I’ve loved the comments I’ve gotten so far on my original “Star Trek Into Darkness” review from last week, even though they differ widely from those who absolutely loved the film to those who were crushingly disappointed. To be clear, I’m somewhere in the middle — I enjoyed most of it as a purely fun ride, but ultimately felt somewhat let down by the missed opportunities. And, for the record, I say so as someone who is both a lifelong Trekkie and huge fan of J.J. Abrams’ first “Star Trek” film.
My biggest problem with the film is the ending, which obviously I couldn’t get into in my original review. So I wanted to take a little time now under the “Spoiler Alert!” banner to talk about that.
I can pinpoint the exact moment that “Into Darkness” lost me:
Up until then, like I said, it was a fun ride. The film is Abrams’ chance to riff on the best “Trek” movie of all time, “The Wrath of Khan.” Benedict Cumberbatch makes a fine, imperious villain (although his level of villainy seems to vary widely depending on the needs of a given scene), and the film has great visual effects sequences, like the Enterprise in free fall, the characters inside clinging onto walls as the ship rotates helplessly.
I also thought the Kirk-Spock friendship was nicely developed, to the point where I thought recreating the iconic engine room death scene from “Khan,” the roles reversed, actually worked. It was one of those sweet-spot moments that Abrams shoots for — something that will work for general non-Trekkie audiences while giving a nod to the diehard fans.
And then, “KHAAAAAN!” Having Spock yell that completely disrupts the death scene, drawing lots of knowing chuckles in the audience I was with. More importantly, it’s just the worst sort of pandering to “Star Trek” fans, as if Abrams had a checklist of “Wrath of Khan” elements that he was briskly checking off. “Oh, they’ll want to see that!”
Well, no, not if it disrupts the emotional arc of the movie for what’s basically a cheap callback joke. For me, I think the “Star Trek” reboots work when they riff on the overall dynamics of the series and the relationships between the characters. But to recreate a specific line from a specific movie in that series — especially at such a dramatic high point — feels cheap.
And after that, the film descends into what I call the usual “chase-fight-dangle” — a big starship crash and an interminable fight on top of a shuttle, because that’s how these big action movies end, right? It’s another form of pandering, just now to the broad general audiences who expect that sort of thing.
I’ve tried to assiduously avoid comparisons to how “Wrath of Khan” did it because, I agree, “Into Darkness” should be allowed to stand or fall on its own merits. You can’t make a 1982 film in 2013 and expect it to work. But on its own merits, and despite being a lot of fun at times, “Into Darkness” doesn’t live up to the 2009 “Star Trek” reboot.