I’ll start by issuing a warning: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.
I really won’t bother with holding back on them, so if you haven’t seen the movie (unless you happen to be one of those people that don’t give a fuck about being spoiled before a movie) stop now, go watch the movie, then come back.
With that out of the way, I’ll start by talking about my expectations of Into Darkness. As you all must know by now, JJ Abrams will direct Star Wars Episode VII. He has made no secret about being a fan of Star Wars, just as he has made no secret how he has never been a fan of Star Trek; when the 2009 Star Trek alternate universe movie came out, you could tell Abrams was projecting his Star Wars fantasies into it. Sure, you can argue that the franchise needed new life, and that in order to bring it into the 21st Century moneymaking business it had to be more action oriented. However, Abrams is no stranger to intelligent science fiction, as his series Fringe showed for five seasons (let’s not get into LOST, that ended in a clusterfuck), so it was always possible to get the best of both worlds, and have an intelligent Star Trek that was also heavy in action, a la Wrath of Khan.
Well, that didn’t happen.
While I enjoyed the 2009 Star Trek, the end result was anything but intelligent: the villain was so hellbent on vengeance he did not see he actually had the tool to save his planet (the destruction of which sparked his desire for vengeance in the first place); the “science” in the movie couldn’t even make the cut to pseudo-science (and I’m not talking about the time travel); and it never made any sense to put someone so green as cadet Kirk in charge of the best ship of the fleet, no matter his movie heroics. However, it worked as an action oriented movie, and the time travel was the perfect excuse to reboot the franchise with the original beloved characters, so I was sold… up to a certain point. My hope was that the next one would focus more on the exploration part of Star Trek and be more intelligent.
So the question is: did it succeed in that?
Well, yes and no.
Star Trek Into Darkness focused just as much on the action as the first one, and it did not cover any sort of exploration. It was, as many had guessed for a long time, a sort of remake of Wrath of Khan, except with the characters switched: now it was Kirk that made the ultimate sacrifice, and Spock the one that learned the lesson at the end of the day (also, it’s now Spock who furiously yells “KHAAAAAAAAAN!!!!” when it seems that Khan has won). It might have added a bit of Search for Spock by reviving Kirk so quickly, but it was mostly the Khan story. So, on the “more exploration and less explosions” side, it wasn’t a success.
On the other hand, the ending completely opened the window into that facet, bringing the beginning of the five year mission of exploration the original series covered and – since Abrams is no longer directing – the possibility to see a shift in the themes from character driven to science and/or social driven (we saw a tiny bit of that with the whole “prime directive” dilemma in the opening sequence). Abrams can still produce and get some writers with real science fiction blood in them to work on the story.
Or, maybe, they will shed the idea completely.
Now, just because the movie was pure action and nearly no science fiction doesn’t mean it wasn’t intelligently approached. I loved the way they mirrored Wrath of Khan so intensely without making an actual remake. No, this was a well thought out story that works well on its own, but for those who know their canon it brings the idea that, maybe, the universe is ruled by fate; things didn’t happen exactly like they happened in Wrath of Khan, but the sequence of events bring very similar results.
As for Khan himself… where to begin?
We were all expecting this “John Harrison” character to be Khan all along. I actually went into the movie having almost gotten rid of that idea, though, just as I had almost shed the notion that Robin and Thalia Al Ghul would be in The Dark Knight Rises by the time I entered the theater. That helped, of course, when the time came for the revelation. For some reason, even after Kirk tried unsuccessfully to beat the hell out of Harrison, I wasn’t really thinking of Khan, the guy with the superhuman genes and intellect. All the ingredients were there, and yet I didn’t bother to put two and two together until it was already too painfully obvious, and that was because Benedict Cumberbatch was playing a different sort of Khan than the one I saw in Star Trek II. This was Khan before he was desperately looking to avenge himself to Kirk (sort of like what happened in 2009’s Star Trek with the villain), a Khan that was coldly calculating and biding his time to save his crew and screw Admiral Marcus. Cumberbatch did to Ricardo Montalbán with his take on Khan what Heath Ledger to Jack Nicholson’s Joker, and it was awesome to behold.
To complete the mirroring of Wrath of Khan was Dr. Carol Marcus. She’s still years away from building her Genesis device (if she’s ever going to build it in this timeline), but she’s already an amazing physicist that, uh, knows how to deactivate torpedoes and shit. I half expected her and Kirk to get it going at some point to plant the seed for the future David Marcus. Plant the seed, get it? Cuz… bah.
I should mention that Kirk’s death to save the Enterprise moved me as much as Spock’s did in Wrath of Khan. I was literally holding back tears at that point, and given how Spock at least stayed dead at the end of that movie, I thought Kirk might as well, since this was alternate Wrath of Khan and all. It didn’t happen, and although that bothered me from a dramatic standpoint, without him coming back the five year mission that I have been waiting for would never happen. For that reason only I can forgive the sleight of hand.
So yeah, it’s a great movie, enjoyable as a popcorn flick and as a Star Trek movie (though there are plenty of trekkers pissed off by it, can’t be helped). What bothers me about the whole situation is how Abrams – unwittingly, yes – was so disrespectful to the Star Trek franchise as a whole. What he made in both 2009 and 2013 were starwarised versions of Star Trek. To top that now he’s actually jumping ship to direct Star Wars. I know he didn’t mean any of it, but it feels very much like a rebuff. The Star Trek franchise has looked up to Star Wars at various points in its history, beginning with The Motion Picture, which was hyper budgeted and filled with unnecessary special effects as a reaction to 1977’s A New Hope. Even in the video below Star Wars ends up pwning Star Trek.
And now Abrams is spurning Star Trek in favor of its arch-nemesis. Star Trek should be better than that. It can be better than that. I just hope that whomever takes over the helm of the franchise treats it with the respect it deserves, and while I think that Abrams was disrespectful I hope he remains as a producer. The man can work his magic even when his heart is not 100% into it.
As for Star Wars, I’m sure he will work perfectly for Episode VII; he will be to Star Wars what Peter Jackson was to The Lord of the Rings: a fan who also happens to be a talented director working on his dream project.
So now, after all the explosions and screams and deaths and rebirths, can we finally, and boldly, go where no one has gone before?