Spock and Captain Kirk interrogate Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness
Almost fifty years after Gene Roddenberry conceived the original television series, the American institution of Star Trek thrives. Paramount Pictures pumped an astronomical $190 million into the newest film, Star Trek Into Darkness. In an era when dull action movies dominate the box office, it’s nice to see a studio take care of a franchise that celebrates science, exploration and the unity of humankind.
Unfortunately, those values must have gotten lost somewhere in the giant bales of money. Into Darkness is so crowded with laser fights and space crashes that there’s little room for the things that make Star Trek worth preserving. The director, J.J. Abrams, has turned a franchise about ideas into one about glossy special effects and explosive action scenes.
The plot is hardly worth explaining, serving only as an empty bookshelf to stack special effects sequences on. A villain from the old series, the genetically enhanced Khan, is terrorizing Starfleet in an effort to free his fellow supermen, who have been cryogenically frozen for centuries. After he escapes to enemy territory, the crew of the Enterprise sets out to capture him, tiptoeing to avoid starting a war with the bellicose Klingons.
Into Darkness is, at least, a well-made action film. The space chases and fistfights are riveting, seamed together with a witty script, flawless special effects and Abrams’ good sense of pacing. The cast is successful at channeling the personalities of Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban) and Scotty (Simon Pegg). Benedict Cumberbatch plays Khan as an icy villain, with an arrogant stare and a disturbingly precise British accent — much different from the hotheaded performance by Ricardo Montalban in the original series.
Abrams succeeded in making a funny, exciting action flick, but he ignored the opportunities available in the rich Star Trek universe. Many scenes are set in 23rd-century London and San Francisco, a bonanza for Trek fans who hunger for depictions of post-warp drive human society. Yet all Abrams offers are the typical backgrounds of glass and steel scrapers seen in dozens of movies about the future. He could have delved farther into the relationships between the humans and the Klingons, but all that’s exchanged between them are laser beams. Instead of exploring the friendships among the Enterprise crew, he only tosses in a few token catch phrases.
The worst crime occurs near the end, when Abrams plagiarizes a touching scene from Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan almost in its entirety. Was this supposed to be a remake? There are enough differences for it to avoid that epithet, but it has hardly more originality than if it were one.