Here’s the good news: My daughter and her college girlfriends went to the New York red carpet premiere for one purpose: to leave with a picture of themselves with Chris Pine. They succeeded. As for the movie, with the exception of my daughter, none of them had ever seen any of the many versions of Star Trek available in this universe and, in fact, openly declared their dislike for science fiction in general. After seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, they emerged as fans. They couldn’t believe how great the movie was. They were bubbling with excitement, eager for the next sequel.
That’s what they call “expanding the constituency.” It’s a marketers dream come true, and no doubt one of the reasons Paramount partnered with J. J. Abrams for the Star Trek reboot.
But I’m part of the original constituency – the one dating back to Star Trek: The Original Series (a.k.a. “TOS”). For my part, I fulfilled my dream merely by attending the New York City red (actually black) carpet premiere of the movie. The movie, on the other hand, had much more to live up to – and it very nearly pulls it off.
One cannot understate the burden of high expectations for Abrams’ second installment. It’s only natural to want to compare this movie with the 2009 smash hit. You know that’s going to be a tough assessment from the get-go. However, the inevitable comparison with the greatest movie in the entire franchise – Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan – is a self-inflicted albatross courtesy of the script. A different story line would have prevented this.
Against its immediate predecessor, Into Darkness matches relatively well. The youthful spark between the characters remains, aided by some snappy dialogue and humor that both constituencies – long time trekkers and new found fans – will enjoy. At times, so much gut-wrenching laughter filled the theatre that an observer listening in the lobby might guess we were watching a comedy. The sequel also has the advantage of less expository elements, as the essential character development occurred in the first movie. Well, except for the new characters introduced in this movie. The lack of character development is disappointing, especially as it pertains to the villain.
Which brings us to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. If you recall, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (or, as some say, “TMP”) was so slow and boring (made even more so because audiences were comparing it to the action-adventure feel of Star Wars), any sequel could outdo it. Wrath of Khan did so, and then some. In that movie, although the villain appeared in an original episode, his character – and his personal enmity towards Kirk – develops further. You understand, and, if a bit, sympathize with his point of view. Yet, in the end, you expect him to die and honor him for it.
Granted, the Khan of Into Darkness is, well, darker. But that’s it. Unlike the horrific Romulan Captain in Abrams’ first movie, whose demise you deliciously anticipate and cheer for, this bad guy doesn’t rise to the same level of hatred. You wanted Khan to die in The Wrath of Khan. You’re not sure what you want here, and that leaves the ending bland. Into Darkness loses a chance to show the inherent evilness of Khan when the script opts merely to “tell,” via a gratuitous Skype call to Spock Prime. Hey, I’m all for giving Leonard Nimoy screen time, but at least do it right.
If you really want to “get” it, you should watch (or re-watch) The Wrath of Khan before seeing Into Darkness. There’s a wonderful literary device being played between the two movies. You might call it “A Tale of Two Friends.” It’s not necessary to understand it to enjoy Into Darkness as my daughter’s friends can attest, but it will be interesting to hear how aficionados of the franchise react to it. While some have called it a homage, for me, I preferred the homage to Godfather III and nearly died laughing at the (probably unintentional) nod to Chuck Norris’ Expendables 2 appearance. Given the subtlety of these two allusions, the reference to Wrath of Khan seems contrived and only forces one to compare Into Darkness to the earlier Star Trek film; thus, revealing the poor development of the Khan character in the newer movie versus the older one and the lack of inventiveness in the new script.
For all that’s missing, though, Star Trek Into Darkness delivers in action, adventure and excitement. It’s so gratifying to see those young kids performing so well on the screen – and those young fans pining away so much in the audience. There’s an element of Star Trek: TOS that proves timeless in a way later versions of Star Trek can never equal. Abrams continues to capture this so wonderfully I no longer have reason to be embarrassed to wear my Captain Kirk uniform to the local premiere tomorrow.
As much as the movie satisfies (though not as much as the Abrams’ initial entry), I had to cringe at the very end. I remain, as I had been since 2009, a big fan of Chris Pine’s excellent rendition of the real, warts and all, Captain Kirk. Like John Wayne’s character in The Searchers, sometimes you just need an anachronistic Neanderthal to save the community, the world or even the universe. As the final scene faded to black, a powerful grin warped on my face. Once again, a new generation had seen the fruits of this philosophy.
Yet, after spending over two hours challenging the status quo, the establishment and just about every rule in the rule book, when Pine reads the famous “Space, the final frontier…” intro from TOS, he concludes not with the cowboy-like explorer Kirk line (“…where no man has gone before!”), but with the bland politically correct Picard line (“…where no one has gone before.”).
Sometimes, words speak louder than actions.