Speculative Fiction Friday: Star Trek, Into Darkness

star_trek_into_darkness_1I realize that I don’t review speculative films that are recent, and I suppose that whatever hype this film has will soon be discontinued by whatever new summer movie that is coming out, which will be that new Superman flick.

I’m going to start this article by just saying that I didn’t really like this film. This isn’t to say that I absolutely hated this film, any more than I hated Star Trek III. It’s just that the odd-numbered Star Trek films of the past were not the franchise’s best foot forward, and I don’t think Into Darkness was their best effort. Perhaps in the new Star Trek series, the even numbered ones will be the weaker wessels, I mean, vessels.

Granted, this film was a good step for the famous franchise owned by Paramount as it takes the normally utopian Star Trek crew and gives it a darker look. I always felt that Star Trek conflicts were based on keeping the peace rather than all-out war, and this is our first foray into it all out bloody conflict. In short, Star Trek always looked very neat, like the interior of the Enterprise, but this feels like some dystopian stuff going on, and it is welcome.

The problem is that it isn’t well-executed. You know how a lot of action films begin with a sequence that is unrelated to the rest of the film? I’m sure there is a proper name for this type of beginning, but just think about all the James Bond films. Now, it has been established from the J.J. Abrams Star Trek first film that we have rebooted this universe, so this is a crew that is in a parallel timeline to that of the crew of the original late 1960’s series.

The opening feels weak, an excuse to use special effects to stop a volcano that is about to erupt on an alien world. It feels like I am watching an episode of one of the other Star Trek series, only I haven’t been given time to care about these aliens. Considering that the first season of Star Trek had a lot of interesting conflicts, couldn’t they have rewritten an ending from one of those episodes and incorporated it into the film? Heck, they are already rewriting the entire universe of the original Star Trek series, I say you need to go all out. They actually mention an episode when Scotty talks about “the Mudd Incident”. Could you not start out with some Romulan conflict, as this film has events that take place before events that correspond with the events from the original Star Trek Series.

This is one of the weaknesses of this new Star Trek Universe, as it takes little risks. Considering that the first film was a blatant declaration that they are in a new timeline, I suppose that this scenario was put into place so, in the event that the 2009 Star Trek reboot flopped, Paramount could just sweep it under the rug and try rebooting Star Trek in some other form. As it turns out, that film was a hit, and so they can create some interesting plots with these successfully-tested iconic character reboots.

After the initial action sequence, it turns out that Kirk broke a few Starfleet rules to save Spock. Instead of being grateful, Spock reports Kirk. Yes, I have seen episodes of Star Trek where captains (and I do mean all of them, up to John Archer) have broken rules and not faced proper consequences. In the case of Kirk, he does get removed from this post, which only creates a conflict which is, at best, a subplot.

Of course, the real plot is a villain known at first as John Harrison. I say “at first” because there is a big reveal as to who this villain is, and this is also not a risk. It was pretty easy to figure out if you know the show and the eighties Star Trek movies. If you don’t, then the big reveal will not even matter, so he might as well stay named the bland “John Harrison”. There are some spoilers ahead, by the way.

Harrison uses terrorist actions to take on the Federation of Planets. One of them results in the death of Kirk’s mentor, Christopher Pike, which will completely negate a classic two-parter episode known as “The Menagerie”. Real Star Trek fans will know exactly what I am talking about.

I will say that the villain is played extremely well, and has equal parts savage with equal parts intelligence. In short, he is the perfect combination of genius and madness, which is befitting an iconic Star Trek villain. Sadly, his ending plot looks a lot like 9/11, which explains a dedication message in the ending credits. I often don’t like it when villains in films do things that are similar to real life bad guys. Watch the newest Iron Man 3 for another example of this.

There are some things that the film does well. I will say that the universe it creates looks beautiful and full of details. I saw it in 3-D, and I have never wanted to be a part of any sci-fi universe any more than when I saw this. It really is dazzling, and the warp effect for the Enterprise has never looked better.

The film also takes the time to introduce Carol Marcus, a character from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This is hardly a spoiler, but she is revealed to be the mother of Kirk’s son, David. Now we know where they met and conceived David. Not that Captain Kirk probably didn’t have more sons that he didn’t know about, but that joke has been done to death. There are several homages to Star Trek II in this film, and they just don’t work.

In short, I’m not certain what in the world Star Trek can do in their third film that will keep the continuity of the original show and still inject some novelty into a franchise that nearly died a few years ago. Perhaps we could really get into that whole Romulan thing, or something. But won’t this just get redundant? Perhaps it already has.

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