Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

startrekintodarkness_1Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Noel Clarke, Nazneen Contractor

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Expectations: Moderate. I liked the first a lot, but I’ve heard mixed things about this one.

threehalfstar


There’s a short section in the middle of J.J. Abrams’s first Star Trek film that I refer to as “the part where it becomes a Star Wars prequel.” A couple of oversized, stupid CG monsters came out of nowhere and threatened to derail the film’s fun, modern take on Star Trek. Thankfully, it was just a small interlude before that film hit its stride and delivered a lot more fun. So when Star Trek Into Darkness featured an oversized, crazy CG monster just minutes into the movie, I remarked, “Oh, this is off to a bad start.” But then Kirk blasted the beast with a phaser. It’s almost as if Abrams is apologizing for the beasts in the first film, saying, “I know, guys. They were dumb. So dumb that I’m opening the sequel with one that eats a phaser blast. Happy?” Yes, yes I am, Mr. Abrams, especially so because it’s the only dumb CG beast in the entire film. Well… that and the fact that this is a barnburner of a film.

The marketing campaign for Star Trek Into Darkness purposely obscured the identity of the main villain, so if you haven’t seen the film and you’re still on media blackout, read no further. I will say that I knew who it was before watching the film and it helped prepare me for what was coming instead of actually spoiling anything. But in any case, you’ve been warned!

startrekintodarkness_2So the villain is Khan. In my eyes, the Khan storyline is one of the greatest triumphs of the original Star Trek series. The episode where it began, Space Seed, is one of the first season’s best. But it’s the way they gave it a sequel in 1982 with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that truly makes it impressive and admirable. Strand a man on a deserted planet and then pick up the story years later with the same actors? That’s exactly the kind of thing that I go bananas for. So I approached this modern version of the Khan tale with more than a little apprehension, as I had little faith that one film could encapsulate what made the original tale great.

Remarkably, though, the team responsible for Star Trek Into Darkness have crafted a version of the story that is fresh, updated and fun, while also feeling true to the original story. Benedict Cumberbatch is superb as the superhuman Khan, and is a true force to be reckoned with. What’s interesting with the way they’ve decided to approach the story is that it’s like a fast-forward version of both the episode and the original film’s storylines. Things are changed of course, but in general it’s a rapid-fire version of the same thing.

And when I say, “the same thing,” I really mean it. There are moments in this film that are ripped directly from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. For those unfamiliar with the older films, these moments will work great and will have the power they are designed to have. And I even enjoyed them quite a bit as well. But having a knowledge of what came before also gives these moments a strange, remake quality. These images and scenes are not unique, they are but a newly fashioned version of something already created. While Star Trek Into Darkness is a great piece of high-octane entertainment, there’s no escaping the fact that it is also a rehash of reused ideas.

Some fans may choose to focus on this fact, but for me the film was much too fun to have the experience sullied by something as minor as this. Would I love them to go boldly into deep space, exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilizations? Yes. But if all they have planned are these kinds of derivative, Tarantino-esque mixtape versions of Star Trek ideas, then I guess I’m OK with that too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJNyGFqgyag

15 comments to Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

  • Stephen

    I, too, have been a bit put off by the negativity around this one, so I’m glad to hear you liked it. Makes me a bit more interested to check it out myself.

    As for being a rehash, this series is a reboot of the franchise, so why wouldn’t it be rehashing the old ideas? Maybe going into it with a remake mentality would have made people like it better. As for myself, I barely remember the old Star Trek films, since it’s been so long since I last saw them, so I think it’ll work pretty well for me.

    • Yeah, I don’t quite agree with the sentiment that just because it’s a reboot, it has the leeway to rehash old ideas again – I don’t mind refreshing the Klingons, the Borng or whoever down the track, and using concepts established by prior timeline, but to outright steal an entire storyline for a “new” movie? Can’t agree with you there, Stephen!

    • The negative response definitely tempered my expectations. But I think I would have loved it either way. It’s like non-stop action that’s super exciting constantly. Which makes it sound over the top, but it’s well-paced.

      As for the reboot being a rehash, there was never any word one way or the other (as far as I’m aware) that this new series was supposed to be in any way just remaking old ideas. BUT with the very clever way they structured the 2009 film (which was an original story), it did open up the entire world of Trek for remaking. So I’m both surprised how hard they go into straight-up reusing scenes and plots, and totally not surprised. I’m sure this is where a lot of the negativity comes from, but honestly a lot of this movie’s framework is original and somehow people are overlooking how intensely exciting and fun this movie was.

