J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise continues with his remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Accompanied by writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, his mission is to boldly excavate your skull so that no coherent thoughts remain.
Though Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek was constructed with such fragility, it would crumble if you scrutinised it for a minute, it still had a breezy charm about it. It’s something you watch that makes you grin now and then and once it’s finished leaves your mind. It’s only when you choose to return to it, to mull it over in your head, that it suddenly loses its charm, like the ghosts in Raiders of the Lost Ark, turning ugly and horrid.
These films, continuing the Orci and Kurtzman trend, are incredibly dumbed down, with no spirit of the TV series visible amidst the gunplay and explosions. The films aren’t about exploring new worlds, as a character literally states at one point, they’re thus far about two things: a group of professionals coming together as a family, and battling antagonists who want revenge.
As I suffered through Star Trek Into Darkness, I pondered this: why not construct a story about exploration? A story about the characters growing as a family out in the wilderness of the final frontier, discovering new worlds, aliens, fighting for survival, maybe throw in some abstract philosophical ideas, do some Inception or Solaris level shit, do anything but what we’ve currently been given, which is sci-fi action movies for mouth-breathers who don’t like to use that rotting piece of flesh encased in their thick skulls that we commonly refer to as a brain.
Anyway, back to reality. Into Darkness begins with Kirk acting outlandish and breaking the Prime Directive which states early alien civilisations should not be interfered with, and running parallel to that we get introduced to Benedict Cumberbatch’s mysterious villain who has a bone to pick with the Federation for reasons which will become somewhat clear an hour or so later after lots of shit has blown up.
The main theme is of Kirk still having to prove himself worthy of being a captain, Spock learning to ignore his Vulcan side and be human, and of the Federation reaping what its sown. The plot is moved forward with contrivance after contrivance, making it all feel mechanical and forced, never fluid and compelling. Lazy writing often stretched my belief beyond breaking point, making me shake my head in frustration. I wanted to believe I was actually having a bad dream.
The film moves speedily from one set-piece to another, everything that happens happens in such a way to move character from point A to B, it never feels organic or coherent, it just feels obligatory and every now and then the writers will just make something up arbitrarily, and characters react to it. This is the danger of plot holes. Characters suffer as a result. Spock and Kirk are the only ones paid attention to, everyone else is a caricature. Uhura is reduced to a bickering girlfriend, it’s embarrassing.
There are moments of comedy, moments of emotion, but they’re fleeting and buried under bad screenwriting. Abrams’ visual flare holds the movie up along with the performances, it’s all very well made and slick, but how many times must it be stated that a movie with a bad script will never be a good movie, no matter how well directed. A movie with a good script can be great. Abrams is a good director, very imaginative and confident, yet he needs better writers to work with to realise his full potential. I still have high hopes for his take on Star Wars.
With the current writing team I simply cannot fathom a great Trek movie that brings a sense of wonder and awe to audiences. These writers are more dedicated to immediate visceral thrills, a blockbuster ride that keeps you busy with intense visuals but fades from the mind immediately as you exit the cinema.
The sci-fi genre is a tricky beast, but I get the feeling that the genre is not the issue here. It’s the decision to aim these movies at a particular demographic, and to assume that the demographic cannot handle big ideas. Maybe it’s not even that. You can have a simple or small idea, but as long as the characters and plot are memorable and (most importantly) smart, you’ll have a legitimate hit on your hands. This movie will be a financial hit regardless of its lack of intelligence, but as a lover of film, I dream of a landscape populated by successful films that don’t have to be dumb to be fun.
I wish for this franchise to live long and prosper, but only if it has something to say, and can only hope that one day its said well, with intelligence. I’d rather no Trek movie than what this is, which is darkness indeed.