Star Trek Into Darkness (JJ Abrams, 2013)

Star Trek Into Darkness

Ok, to start with an admission: I’m a bit of a Trekkie. Not hardcore, not obsessive, but I like and watched the original series and The Next Generation all the way through, even the crappy episodes, and can happily rewatch the good ones repeatedly. I watched most of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, though gave up as they trashed the legacy with Enterprise.

Kirk (Chris Pine) breaks the prime directive and loses his captaincy but regains it after an attack by a mysterious figure from Starfleet called John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Investigating further, Kirk uncovers a plot to undermine Starfleet from within… Sorry, I can’t really be bothered with a precis of the plot. Suffice to say: crash, bang, bang, bigger bang, more bangs, etc… The cast do their best (Cumberbatch, unsurprisingly, is excellent) but this is only really of interest to people who like their films loud and fast.

The films have been pretty disappointing, by and large, only Wrath of Khan and First Contact really standing out for me. Abrams’ reboot of 2009 was a film of two halves; the first being an imaginative and engaging new start to an old story, the second being an unimaginative and brainless actioner unworthy of the franchise. I understand that Lost had a repution for an outstandingly bad finish so wonder if Abrams is simply incapable of completing anything well. This second Star Trek film had a repution for being ‘for the fans’ and being a bit more intelligent, if still at 100mph, so I went in cautiously optimistic.

Hmmm.

The experience was pleasurable enough at the time but I find myself disliking it the longer time has passed. Like Prometheus, this film is let down by rampaging stupidity; stupidity that undercuts the raison d’etre for the film and all the claims it makes.

There are dozens of minor quibbles – why does the Enterprise have to start the film underwater? why does Spock need to go into the volcano to set off a bomb? Do the filmmakers really think cold fusion freezes things? But there are bigger problems, too. One of the weakest films prior to this one, Insurrection, couldn’t decide on its ending, adding one crisis after another, seemingly lacking conviction in the sufficiency of the previous one. If anything, Into Darkness, is at least as bad for this, having an extended sequence that should be the climax superseded by another one that is even more long-drawn-out and then that’s not the end either. I simply lost interest.

There is also a suggestion that this film is “for the fans” but clumsy references to other films, often embarrassingly obvious, are only going to satisfy the most easily pleased of fans. Where Star Trek got its reputation, and its large and devoted fan-base, was in intelligent and unashamedly discursive and intellectual storytelling. All of the films, to a lesser or greater extent, have suffered from having to appeal to a mass cinema audience, people who know very little of the backstory or mythos of the Star Trek Universe, while keeping on board the diehard fans whose opinion, if mobilised, could create such a bad buzz as to kill the film. This current film, made by someone who has admitted to having no interest in the TV series or previous films, is not made to please the fans; it’s a film made in fear of them, but made to appeal to an entirely different audience.

Now Abrams has the Star Wars gig, one that he genuinely cares about, perhaps he can make a film that is genuinely for the fans; this isn’t it.

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