      I hope you enjoy it! And yeah, unless you’re super familiar with this storyline you probably won’t notice the things they re-used.

  • Naturally, my own review reflects the negative emotions I have towards Abrams and Co for stealing a previously used story – I wouldn’t mind if they’d taken the Khan character and revamped him, but to steal entire story points and scenes from a previous film and “adapt” it to suit the new reboot, smacks of lazy screenwriting. I think I mentioned in my own review that it’s ostensibly exciting and action packed, but as a long time fan of Trek I can’t in good standing agree that this was a great film. It was mediocre, at best.

    • It’s definitely lazy to do this kind of thing, but I think so much of this movie is original when compared directly to Space Seed/Star Trek 2 (or at least my memory of them). Sure it hits a few of the same beats here and there, but I don’t think that should ruin 2 hours of incredibly exciting action cinema. But that’s probably the B-Movie fan in me, giving things extra leeway.

      I do wish the crew was more at the forefront here; it’s pretty much just the Kirk & Spock show, which is bothersome as a fan. I think the biggest issue for those that love the old movies is that what they do reuse is far less effective than it was originally because that original story had a Wow quality, a real emotional resonance. The stuff in this new version is much less earned and quick. But that’s also modern film in general. That’s why I likened it to a Tarantino movie, because I feel the same way about his stuff compared to the stuff he’s referencing or stealing from.

      But ultimately — BOOM PEW PEW BOOM VROOM PEW PEW BOOM! I loved it.

  • Uncle Jasper

    I don’t know where I sit on this one. I enjoyed it for what it was, and I did find the “role reversal” ending sequence very interesting, to say the least. But with that said, I didn’t feel it really led anywhere, unlike the original Wrath of Khan which left jaws hanging and sent shockwaves directly into the next film. I wasn’t sure where they were going when I was watching this version, but I would have liked to see the consequences a little more dire and a lot less contrived. I don’t know, I’m a sucker for cliffhanger endings and knowing how The Wrath of Khan ended, I would have liked to see a little more unresolved at the ending instead of the quick and tidy resolution that ended this film.

    Also, watching Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan only seemed to serve as a reminder of how badass Ricardo Montalban was. His sly grinning “silver haired lion” Khan had a lot more personality and menace than the dry and somewhat robotic interpretation that we get this time.

    It might sound like I’m trashing this movie, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Peter Weller turned in a pretty nice performance and I enjoyed the Klingon action that we got on Kronos… I was just a huge fan of the previous Star Trek film, and thought it was nothing short of genius in terms of validating a reboot while still honoring (and maintaining canon) of the original series / films. I guess I was just hoping for a little more ingenuity of that caliber in this go-round.

    • Goddamn, I just typed a long ass response and mistakenly deleted it. Anyway, here goes again.

      I agree with everything you say here, but I didn’t care about any of it in the face of the pure action entertainment that this provided. Usually I’m a stickler for those kinds of issues, especially when a canon like Star Trek that I love is getting messed with. I don’t know, I guess I was in a good mood that night!

      But yeah, Wrath of Khan had BALLS. I’d have loved to see them do something as daring as that film did. The ending thing you mention was interesting, for sure, but it was probably my least favorite moment of the movie. All it did was make me think of how badass the ending to Wrath of Khan was, and this version was not even close. The scene is nice by itself, but yeah, if you know where it comes from it just doesn’t deliver at the same level.

      Hahahaha, Ricardo Montalban’s Khan is so much more memorable. I like how Cumberbatch’s Khan is very cold and calculating, but he doesn’t feel all that unique or like a definitive Star Trek villain like Montalban does. Like I said, I agree with you, but at the same time I think this Khan works for this movie.

      I enjoyed the Klingon stuff as well. I miss their Next Gen look, but that’s probably more fondness than anything else. I hope they explore the Klingon/Federation dynamic more in the next film, as that was such a highlight of the original series.

  • “Fresh, updated, and fun” are not words I would use to describe this movie. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of all those things. Well, perhaps “updated” still holds, but the fact it’s a straight rip-off, and a poor one at that, who cares if it’s updated? The rehashed scenes carry no emotional weight, and serve as better comedy fodder than having any sort of dramatic punch. Ugh, can’t stand this one at all.

