I first saw Star Trek 12 on The Simpsons back in 1992. This one is, obviously, quite different. After 2009’s Star Trek successfully revived a franchise that was so very much past its prime, everyone assumed the 2nd movie (technically the 12th in the grand scheme) would follow the most famous Star Trek film of all-time: The Wrath of Khan. Keeping a tight lid on what would later become the worst kept secret in Star Trek history, they took the imaginative universe established in the first movie and followed it up with a generic, noisy, and surprisingly forgettable sequel.
John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) bombs a Federation archives building, killing 42 innocent people. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is hired by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to hunt down and kill Harrison, much to the moral discomfort of his crew, including Scotty who resigns his commission. Kirk then decides to capture Harrison alive, who turns out to be a 300-year-old, former cryogenically-frozen superhuman named Khan Noonien Singh. Upon hearing that Kirk defied his orders to kill John Harrison, Admiral Marcus shows up in a giant Federation starship to finish the job, and is willing to destroy the Enterprise if Kirk doesn’t cooperate. Now Kirk must decide which potential villain to side with: the bloodthirsty Starfleet Admiral, or the superhuman Khan.
Well that didn’t last long. 2009’s Star Trek struck such a perfect balance of sci-fi action, character development, growth, depth, humor, and fun, that it truly seemed like the filmmakers knew exactly what they were doing and that the series was in good hands. But to call Into Darkness a dumbed-down sequel might be a bit of an understatement. The alternate timeline created in the previous entry (known now as “the Kelvin timeline”) introduced an opportunity to do whatever they wanted with no ramifications to the established history. But instead of “going where no one has gone before” like they should have done, they decided to simply rehash one of the most iconic stories in Star Trek history. Even worse, they watered it down to the point where it has absolutely none of the impact that it had the first time around. Here, Khan was used by Admiral Marcus in the beginning, then sides with Kirk to defeat Marcus even though Kirk suspects deceit, and then ultimately turns against Kirk who should have done something the moment he suspected Khan’s deceitfulness. It makes Kirk look gullible and manipulative; not good qualities in a leader. And that’s not even the worst part: In this movie, Khan is suddenly a white British guy. I know this is an alternate timeline, but if Khan had been frozen for 300 years, and the new timeline only started a few years ago, then shouldn’t he still be the sexy, Spanish, silver-tongued mastermind he was in the other timeline? (The word for that is: “whitewashing”.) And by jumping from one generic action set-piece to the next, they fail to create a truly personal story between Kirk and Khan, rendering the climactic moments big and loud, but ultimately meaningless.
On the plus side, the acting is still up to par with the last movie. While I had some reservations about the new Spock (Zachary Quinto) last time, he seems to embody the character much better in the sequel. Bones (Karl Urban) is still as entertaining as before, and pleasantly reminds me of the good old days of DeForest Kelley. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) proves her worth when she stands up to some Klingons by fluently speaking their language (even though, in Star Trek VI, Uhura couldn’t speak fluent Klingon, although she was the Communications Officer so she should have been able to; I don’t know which is weirder). Sulu (John Cho) gets his first taste at the Captain’s chair (foreshadowing!). Chekov (Anton Yelchin) gets one of the funniest moments in the movie when he’s transferred to Scotty’s position and told to put on a red shirt (because “red shirts” always die! Lol). Chris Pine gets some good scenes in the beginning but his later scenes thoughtlessly rip off the Spock scenes from The Wrath of Khan. Scotty (Simon Pegg) provides the most humor in the movie, helping the Enterprise from a distance before rejoining them for the climax. And poor Old Spock (Leonard Nimoy), in his final acting performance before his death, has only a small cameo on a viewer screen to provide some rudimentary exposition. After 47 years as the character, he should have either been given a proper sendoff or nothing at all. His performance in the previous film would have made for a far better farewell anyway. Live long and prosper, my dear departed friend. 🙁
Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t so bad, I guess. It’s just that the first movie (or 11th?) got my hopes so high that when this one’s “sequelitis” kicked in, I was very sorely let down. It’s a typical Hollywood rehash of a classic story, tediously modernized to something that would barely qualify as a two-part episode in any of the TV series. There is good action, some funny scenes, and some nostalgic moments, but it’s not enough. When you create a new timeline, you create expectations of covering new and unexplored territory. Instead, it’s just a retread, and an ultimately forgettable one at that. But at least in that regard, it’s somewhat reminiscent of The Simpsons’ version of Star Trek 12: “So Very Tired”.
2 out of 5