"You should have let me sleep." Damn right. The writers should have listened to their own dialog. There are a lot of stops along the road to failure, but Star Trek Into Darkness was doomed from the moment that 1979's Star Trek - The Motion Picture was deemed a box office disappointment (despite being the highest grossing film in the franchise till 2009's relaunch - way to go Paramount finance) and director Nick Meyer was brought on board to retool a slash & burned Wrath of Khan. As is with most Trekkies, Star Trek II is my absolute favorite voyage for the USS Enterprise. But it's a film that has infected every sequel since its success - it took the cowboy franchise of intergalactic westward expansion and transformed it into a versus punch 'em up actioner. Almost every Trek film attempts, with varying degrees of success, to pit its Captain against a Khan substitute. Part III has Christopher Lloyd's Klingon Krug. Part V has the hippy dippy half brother Sybock. VI has Kirk's mirror racist General Chang. Generations has the ribbon runner Dr. Sauron. First Contact has The Borg. Insurrection has the stretchmark disaster Ru'afo. Nemesis has Tom Hardy's heinous Picard clone, Shinzon. And the 2009 prequel/sequel has the mad time warped Romulan, Nero. Khan, Khan, Khan, Khan, Khan. Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan! So, no surprises here, Into Darkness is about Khan. No matter how hard or loud the Abrams camp sidestepped the villain question, I don't think there was a Trekkie out there who didn't think this new film was going to address Star Trek's most iconic big bad. As much as I hoped for a new direction, or a start to that 5 Year Mission, Abrams & his writing team just couldn't resist a crack at the superman.
But let's put that disappointment to the side. Dismiss it as Trekkie wishful thinking. We've been fed Khan for thirty years why should we expect a new flavor? Let's even shake off JJ Abrams' despotic grip on his mystery box & how the John Harrison subterfuge was totally for not and probably robbed the film from any real tension. We'll also kick aside the fact that the Khan seen Into Darkness is absolutely not the Khan seen in the Original Series episode "Space Seed" or Star Trek II. We haven't progressed at all since the 1960s, so let's enjoy the continued whitewashing of characters and accept Khan Noonien Singh as the name a growly, pale brit. Nitpicks, right? Sure. Whatever.
Why don't we just erase the Trek canon and look at Into Darkness as the sequel to 2009's Star Trek. Wait - we can't! JJ Abrams is attempting to eat his cake and have it too. And for a moment there I thought he could make it work. The brilliance of the 09 film is that it neatly acts as a sequel to the other films while also revamping the series for a new generation. Nero's attack on the USS Kelvin sets into motion a new series of adventures for Kirk & company; there is a familiarity to the events, but the characters are now free to live new stories. Vulcan is gone. Bam. That was a helluva statement. Chris Pine's snot-nosed, Starfleet brat learns the challenges of command & how to balance his gut with the Captain's seat. Star Trek was dead in the land of both TV & Cinema, and JJ brought the great beast back to life. I am thankful for that.
But it's obvious from Into Darkness that JJ Abrams, who has made a career out of revitalizing the cold corpses of much beloved product, cares very little or at least has no understanding for his subject. He starts his sequel with a Raiders of the Lost Ark temple footchase that sees Kirk shatter the Prime Directive in an attempt to save a race of primitives as well as Spock's life. It's an opportunity to showcase Kirk's individuality as well as a means to shoehorn in Star Trek II's "The Needs of the Many" morality. A return to San Francisco sees Admiral Pike strip Kirk of his command, and reclaim the Enterprise. Another possibly interesting departure for this crew....it last about five minutes. Khan Godfather III's a Starfleet boardroom, killing the potential of Pike, and thrusting Kirk on his revenge fueled plot.
Four years ago we spent an entire film maneuvering Captain Kirk into the chair. Chris Pine's interpretation of the character was a snot-nosed drifter; a genius with no place in the world until Pike pulled him off the barroom floor and dropped him into the Academy. When Pike was kidnapped by Nero, Kirk had to learn to play with others if he was going to live up to the legend that was his father. And now, in Into Darkness, we get to do it all over again. The punk is still not worthy of the chair and halfway through the film he even tells Spock that he has no idea what he's doing, and the pointy eared bastard should take the seat instead Of course, this is setting up the reversal climax, The Death of Kirk.