  • Ahh damn it! I had written out a whole big essay on this one, and then my browser spontaneously decided to refresh and the whole thing vanished. Ugghh… Let’s see if I can recreate it in some form…

    OK, so I liked the movie. It was fun and exciting and entertaining. I thought the reversal of Spock and Kirk was great. People have complained that the scenes weren’t as emotionally engaging as they were in Wrath of Khan, but I think that emotion was just pointed in a different direction. Instead of directing it towards Khan himself, the emotion was channeled into Spock and Kirk’s friendship. Putting them in each others shoes to better understand and appreciate each other was a great way to make their bond feel more real. I loved the way they made that work, using our knowledge of the original film to inform us about how they would act normally and see how the other would approach the same situation.

    My biggest complaint is that it’s a lot more of an action film than Star Trek is traditionally meant to be. Star Trek has always been more of a thoughtful series, and it felt a bit out of place to turn it into an action film, but I suppose the previous film already did that. It’s a pretty minor complaint though, and I did have a lot of fun.

    The big thing that was on my mind after watching this was about the negative reception of the film. Looking over what everyone was complaining about, it struck me as odd that so many people complained that the film was derivative when most film adaptations get the exact opposite complaint: that they changed too much and no longer represent what the original story was trying to say.

    So why are so many people upset that it didn’t change enough? It’s like a catch 22. You can’t change anything or people will hate you for ruining what they loved, but now it seems that if you don’t change anything people will still hate you. This is especially odd since Into Darkness changed at least as much as other adaptations do, like Watchmen or Lord of the Rings.

    I guess that it’s just because the film wasn’t billed as a remake of Wrath of Khan, but films get mis-advertised all the time. Judging the film harshly just because it was a different movie than the marketing department wanted you to think doesn’t really add up. The film isn’t the problem here. If it had been advertised as a remake of Wrath of Khan people probably would have griped about all the changes they made, and where’s my “to be or not to be” speech, damn it! It all seems a bit misaimed to me.

    The other thing to do is compare it to The Force Awakens, which also had very similar complaints. The complaints are much more justified there as that film isn’t a sequel rather than a remake. But I still think it’s something to consider, especially since both films have the same director.

    Another point I wanted to make was that all art is derivative. I don’t believe it is possible have artistic output without artistic input. So many of our stories are built upon older ones. I mean look at Star Wars, and not the new one this time. Right from the very beginning that story was meant to be a retelling of the hero’s journey from mythology. Even knowing that it was almost entirely based upon stories that have been continually retold for thousands of years, people still hail the original trilogy as a masterpiece.

    And now we’re upset that the Star Trek reboot is addressing one of the most important characters and situations from the original? I just don’t think that’s a valid complaint. A reboot HAS to address those things, otherwise it wouldn’t be a reboot at all. It would be a sequel or a whole new franchise or something. We might as well complain that Captain Kirk exists in this reboot. After all, he was in the original series, too.

    One last thing I want to bring up is that Hollywood makes tons of unoriginal films, and they do this because they sell better than original concepts. I’m not saying this to point out that Hollywood is filled with money grubbing jackasses (although it probably is). I’m pointing out that if people really wanted original films, formulaic stuff wouldn’t be profitable in the first place. There are certainly those of us that like to see original ideas, but a lot of people don’t like them and would rather have the regurgitated films instead.

    OK, I think I got out all the stuff I was trying to say. Clearly this film put a lot of thoughts into my head.

    • Ah man, losing a long ass comment is the worst! It’s 2016, why is this still a thing? I thought the future was now! Hahahaha.

      I like you explanation of the restructured emotion of the Spock/Kirk reversal. I don’t really remember anything about it other than the fact that they switched places from the original, and that they then didn’t commit to it like the original did. I get why they couldn’t for a few reasons, but it bothered me. It is definitely more action-packed than traditional Star Trek should be, but yeah these aren’t supposed to be that. These are mainstream-focused, crowd pleasers designed specifically to appeal to both fans and non-fans. And in that I think they are very successful. I just hope that it hasn’t changed Trek forever. The new TV series will be interesting to check out. They cast Michelle Yeoh, which excites me, but I also think that the cast should be people we don’t know. We’ll see, I guess.

