Star Trek: Muddled Darkness?

Warning: spoilers abound

While I may not consider myself a huge fan of Star Trek (the only one I’ve really watched in earnest is TNG), I was certainly eagerly anticipating the release of Star Trek Into Darkness. I enjoyed the first JJ Abrams reboot, but also I’m fond of pretty much the entire cast.  I love Simon Pegg, which probably won’t surprise anyone; I’ll always watch anything Zachary Quinto is in, though I especially enjoyed him in the first season of American Horror Story; Benedict Cumberbatch – well, obviously.  And I’ve actually been following Zoe Saldana since high school, when she was in Center Stage and was probably the only member of the cast who could convincingly cover both the ‘actor’ and ‘dancer’ aspects (most were painfully one or the other).  Even if I did not enjoy the Star Trek franchise, I probably would have seen this film.  And I really, really wanted to like it. 

But walking out of the theater – even a fancy awesome 3D one – I felt underwhelmed.

Now, as I said, I did want to like it, so I’ve been trying to sort out my thoughts and figure out what it was that left me wanting.  Here are a few of the aspects:

Still Looking Over Its Shoulder

I get that the show wants to pay homage to the Original Series, obviously, but at times it feels a little too cheesy, to the detriment of everything else.  We may be fond of the cheesy one-liners in the show, but that’s because we’re viewing it through a lens of nostalgia and familiarity.  In an updated movie, it’s a bit jarring.  The women in the movie are meant to be more independent, but they still manage to feel like pretty girls on display (perhaps an issue more of directing than writing), and Uhura’s storyline, with few exceptions, seems to revolve around Spock.

Or perhaps the problem is not that the film is too self-conscious of its history, but simply that the vibe of the history didn’t match with the story they chose this time.  I know they want to embrace the fun of the 60s and the series, but something about it jarred with the rest of the film.  Regardless, it felt, more so than in the first film, that this movie lacked cohesiveness in tone – perhaps because they were struggling with a plot that wasn’t very fun at all.

It’s Not Logical, It’s Predictable

While the first half of the film was interesting, somewhere in the second half the film slipped for me and became… well… boring.  When Khan slips into “full evil mode,” that should be when things really pick up, but the only things that do are the explosions.  Every plot point was pretty clearly telegraphed (messing with the tribble and the magic blood, for example, certainly won’t play a role in the future!).  And even though the crashing about was impressive, it was difficult to care.

The real crime is the underuse of Benedict Cumberbatch – pretty amazing when you consider he’s basically in the entire movie.  We know he’s capable of bringing more to such an iconic role, yet the script makes him sit back for most of the film.  When he finally does go “evil,” well, they’ve gone to such lengths to give him good reason to that you can hardly blame him – or, more importantly, fear him.  Cumberbatch does as much as he can with the script – but it feels like he could do more with different material.

May I Take Your Purse, As Usual… Or For the First Time

In fact, you almost get a sense that Khan could return in the future, and then he’ll really let loose.   Which is the entire problem with the film.  In Star Trek, most of the action was close to home, and that was okay, because this was an origin story – we were setting everything up for the real action that would come in the future.  But in this film, it was more setup.  Even though Kirk was given the Enterprise at the end of the last film, here we’re going through the same struggle once again (though, hmm, somehow I imagine the lineup will be exactly the same by the end of this film).   Once again we’re kept closer to home.  There’s no exploring new worlds, or boldly going hardly anywhere.  For much of the film, the villain is from Starfleet.   It’s a positively claustrophobic story, that only vaguely references the vast space of the Final Frontier.

We’re still left waiting for the real action to begin.  And it’s that same plot that makes the groovy nostalgic vibe feel so out of place.  They’re embracing the short skirts and corny one-liners without embracing the real sense of adventure – and something tells me that the latter is what really earned a place in the hearts of viewers.

On the Bright Side

The rebooted Star Trek franchise still has the elements that make up a good movie: a good cast, a wealth of material to draw from, fun music, and a generally competent production team.  For me, this particular story was a bit of a miss, but I still have hopes that next time, the action will really begin.  We’ll really, finally move out into Space, and we’ll finally get a movie that is Star Trek in spirit as well as appearance.

What about you?  Did you enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness?  Why or why not?  What do you want from the next Star Trek film? 

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