Four years after J.J. Abrams gave us “Star Trek Babies,” he is back with the rip-roaring sequel, “Star Trek Academy: Their First Assignment,” in which the young crew has gotten oh so incrementally older and even less interesting and is forced to face their greatest adversary yet due to the rules of summer blockbuster filmmaking, which state that a second movie in a trilogy must go dark, i.e. “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and the inevitable blood letting that awaits us all in “The Smurfs 2.”
So “Star Trek Into Darkness” is all about how the government is eager to militarize and use large scale warfare to their own personal ends, even at the expense of those in their employ, i.e. the little guy. You know, little guys like spaceship commanders and the like. So Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, Unstoppable) is told to bring in a terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and he heads out with his crew on the Enterprise to find the guy. They then get some information that makes them think differently about their mission, double cross, one two skidoo switcheroo, and we’re at the aforementioned “the government is bad” thing. Sort of.
Look, that was a lazy description because this is a lazy movie. I need to get into some spoilers that have all been all crazy spoiled anyway, so this is the last guaranteed spoiler-free paragraph herein. It’s a “fun” movie, full of decent jokes and okay action scenes and it’s all shiny and pretty and all that stuff, but that’s it. Just like the 2009 “Star Trek,” this movie doesn’t have a cogent thought in its head, nor any sort of message to convey, and instead tries to just coast on iconography and in-jokes. Sure you may enjoy it while you watch it, but it’s all a mess and you’ll forget all about most of it anyway within days.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT. YE HATH BEEN FOREWARNED.
So J.J. Abrams and by extension everyone working on this movie went through some great lengths to keep secret that Cumberbatch’s John Harrison character was actually Khan, and that “Star Trek Into Darkness” was actually a weird quasi-remake of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Of course in this day and age this information was spoiled pretty quickly around the interwebs, as well as on CBS Sunday Morning, which resulted in quite the backlash, and even IMDB got into the game by posting Cumberbatch’s character name as Khan on their page and refusing Paramount’s requests to have it removed.
So what’s the problem with all of this? When news gets out of what the mid-movie twist is and then you spend half the movie waiting for this twist to happen, it renders it all moot. Watching this movie, I was sure that “John Harrison” was not a real character and we were getting the classic J.J. Abrams subterfuge, so when the Khan reveal happens, it just confirmed my suspicions, and really did nothing for the movie as a whole. Making this into a sneaky remake of Wrath of Khan only brings on undue weight and baggage, which then bore itself out in a bunch of a fan service, which again was a problem with the 2009 film.
Example: did we need to have Spock dramatically yell “Khan” in anger in this movie? Did we need anyone to yell this? The original “Khan” yell by William Shatner has been spoofed and parodied and referenced to death already, so how can it come across as anything other than a joke? Which is what that moment was, a sad joke, like Darth Vader yelling “Nooooo!” You know what I’m talking about, you nerd.
And while the original Wrath of Khan was built on an episode of the television show (explaining the wrath part), this Khan has his own backstory, a teary eyed one at that, and the lack of relationship between him and Kirk and his crew is a big hindrance to the emotional and character arc of the story. If the characters don’t really connect at all with each other, how are we supposed to connect with them?
And of course there are just too many characters that MUST be in the movie because they were on the TV show, but this never takes into account the fact that it is easier to balance a show with a lot of characters due to the number of episodes you have to create, in which inevitably the side characters would be used and developed, and the show thus enriched. In movie form, however, there is not enough time to give these characters anything to do.
So in this case, Dr. Bones (Karl Urban, Dredd) is just around for comic relief and to say, “Dammit, I’m a doctor, not a [insert this he is not],” Chekov (Anton Yelchin, Terminator Salvation) runs around in the engine room trying to fix stuff most of the movie, Uhura (Zoe Saldana, Colombiana) alternates between fretting over Spock and being made at him for not having feelings, and Sulu (John Cho, Identity Thief) gets to sit in the captain’s chair for a few minutes and keep it warm for Kirk. These are not exaggerations, this is really all these characters do in this movie. Which is a whole lot of nothing. Now Scotty (Simon Pegg, Paul) actually DOES get to do some stuff in this movie, which is pretty cool, and this is probably my favorite aspect of the whole enterprise (ahhh see what I did there? Sooooo original…), but it’s not enough to save the whole bland thing.
This movie is just awkward, despite trying so hard to come across as hip and cool, what with the whole giant Apple store floating through space vibe they like to put out there. I mean, just look at this really lame attempt to add some spice and sex to the otherwise non-sexual proceedings:
That’s the whole shot right there. It lasts for a few seconds, the camera doesn’t move, and once it cuts away we don’t see her in this state again. See that confused look on her face, the one that says, “Why does a Star Trek movie need me to stand around in my push-up bra from the future and matching panties?” That’s the same thing most grown adults were pondering when this popped up in the middle of their supposedly thoughtful science fiction movie that was really just a run of the mill sci fi action flick in disguise. And you see how awkward she looks? That’s the movie in a nutshell right there: overstuffed and put on display in a brash attempt to satisfy some nerds (and somehow in the process managing to piss them off).
What could have made this movie better? Not going with Khan? It’s not like he’s THAT big of a deal. Sure “Star Trek II” is generally considered the best of the bunch, but that doesn’t mean there is a Batman-Joker level of gravitas that can be mined by simply having one of your characters suddenly proclaiming, “I. Am. Khaaaaaan!” Maybe they could have just been upfront the whole time and reveal he’s Khan from the get-go, and could have given themselves more elbow room to make the Khan-Kirk relationship actually, I don’t know, mean something? These are just thoughts, after all. Just spitballing.
Anyway, I wasn’t a big fan of the last one, and I am not a fan of this one. What a shock. Why was I thinking it would be otherwise?