      I agree, people were too hard on this movie, especially for how fun it was. A lot of fans were mad that it was very clearly a Khan remake, while JJ and co. were adamant that it wasn’t. I get that they wanted it to be a surprise, but a surprise remake isn’t the kind of surprise people want! So I think some people were mad going into the movie. Also the first one’s diverging timeline sets up the idea that future stories wouldn’t have to be shackled to previous canon, and I know I wasn’t alone in thinking that this meant brand new stories, not re-imaginings of existing Trek tales. But looking bad it could totally mean that as well. But since Trek is all about “strange new worlds” etc, it does make sense to jump to the conclusion of originality.

      But if I remember right, only the basic framework and certain scenes are really carried over to this one, so I feel like it is a remake that is also original. It feels like alternate universe Khan, and kind of in a similar way the new Ghostbusters is like this movie more than a traditional remake. It’s always tough revisting stuff, because yeah, some will say too much is different and others will say too much is the same. I think it boils down to the subjective nature of the film experience. Certain things are key to a story to me, while others may matter more to you, etc. So when we watch the same remake we can come away with opposite opinions of it. This is of course true with original films, too, but because there’s no built-in familiarity I think it’s a little different.

      I did think back to my acceptance of this when I saw Force Awakens. They do a lot of similarly styled shuffling, but it’s a lot more extreme in Force Awakens (unless I’m forgetting a lot of this Trek movie). I think it comes down to the fact that Star Wars was spearheaded by one guy, and it’s his creative vision all the way through until this new movie. Where Star Trek has Gene Roddenberry and his ethos, it’s always been more collaborative (perhaps because of the TV format). But yeah, the fact that they heralded Force Awakens as a full-on sequel, the next chapter of the saga, and all it was was rehash stings a lot more than this Trek film.

      Yes, all art is derivative and the original Star Wars film takes a lot of inspiration from other movies and the hero’s journey. When I was doing my journey through the Lucas films I also watched just about every movie reported to have influenced the original film. The main one is the Kurosawa movie Hidden Fortress, but the trench run is basically taken from this war movie called The Dam Busters. And that does kind of demystify the movie a bit, but I think the genius in that movie was in the combination of all the elements with a fun spirit that’s at odds with a majority of harsh, realistic ’70s films. I also feel like there’s enough originality to distinguish Star Wars from its influences, unlike a good portion of what Tarantino does. But yeah, everyone is influenced and then processing that into their own thing in varying degrees, and I think that’s fine and necessary, but JJ does it in a way that I feel in large part is without that originality or personal voice added in. His movie Super 8 is just a recreation of old Spielberg with nothing else to offer. It’s his thing. He’s like the ultimate fanboy who made it big.

      Your point about being mad that this film uses Khan is interesting. Khan is only a big deal because of the movie. Previous to that he was a one-episode villain from the original series. I don’t know if it was a well-loved episode or not, but I think it was a pretty brilliant stroke to bring back this dude and do a sequel to the original series episode 20 years later, featuring the same cast. Inherently a remake of that can’t have the collective weight of that, so in reusing this story they’re kind of robbing it of some of its original power right from the get-go. They literally could have done anything, but they chose this. Whether I like the movie or not, I think that’s kind of disappointing.

      But yeah, in the end Hollywood exists as a business that needs to make money, and hitting things that already worked is by far the less risky move for a business leveraging millions of dollars on a project. It’s sad, but I do think it’s always been like this. Art and Commercialism have always been at odds. Studios didn’t want Star Wars, they wanted Lucas to make another American Graffiti. They didn’t want Star Trek, they wanted another TV western. etc. Sometimes originality breaks through, and that’s what it’s all about, but the business does need to keep running.

      • The thing about the original series is that it was a series (obviously). It had dozens of episodes to build up the characters and their relationships. This reboot only has a few films to develop things. They needed to cement the characters in a short time, and they decided that the best way to do so was to use what, to me at least, seems to be the most fondly remembered and commonly referenced Star Trek films.

        Rightly or wrongly, they felt that leaning on the already existing emotions of the older movie would help establish things for the new one, and I can’t readily think of any other moment in the series that more clearly shows the opposite personalities of Spock and Kirk, while at the same time showing their great friendship. Certainly there’s none as prominent in popular culture.

