Perhaps the movie I most anticipated for summer release was Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to director J. J. Abrams’ 2009 “reboot” of the original Star Trek franchise. That film proved to be a big success at the box office and was enjoyed by many Star Trek fans new and old.
I, however, didn’t think all that much of the original film.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it. It just felt like the film after a while devoted a little too much time making references or shout outs to the “old” Trek. Further, the movie’s story had its share of trouble spots. For example, I found it hard to swallow the way –waaaaaay– too convenient manner in which the young Kirk just happens to stumble upon the elderly Spock. I also didn’t like the way Kirk, in the movie’s climax, has the Enterprise fire upon his enemy to kill him, even though at that point the villain is clearly incapable of fighting back.
Despite my somewhat lukewarm feelings for that original film, I was nonetheless cautiously optimistic regarding a sequel. Like most everyone else with internet access, it was hard not to pick up on bits and pieces of the movie’s creation. Early word was that Benecio Del Toro was in line for a part in the film, and that instantly created heavy rumors among fans regarding who he was going to play in this film. Early rumors had it that Del Toro, a latin-American actor, might be playing the best known villain played originally by another famous latin American actor, Ricardo Montalban‘s Khan. This superhuman villain first appeared in Space Seed, an episode of the original Star Trek series and subsequently re-appeared as the same character to menace the Enterprise and her crew in what many (including myself) consider the best Star Trek film ever made, 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
The rumors regarding Mr. Del Toro’s role picked up steam but the studios vigorously nixed them. By now, most savvy movie goers were only too aware of a similar stunt pulled by director Christopher Nolan with his third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, wherein the identity of Marion Cotillard’s character was kept hidden but the fan base figured out who she was playing well before the movie’s release.
Now, before I go on, even though I suspect most people are by now aware of who the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness is, I’ll nonetheless issue the following…
Still here? All right, you’ve been warned.
Soon after the announcement of Mr. Del Toro being sought for a role in the new Star Trek film came word he dropped out of the project. Replacing him, curiously enough, was rising British star Benedict Cumberbatch. Despite this radical change in casting -at least from a standpoint of ethnicity- the rumors the role remained that of Khan persisted. More denials were issued and some fans, thinking the studios were being sincere in their denials, looked elsewhere for clues as to who Mr. Cumberbatch was playing. What was becoming clear is that he was playing some kind of superhuman character and two other possibilities immediately sprung to mind to the fans.
First, was it possible this new Trek film would be a remake of the original series’ second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before? Could Mr. Cumberbatch be playing Gary Mitchell, a friend of Kirk’s who assumed God-like power and had to be dispatched before he threatened the universe itself? In that episode, Kellerman played Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, a character that looked an awful lot like Alice Eve, also in the cast of Into Darkness.
Another possibility…was Mr. Cumberbatch playing Zefram Cochrane in a remake of Metamorphosis?
Eventually, Abrams’ and company issued a silly news “release” stating that Mr. Cumberbatch was playing a character called “Jim Harrison”. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knew Mr. Abrams and company were indeed following The Dark Knight Rises playbook.
Finally, Star Trek Into Darkness was given a sneak preview in Australia several weeks before the general release in the United States and the rumors were finally confirmed.
And then came the problems.
Because Mr. Abrams’ and company chose to go so secretive with the identity of Mr. Cumberbatch’s character, a backlash inevitably grew. After all, by using the character of Khan, they effectively were remaking the most beloved of the Star Trek films.
The reviews started coming in and, for the most part, they were positive. Had Abrams’ and company delivered?
For the most part, I would say yes.
Star Trek Into Darkness is certainly not your old Star Trek movie. I think those critical to the film as being more Star Wars than Star Trek are pretty much on the money here. For Star Trek Into Darkness is an unapologetic action film filled with one big set piece after another. There remain logic flaws in the story and there is at least one scene designed to do little more than offer audiences eye candy (I’m referring, of course, to the stunningly beautiful Alice Eve stripping scene, which Mr. Abrams himself has apparently come to realize was unnecessary).
If I had any major beefs with the film, it is in that despite all the well designed action and great effects, the movie’s script could have been so much more than it was. For example, in the opening segment, wherein Kirk violates the prime directive, wouldn’t it have been so much more interesting (and fun!) if instead of on a planet filled with very primitive peoples, the crew were on one of the more interesting “alternative” worlds as presented in the original series? How about the same basic premise (needing to do something to help a humanoid race not be extinguished) but instead have the crew deal with what look like 1920’s era gangsters? Or a world that emulated Nazi Germany? Or the Roman Empire?
Wouldn’t that have been far more interesting than the primitive people they encountered?
Ah well, it is what it is.
Star Trek Into Darkness, while an enjoyable action film, is nonetheless less creative and “heavy” than most of the good Star Trek features. When Kirk and Spock confront each other at the tail end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, those scenes carry an emotional weight this new Trek simply cannot achieve…though they certainly try to copy. Still, the movie remains an enjoyable feature, certainly to my mind better than the first Star Trek film from the same company.