A Review of Star Trek Into Darkness

I am going to get this out of the way right now – I don’t particularly care about Star Trek. It’s not that I hate it. I acknowledge the impact that it’s had on science fiction and I did like First Contact. It’s just never been something that I got worked up about. I don’t understand what quality it has that continues to attract people. Off the top of my head, I can think of several space operas (Farscape, FireflyBattlestar Galactica) that utterly dominate Star Trek in terms of quality. I recognize the fact that they would not exist without Trek, but at the same time, the Mona Lisa would not exist without the color brown. Does this mean I have to give more praise to that color than the later painting?

I surrendered myself because the things I’m going to complain about are probably the same things that fans like about the franchise. I suppose fans are going to be very pleased with this film. The rest of us, though, will be less than impressed.

I think my biggest problem with the original Trek characters is that they’re too sterile. They had no motivation and no real personality – they’ve practically been carried over from random TV Tropes pages. This is no more evident than in Kirk. I don’t blame Chris Pine – he looks like he’s having fun. But I don’t get how his Kirk managed to build the confidence that he has, or why he “won’t follow the rules,” except for the fact that he says so. And why does Starfleet put up with this? Why do they keep putting him in a position where he’ll easily regain his command of the Enterprise, even after he constantly breaks the rules? I have no idea. Well, OK, I actually do – it’s because this is a Star Trek movie and Kirk needs to be the captain. His relationship with the crew is woefully inadequate. Yes, he states that he loves them several times. How? What does he do to show this affection before the big statement where he asks for their lives to be spared? Nothing. The only character I liked in the film is Simon Pegg’s Scottie, because he was allowed to have a life outside of the ship. Benedict Cumberbatch also gives a fine performance, but he’s given so little material to work with that it doesn’t really amount to much. He’s the villain because there must be one.

Later space operas gave their characters motivation and personality. We know why their in space, why know how they grew into the characters they are. Firefly had a bunch of war veteran smugglers looking to better themselves. They had relationships. They had dinner together. They fought in a natural way. Some of them were only interested in their own desires and were willing to sacrifice their friends to achieve their goals. Farscape had a bunch of fugitives that grew to love each other. Some fell in love. Again, sometimes they fought. There was palpable tension in their encounters, more than just the light bickering in Trek. Some of them even seemed to hate each other, but they always came through for each other in the end. Star Trek has…

I am not sure how to finish that thought. And that’s the biggest problem with the Trek franchise. Into Darkness does nothing to address this, giving the same characters we’ve always had and not challenging them in any way.

The other problem is that the film has no major plot points or ways to deviate from the Star Trek formula. There are several gigantic set ups that have no pay off. Even (minor spoilers) death is treated as a minor inconvenience and an excuse to work in a classic catch phrase. Character actions also make no sense. Why would a villain stop in the middle of a chase to pick up a long coat, except so the filmmakers can work in a scene where the villain is wearing a long coat? For that matter, why does someone turn evil immediately after another character says he needs to turn evil? Why incorporate a death scene with no pay off other than to reference an earlier film? None of it makes any sense to me.

I’ll admit that the film follows the Trek formula very well. The music and effects are properly good, and the action is also well paced. So, once again I’m at my usual crossroads – do I praise a film for following a formula well, or condemn it for following a formula in the first place? The answer is easy in this case. Star Trek has become tired and dated, which is why they rebooted it in the first place. But rather than exploring new ideas, they keep calling back to the old franchise and keeping their characters as stagnant as they always were.

I stated at the beginning that I was not qualified to discuss the film from any sort of fan perspective. Maybe there are others who are able to explain why this film is a work of genius that captures what Star Trek is about. But for me, the film was another formulaic retread in which the plot was designed seemingly to throw in as many references to past films as possible. This is not a sign of cleverness – it is a sign of laziness. I’m still waiting for a Trek film that will show me just why this material is special and has become the biggest cult property on the planet. I guess I am going to have to keep waiting.

Hate mail to the usual address, please.

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