        So when you say, “They literally could have done anything,” that’s very true, but they didn’t just choose Khan without thought or purpose. (Or just to make a buck; if that was the goal, his presence never would have been hidden in the first place.) It has a functional role to the story that I don’t think could have been achieved as effectively any other way. I at least respect and admire the ability to use an old story element in a way that helps tell the story you are trying to tell.

        That may be why it was sold as “not a remake.” Abrams may well have not been thinking about it as a remake at all, just a way to quickly cement a friendship that he didn’t have the time to develop naturally.

        Making a better Khan story probably would have been impossible anyway, so I’m glad they went the rout they did. If I want to see an awesome Khan story, I can. It’s called The Wrath of Khan. But this new story showed Kirk and Spock from a perspective that I haven’t seen before. I’m not aware of a Trek story that does what this movie does in the same way that this movie does it. In that way it is a much more new and original film than people give it credit for.

        You’re definitely right about stories being subjective, and the defining part of a story is different for everyone. Most people went into this thinking Khan was the most important defining part of the story, because he was back in Wrath of Khan. But I didn’t think he was the defining part of Into Darkness, and I kinda doubt J.J. Abrams did either. (And, of course, I’m sure some people will think that fact alone is reason enough to hate the movie.)

        As for what you say about not going all the way with the ending, I was never a big fan of the ending to Wrath of Khan in the first place. Killing a character just to bring them back to life is kind of a cheap trick in my book. It’s what turned me off from comic books, because they kept doing it all the goddamn time. The most egregious example being when they “killed” Batman and then all his sidekicks got together and had a big showdown to see who would replace him. Except it was all a pile of bullshit because, of course, they brought Batman back and all the emotion and tension they were trying to make seem important were exactly the opposite. It was all just a pointless waste of time.

        I know that, when it came out, Wrath of Khan’s ending didn’t seem pointless, and was a huge surprise. But as soon as the third film came out, it immediately turned Wrath of Khan’s ending into the exact same bullshit waste of time. It’s one of those rare examples of where a sequel actually made the previous film worse. So I’m glad that Into Darkness didn’t go that rout and try to make some fake bullshit emotional manipulation. The only way it could have worked is if they had killed someone, and then never brought them back to life. That would at least have been something, but it still would have given Into Darkness a dumb ending, because no one would actually believe that the character would stay dead. It would only become cool in hindsight once the third film came out and left the guy in the morgue. And that wouldn’t have helped Into Darkness, or make me want to go see its sequel.

        Anyway, I too am curious as to how the new TV series will turn out. Watching Star Trek as it airs has alway been a tradition for me since Next Gen, though I did drop out after the first season of Enterprise. I do feel kinda bad about that, but oh well; I’m not going to stick around if I get bored, ya know. Still, I do hope this new one turns out good, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

        • Your reasoning for the selection of the Khan story is great. You’ve convinced me! I also agree that killing a character to bring him back, comic book style, is ridiculous and cheap. I’ve always loved how it was done with Spock, though, it seemed a lot more natural and I love how Spock has to relearn things in Star Trek 4. The Genesis planet thing has always been a favorite part of those movies for me, and as a kid I never saw it coming that Spock would be revived. It’s probably still just as cheap, but nostalgia makes me love it anyway. I think what really bothers me about the JJ version is that without the Genesis planet the whole thing feels way more cheap to me. Instead of a sub-plot that naturally comes to connect with the ending, it’s now this thing that gets discovered in the nick of time to save Kirk. It’s essentially the same thing I guess, but to me it feels more earned in the original. I would also love to see them kill someone off for good, but your point about it only being good in hindsight is true.

          I only watched the first season of Enterprise, too, but I kinda liked it. I don’t remember why I stopped watching it actually. I heard it was a lot better in the last couple of seasons, and they had set up a lot of good things for the future. Oh well. One of these days. I’ve never seen a lot of DS9, so I still need to get around to that too.

          • It’s true that Star Trek did the whole reviving a dead character better than most stuff does, but I guess I’ve just been so turned off by it that I react negatively to it whenever I see it. I do agree that revived in the nick of time is also kinda cheap, but in this instance I can’t see a better way around it, so I’m inclined to accept it as a necessary evil. Getting it over and done with as quickly as possible is better in my book than dragging it out.

            An odd thought did occur to me during the ending, though. I was almost expecting the third film to be a remake of the tribble episode where being infused with Khan’s blood is what made them so difficult to get rid of Funny, maybe, but certainly not enough material to base an entire film around.

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