It pains me to have to write this but last night I saw Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot, and I hated it.
Before I go on I should mention two things: a love of Trek was instilled in me at a very young age, it has always been part of my life, and I liked (not loved) the rebooted Star Trek but was behind the effort to take the franchise in an new direction.
But guess what? They kind of threw that out the window with Star Trek Into Darkness. Why? Because they recycled an old story and thought it would make them look incredibly clever to viewers. At least that's how I saw it.
The mystery surrounding Benedict Cumberbatch's casting took over most of the press written about the film early on. Pretty much everyone's first thought was that he'd be playing Khan and although he was "revealed" as John Harrison later in the game, we all still knew he'd turn out to be someone else when all was said and done. After seeing the film, I'm not quite sure why they wanted to keep this a secret. Could it be because it was a really terrible idea? Quite possibly.
I was with the film up to a point - I believe the point was when Cumberbatch said his name was Khan - and then it sped downhill like an Olympic gold medal bobsled team. I hoped we were all wrong, I hoped it wasn't actually Khan, but at the very least if it was, I hoped they'd do something really unique with the character.
The crew of the Enterprise haven't evolved much since we last saw them. They've been going on missions but Kirk is still Kirk, and Spock is still Spock. And that's pretty much it because this is the Kirk and Spock show. Seriously. I actually felt sorry for the rest of the cast because no one else had a chance to shine or even really act together as a crew. Uhura got to speak Klingon, Sulu got to sit in the captain's chair and sound badass for about 10 seconds, Scotty shut down an enemy ship and opened an air lock, Bones got to say funny things, and Chekov...ran around a lot. What a waste of a tremendous group of actors. I won't go into Dr. Carol Marcus all that much but suffice to say, her purpose in the film was minimal and they made her stand around in underwear for absolutely no reason. We didn't even see an actual display of the intelligence she was touted to have.
And then we have Khan. Cumberbatch was phenomenal in the role, there's no question about that. I really hope he gets nominated for tons of awards for it and that it leads to many more high-profile gigs for him. But the whole film was a poor use of the source material. The audience wasn't given a compelling reason to believe in what Khan was doing or why it was really all that bad considering what happened to him. It would have served the story so much more had we actually seen Khan with his people and what they went through instead of just telling us about them.
I still could have been on board with using Khan had something interesting been done with him. For a while during the film, it seemed as if he would actually wind up being a good guy, someone who sides with Kirk and his crew to take down the actual evil in the film, Admiral Marcus, and help the Federation fight the Klingons in a possible third installment. That didn't happen.
And then Kirk decided he was going to enter the Enterprise's warp core.
I physically had to stop myself from shouting at the screen and walking out at this point. I envisioned the writers discussing what they were going to do with the film and saying, "It'll be great! We'll do the EXACT SAME THING as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan but we'll flip it on its head and NO ONE WILL SUSPECT! This is so clever!"
Except it absolutely is not. The whole point of the Star Trek reboot was to keep things vaguely familiar but alter history so they had free reign to do whatever they wanted with the franchise. So they could boldly go, as it were. And they decided to copy the franchise instead. It's one thing to decide this is the direction you're going in, it's another to execute it in the worst way possible.
Oh hey, Kirk's gonna die. GOOD THING WE HAVE THAT MAGIC BLOOD WE PLACED IN THE FILM EARLY ON!
Like, shit, seriously? Kirk was dead for all of 15 minutes, making sure the plot point had no emotional impact whatsoever. And having Quinto scream Kirk's otherwise trademark "KHAAAAAAAAN!" might take the new top spot for scenes that make me want to vomit. I understand they thought it was an emotional break for an otherwise emotion-lite character but it was cheesy as hell. For a longtime, hardcore fan of the franchise, it was annoying to expect exactly what was going to happen, realize how terrible it would be, and then see it played out just that way.
And don't even get me started on Old Spock spilling the beans on Khan when he should have kept his mouth shut.
Star Trek Into Darkness was incredibly hollow for me. Not just as a Trek fan but as a moviegoer. I'm all for mindless action films now and then but that's not what Star Trek is in our culture. At least, it didn't used to be. When you think back on the legacy of the previous films, there was always a point or lesson to be had, even if it was kind of lame (The Final Frontier, I'm looking at you.) This film had none of that. The only possible thing I could take away from it was a lesson in friendship but even that seems trite considering we don't really get a chance to see the crew interact in such a way. They're too busy dealing with explosions, you see?
Perhaps new Trek just isn't for me. That makes me sad but I can come to terms with it. At the end of Star Trek Into Darkness, we see the crew departing on a five-year mission, a term that harkens back to the original series. We can only hope this is what makes them into what they should be - a team, explorers, and a family.