What J.J. Abrams is doing to the Star Trek franchise is brilliant. I’m not sure I’ve seen a franchise rebooted in a better fashion than the two most recent Star Trek films. Abrams has masterfully woven unending references from the original stories into an alternate timeline that allows new viewers to not fall behind.
I don’t claim to know much Trek knowledge since last summer I took my Star Trek Maiden Voyage viewing the original 6 films for the very first time. I soon found out that the original movies were not made for people unfamiliar to the original series. None of the main characters are given any backstory. Motivations are confusing. Villains aren’t given any context, and plot points tend to be unexplained. All this because they were made assuming the audience had seen the original 1960s TV series. Of course, this allowed Trekto keep its cult status that prohibited outsiders from fully enjoying the movies. But what Abrams did in 2009 was start the story out fresh. Instead of rehashing the origins from the previous characters, he has them growing in a slightly different way. But in a way that’s not out of reach for fans of the original series (or so I assume.) There are countless flashes from the older Star Trek that are done in a natural way. Having more knowledge of Trek, I’ve since gone back and re-watched 2009s Star Trek and appreciate so many more insider traits. But what I appreciate even more is that I never noticed them to begin with.
In Star Trek, Abrams established an alternate timeline for Kirk and Spock to find their way to friendship. Wow, was that ever so satisfying after watching the original movies and never once getting any backstory on the friendship that is the essential anchor for most of the films. That’s precisely why I thought Star Trek IV was the best film. It forces Kirk and Spock to reestablish their friendship in a way 1-3 never did.
Kirk and Spock are more damaged goods in 2009s Star Trek. Kirk had his father die before he ever knew him. Spock witnessed his entire race (including his mother) murdered in an instant. And of course, Abrams brought along his dynamic script and fast paced directing that proved to be a huge contrast from anything Trek had seen before. But yet, Abrams knew exactly what made the original series so good; Kirk and Spock’s dependence on each other to fulfill missions. And that’s exactly what we get in Star Trek, and it’s what we get in Star Trek Into Darkness as well.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun, dazzling film that hardly waits for you to catch your breath. It won’t be long before you realize that the story toys with the most revered Trek film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. At the end of Khan, Spock is the one who sacrifices himself for the good of many. This allows Kirk to reevaluate his life and the meaning of death. It’s a powerful ending. Into Darkness seems to start with that concept. Spock is forced to sacrifice himself for the good of an entire race on the brink of annihilation. Later on, his sacrifice is looked at as selfish from others but he’s given a chance to powerfully explain why his reasoning for accepting death. But before Spock dies, Kirk goes against commands and ends up saving Spock. This exemplifies how Kirk is growing into his prideful, invincible personality we’ve seen in other Trek movies.
Forget the rest of the story for a moment. Into Darkness is about how Kirk learns how to take the best of Spock’s attributes and how Spock learns to take the best of Kirk’s attributes. I thought having Kirk be the one who sacrifices himself (harkening back to Spock’s sacrifice in Khan) was wonderfully done. And Spock’s retaliation showed how connecting with his human side to honor his fallen friend is exactly what was needed at that time. The setup is great, and Kirk and Spock’s relationship steals the film once again. It just proved to me that Abrams knows what is most important when it comes to Trek films. He honors them with a new context that just add layers of meaning for the audience.
I though adding Khan was an expected choice for Into Darkness. Benedict Cumberbatch was an interesting casting decision and he really did knock it out of the park. FINALLY, we get to see Khan actually show his dominance both physically and intelligently. Khan’s braun and brain are something we hear about in Khan, but we never actually see much of it. In Into Darkness I always felt like Khan had the upper hand and the only way to defeat him was for Kirk and Spock to embrace each other’s strengths.
Overall, the movie is very complex and you really have to pay close attention to the changing stakes. It’s a bit exhausting trying to keep up, especially toward the end. Abrams’ signature lens flares are cominatchya every which way (which was horrible in 3D). Though most of the action was seamless, there were times where jump cuts were confusing and things were left unexplained. (such as how Chekov miraculously lifting both Kirk and Scotty on the bridge) I thought that Khan’s ship crashing into San Francisco was a bit underplayed. The ship obviously killed thousands or millions of people and there doesn’t seem to be any recognition of that happening because we’re too concerned with Spock’s vengeance for Kirk. They could have had the ship just crash in the ocean and it would have had the same effect.
The point where Into Darkness isn’t as powerful as Khan is when Kirk is brought back to life with Khan’s miracle blood. What made Khan so great was that Spock’s death left you wondering what was next for Kirk after such a tragic loss. We get to experience that with Spock in Into Darkness for less than 20 mins before Kirk is revived. It undercut a great emotional turn for Spock and an opportunity for the next movie (if there is one).
And let me just throw this out there. I think Simon Pegg’s Scotty is the highlight of these movies. Although there’s humor all around, Simon Pegg is a delight and I’m glad he was given a larger role in this movie.
One last note, I just love how that once again Kirk lost command of the Enterprise and eventually was able to take charge again. Has that happened in every movie now?
I’d hate to end this blog on this note, but J.J. Abrams has proven that Star Wars: Episode VII is in capable hands and I can’t wait to see what’s next for him.