In 2009, J.J. Abrams did the unthinkable. He rebooted "Star Trek" for a new generation of fans, and he did it well. The film still centered on Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), but it was a new Kirk and Spock. The timeline was different, yet similar. It was slick, yet never forgot its roots. Characters were solid, there were plenty of nods to Trek minutiae, and it even had Leonard Nimoy in a cameo role as the original Spock. In short, it pleased both hardcore Trekkies as well as viewers who were brand new to the franchise. With "Star Trek Into Darkness," Abrams attempts to recapture that success, but doesn't quite hit his mark.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" starts off well enough. There is an introductory action scene, the opening titles, and then we see the film's villain Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) get to work doing dastardly things. Small bits of trivia that cater to fans, but irrelevant to new viewers (such as a mention of the founding of Section 31) are dropped like candy. Kirk (once again) goes after the ladies. Soon enough, Khan's handiwork comes to a head, and our cast of characters is back on the Enterprise, determined to get to the bottom of things.
Much like the 2009 film, the reimagined elements are slick and impressive. Qo'noS, the Klingon home world, is beautiful in its own right, with both the classic Bird of Prey ship and the Klingons given a makeover. The ship keeps its outline, but the smooth look of the original version is gone, replaced with a harsher, more mechanical revision. The Klingons in Abrams' Star Trek wear masks with familiar, yet subtle forehead ridges underneath.
Oddly, these Klingons aren't as tough or skilled at fighting as those most Trek fans would be familiar with. Multiple Klingons are taken out by Khan without much effort. While the intention may have been to show Khan's physical superiority, he did most of the work with a futuristic machine gun. The mighty warrior Klingons simply charged at the weapon — not the brightest of moves.
If that were the only issue with the story, it could be forgiven, but unfortunately, it is the point where things start to go downhill. Up until Khan is taken into custody on the Enterprise, the latest Trek film held its own because it was doing something new. As soon as Abrams steps into re-tread territory, everything falters.
To be clear, using the character of Khan wasn't a bad idea, but taking what is considered by many to be the best "Star Trek" movie of all time and trying to rework specific scenes was a mistake. The main reason many of those original scenes were so powerful in 1982 was because of the fan connections with the characters and the characters' history with one another.
In 2013, this version of Kirk and Spock has no idea who Khan is, and the crew is still feeling itself out. They haven't even left on their five-year mission to explore strange new worlds. When those key plot points are revisited and acted out, they ring hollow. The emotion feels false and cheap, as if it were a pale imitation.
Oddly, it seems as though the screenwriters knew how far off track they had gotten because they once again included a cameo for Nimoy. His only real purpose in the film is to tell the new Spock that yes, Khan is a "very bad man" and they shouldn't trust him. When your main characters need someone from an alternate timeline to tell them they're getting played, you've failed in your job as an author.
For all the script's failings, "Star Trek Into Darkness" still holds appeal as a summer blockbuster. Eye candy abounds, and the bombastic action is almost enough to distract you from the plot holes until after the ending credits have rolled. Even then, there is the odd hiccup, such as the scene where Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) changes into a bra and panties for no specific reason, aside from giving Abrams and the audience an excuse to see her in skivvies. There's nothing wrong with T&A, but most films at least try to tie it into the plot.
Unless you're seeing it in IMAX (which doesn't have the option for 2-D), don't bother with a 3-D screening. The effects are noticeable when they are there, but the film wasn't shot in 3-D. It was converted in post-production. The conversion works for most of the film, but there are certain scenes where background characters appear slightly distorted proportionally. Stick with 2-D to be safe.
When all is said and done, the biggest problem with "Star Trek Into Darkness" is that it didn't strike its own path. The primary reason the 2009 reboot did so well is because it wasn't afraid to do something new. It didn't use old material as a crutch.
Comparing it to the Star Trek film library, "Star Trek Into Darkness" is better than "The Final Frontier" and "Generations," but it can't hold a candle to either "The Wrath of Khan" or "The Undiscovered Country." The closest company in terms of quality is "Nemesis," the final film before the reboot.
Abrams introduced us to a wonderful world in 2009 and proved that he had the vision to do right by Star Trek. With "Star Trek Into Darkness," it feels as though he didn't have faith in his own ability to carry things forward, and his sophomore effort was worse off for it. It's not nearly as epic an adventure as the previews imply.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 12 minutes. It is showing in 2-D, 3-D and IMAX 3-D.
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