[Review] Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness PosterOn the surface, if you don't think about it very hard, Star Trek Into Darkness is a reasonably decent summer movie. (Never mind the fact it's not actually summer, it's still a summer movie…) The movie moves quickly, has some payoffs for the Trek fans but is totally approachable for non-Trekkies, and of course the special effects are over the top. But with all the work that has been put into making things pretty, J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman take a lot of shortcuts with the characters and logic for the film.

(Spoilers below…)

First, let's all admit that many of the plot points are just there to get characters from point A to B. The first scene of the movie was just to position Kirk to, very briefly, lose command of the ship. That lasts all of a day, until Pike is killed and Kirk is reinstated as captain. While sci-fi films often play fast and loose with the laws of physics, there is one immutable law in the Trek universe: the crew will stay together, and James T. Kirk will have command of the Enterprise. (You know, at least until Kirk dies so that they can clear the way for ST:NG.)

Khan, of course, is the Big Bad of the film. They take some pains to try to obfuscate this, which actually is a nice touch for the film. But this Khan has no backstory with Kirk and crew, you never see his relationship with his crew, you just get some dialog that says "my crew is very important to me." 

The biggest problem I have is that the film takes the relationships of the characters for granted, and doesn't really bother to establish them. Spock and Kirk are fast friends because… well, just because they have to be. Remember, Wrath of Khan was the Enterprise crew at the tail end of their careers and they had decades of service under their belts. I think that the reboot has cashed in its Khan chip far too early, and it would have been better to let the crew go on a mission of exploration that would help establish their characters and relationships, and then deal with a situation. (Just toying with the idea a minute, I would have made an incursion into Klingon space the primary focus of the film – and maybe the delivery of the Khan torpedos to another planet the prelude to the next film. Let Robocop, I mean Marcus, appear to be a Good Guy for a movie, so his betrayal and ruthlessness in the next film would have actually meant something.)

In some ways I feel like Abrams and crew just had a checklist of things they wanted to include, but really didn't think very deeply about why they were important. Kirk and Spock are friends: Check. We get to meet, very briefly, the Klingons. Check. Oh, look! A tribble. Somebody has to yell "Khaaaaan!" at some point. Somebody has to die heroically, but not really.

It's sort of like there's a quota of original series references, but they're too busy setting up the lens flare effects to worry too much about why they matter.

It's a fun to watch movie, but it lacks the spirit and heart of the originals. Only at the end of the movie do we come to a setup for the characters to explore. All of the actors are quite capable of emulating their predecessors. In fact, all of the actors are probably better actors than the original cast. But the final product doesn't live up to its potential.

Assuming there's a third movie in the series, I'd really love to see a clash with the Klingons or Romulans and a slower pace in exchange for more character development.

To be clear, I enjoyed the movie. Or, more accurately, I found it entertaining. But also predictable, and nowhere near as good as it had the potential to be.

Author: Joe Brockmeier

Joe Brockmeier is a long-time participant in open source projects and former technology journalist. Brockmeier has worked as the openSUSE Community Manager, is an Apache Software Foundation (ASF) member, and participates heavily in the Fedora Cloud Working Group. Brockmeier works for Red Hat in the Open Source and Standards (OSAS) and manages the community team.

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