Star Trek into Darkness

According to legend sometime in the mid-sixties, Gene Roddenberry wanted to make an intelligent science fiction series that sneakily commented on larger issues by hiding them in an action/adventure format.  The example of The Twilight Zone is always cited.  He packaged Star Trek to NBC as “Wagon Train to the stars,” implying that it was a western in space.  How much of this story is true is up for debate, but at the beginning, Roddenberry recruited top science fiction authors of the day like Theodore Sturgeon and Harlan Ellison to write provocative and fondly remembered episodes.  Of course there were also the episodes where the crew of the Enterprise would kick alien behind and a lot of those were good too. 

Since then Star Trek has been torn between these two poles.  When J.J. Abrams took over the reins of the franchise four years ago with Star Trek, he definitely operated at the slam bang action side of things.  Chris Pine played Kirk like he was the love child of Bruce Willis and James Dean and that attitude permeated the rest of Abrams’s altered timeline.

As a lifelong Star Trek fan, I saw the need for Abrams to roil the stagnant waters of the Star Trek universe four years ago and I approved of the results, perhaps not wholeheartedly but with enthusiasm.  Now comes the sequel to Star Trek and it is very much along the same lines.

Kirk’s in trouble again.  He saved Spock’s life on a mission into a live volcano on an alien world but he had to break the Prime Directive and reveal the presence of the Enterprise to the natives to do it.  When Kirk returns to Earth, to face the music, a man calling himself John Harrison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, launches a terrorist attack, killing a good percentage of Star Fleet leadership including Kirk’s mentor, Captain Pike.  Kirk gets the permission of Admiral Marcus, played by Peter Weller, to take the Enterprise and go after him.  But all is not as it seems.

That’s really all the set up I can give you without spoiling the plot and I’ll warn you right now that if you don’t want that to happen don’t go to the movie’s IMDB page until after you’ve seen the film. 

The audacity of what Abrams did in the first film is beginning to wear off in the second.  Star Trek into Darkness is less bold.  In fact where it runs into trouble is when to pays too much respectful homage to an event that took place in the other timeline that I can’t tell you about.  It really threw me out of the film though.

All that aside, it is a serviceable action movie with fine performances from the leads, especially Pine, Quinto and Cumberbatch.  The action set pieces are unforgettable and the special effects are spectacular and seamlessly integrated into the live action.  Even the lava scenes look good.  Maybe it’s time for Peter Jackson to go back to The Return of the King and fix those lava scenes?  And I’ve noticed that they seem to be doing a better job with the 3D.  Either the technology is better or directors are learning how to use it more effectively.

With Abrams now being put in charge of the Star Wars universe as well, I am anxiously awaiting the next few moves.  I don’t think he can do both.  Maybe I’m wrong but it doesn’t seem likely.  I love action movies, but I also love intelligent plots that make you think, which is something that the Star Trek series did well.  I hope Trek is steered back toward that part of its heritage. 

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