Star Trek Into Darkness

So I finally managed to see the new Star Trek movie. Up front I’ll admit that I’ve never been much of a fan of this franchise. I only went to see the 2009 re-booted Star Trek movie on the strength of J.J. Abrams’ involvement, and really enjoyed it. Abrams has done much to detoxify the brand, basically by keeping the core elements and putting them in a funny, fast-paced action movie.

I used to watch a bit of The Next Generation, back in the day, and I thought, “It’ll do… until Doctor Who comes back.” What finally put me off for good was the arrival on our screens of Babylon 5, unencumbered as it was by the need to reset everything by the end of the episode. It had arcs and the actions of the characters had consequences.

Abrams has realised the key to a successful Trek is to have a captain played by an actor with the same first name as a Doctor Who lead. Having started the series in the ’60s with a William, then replacing him with a Patrick, the series took a wrong turn without a Jon, Tom, Peter, Colin or Sylvester in sight. But J.J. was savvy enough to re-start the series with a Chris, so they’re back on track.

As well as going back to the Captain Name Formula, Abrams has re-assembled his brilliant cast, wisely giving Doctor Who star Simon Pegg’s Scotty more to do and casting Benedict Cumberbatch against type as the villain of the piece. A convincing villain he is too, more than proving a physical and intelligent match for the Enterprise crew. Doctor Who‘s Noel Clarke is great in an almost wordless role, which still packs an emotional punch, in scenes reminiscent of Pixar’s Up. Kirk and Spock arguably work better early in their relationship, where they are occasionally at loggerheads over their different approaches to things. Their friendship is still being forged here.

There are plenty of points during Star Trek Into Darkness where you realise that Picard and his mates would have made a massive meal of events, sitting po-faced around the Enterprise conference room debating what they should do, while this new crew just get on with it. The incursion to the Klingon homeworld, potentially sparking a war as a bunch of the new Art Deco-foreheaded Klingons are despatched, would have just been a load of talk in TNG, culminating in a talky solution, robbing the audience of the battle they had building up to, to that point.

In this vein the opening set-piece, where a rescue necessitates the breaking of the Prime Directive (that Starfleet crews can’t reveal themselves to more primitive civilisations) is well-played and light, and although there seems to be repercussions later, there’s never any real danger of them being lasting. I certainly makes you glad that Doctor Who doesn’t impose such rules on it’s central character, in fact he deliberately eschews this over doing the right thing. The Doctor is almost unique in science fiction shows in not belonging to some organisation or crew with rules to follow or a mission to complete. The Doctor is guided only by his conscience, not rules.

More improvements to the franchise from J.J. Abrams are the jettisoning of endless pontificating on the human condition, and making the story far more character-based. There’s a reason Wrath of Khan is considered the best of the old Trek movies: in common with Star Wars it’s about a story that’s set in space, not about space travel, and the weird stuff they find out there. Picard and Co would happily spend 45 minutes figuring out how to communicate with a big pink sentient cloud in space, while you could practically the capital letters as they pronounced another Warp Core Breach. This is stuff they are dealing with every day, and should speak about it as such. I love the warp core in this movie, not a blue light in a tube, but a big piece of industrial-looking machinery with gantries and requiring eye protection to work around.

Likewise, the whole world is more recognisable here, with the citizens of London still commuting to work in cars. I could never figure out why anyone does go to work in the money-less Star Trek universe, when replicators can create anything you need and you can live out any fantasy in a holo-deck. Fair enough for the officers of a starship, exploring strange new worlds and striving for the improvement of mankind’s knowledge, but what about the cleaners and plumbers?

The terrorism plot is a non-too-subtle, but well written, looking at how an enlightened society should react to an attack and the morality of drone-strike technology; killing from a distance without a trial. Disconcertingly, this line from the trailer isn’t in the movie:

“Starfleet is not about vendetta, Kirk”

“Maybe it should be, Sir.”

It’s always slightly odd when this happens. There was a line in the trailer for Spider-man 3 that I kept hearing where Kirsten Dunst’s M.J. earnestly implores Peter Parker: “If we don’t forgive each other, then everything we ever were won’t mean anything!” It’s gloriously overwrought and not something anyone would ever say in real life, and became something of a running catch-phrase my girlfriend and I would say to each other in mock serious American accents. Imagine our disappointment when it didn’t actually feature in the film.

Order Star Trek Into Darkness on DVD from Amazon:

Star Trek Into Darkness [DVD]

On Blu-Ray:

Star Trek Into Darkness (Blu-ray + Digital Copy) [Region Free]

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