointed with Into Darkness. I felt it sort of missed the thematic mark it was aiming for while digging up and retelling a story that didn't need it. But what about you? Why is it wrong of a casual night-and-weekend Trekkie such as myself to be ragging so hard on an entertaining summer flic? Let me know.