A nearly beat for beat remake of Wrath of Khan's conclusion. Why? The script is constantly relying on the films of yesteryear. We're supposed to understand that Kirk & Spock are BFFs despite the fact that in this timeline they've only known each other for a little over a year, and are constantly battling over procedure. In the last film, Leonard Nimoy's Spock tells Quinto's Spock that they need each, but I don't think Quinto's Spock has seen the light yet, and Pine's Kirk certainly can't stand the green blooded hobgoblin. And you think that when I hear the line "Ship...out of danger" I'm gonna get all teary eyed? And after Kirk's last breath escapes we get Spock's ridiculous theft of "KHAAAAAAN!" and I'll be moved to heart pumping angry action? No. It pulled me right out of the film. Those are the cheats of the lamest of remakes, Into Darkness coasts on your memories of these characters even when the scipt butchers their personalities.
Throughout this film Captain Kirk is scared, clueless, and sorry. Abrams is in love with the idea of a reckless adventurer, but Captain Kirk is not Indiana Jones. Where is the brilliant strategist? Where are those coded moments in which Kirk & Spock pull the wool over Khan's eyes, trading blow for blow in submarine combat? Here we just get one rushed action set piece leading into the other - Kirk barreling down the hallways, aching to bloody his fists on superman's chin.
Then you've got the Nimoy cameo. The very notion that Young Spock must speed dial Old Spock for a history lesson is absurd. The film already takes two seconds to tell you that Khan is 300 years old and a war criminal, but Young Spock still needs to be told by Old Spock that Khan was the Enterprise's greatest enemy? Uh, no he wasn't? Iconic as all hell, sure. But that phallic whale Probe from The Voyage Home was a larger threat. Khan was an old angry guy we dumped on a planet decades ago - a man who stole a ship from the Federation and sucker punched the Enterprise. The reason Wrath of Khan is badass is because it's a personal attack birthed from Kirk's knowitall god complex.
But why does Khan even need to be the bad guy for Into Darkness? We've already got Admiral George W Bush - I mean, Admiral Marcus marching to war with the Klingons. When the film briefly teams up with Khan as a means to take down the Section 31 conspiracy, I thought we might be venturing into some new territory. One of the great bits about the original "Space Seed" episode is that Khan has a point. Maybe in this new timeline Khan can also find a place? But no, we gotta manufacture some Khan rage cuz Khan was angry before and he's always gotta be angry. Just dumb.
If I'm digging a movie I can forgive a lot of plot holes. I can get pumped by The Avengers or depressed by The Dark Knight Rises, and ignore all the holes to drive my mac truck through. Every big time Hollywood movie (including all Trek) is going to have some serious head scratchers. But Into Darkness is nothing but confused, half assed screenwriting. And worst of all is that it preys on my love for the films that came before and it doesn't do any of the heavy lifting on its own. It drops Carol Marcus into the action, giving her no reason to be there other than to show off her rack. A brilliant scientist reduced to a pair of panties. The conversation of "Space Seed" is whittled down into high jumps and a few fist fights. We get Klingons cuz Trek has Klingons. Kirk is killed cuz someone's gotta die. And Kirk is revived cuz we can't not have Kirk..........I mean, you don't even have the balls to wait one movie to resurrect your champion!?!? And why do you need Khan blood when you have the blood of 72 other supermen in your cargo bay??? What the hell? DAMMMMIT!
Star Trek Into Darkness ends with The Enterprise finally launching it's Five Year Mission (where this film should have started). And now that JJ Abrams is off to play in the Lucasfilm sandbox, maybe he can take his trilogy of screenwriters with him and hand Star Trek to a real fan...or at least someone who understands the excitement of exploration. I'll let you throw in another Khan if you want to, but give us some Alien worlds, some ideas, some actual Trek amongst the Stars.