When J.J. Abrams took the helm and rebooted the ailing Star Trek franchise in 2009, it was a ballsy move. I mean, here’s an iconic show that’s been part of popular culture for over 40 years, and Abrams figured he could give the Trek narrative a much-needed shot in the arm. When I saw the trailer for Abrams’ version of Star Trek in 2008 I loved the serious tone and how wonderful it looked. Sure, it was impossible not to make comparisons to the characters that I grew up watching on afternoon TV, but I was I was guardedly intrigued by what Abrams was trying to do. Certainly, the new actors who would be playing these roles had enormous shoes to fill. And even though I was intrigued by this film, a certain skepticism started to creep in. I had visions of when I saw Tim Burton’s version of Planet of the Apes — and being so very, very disappointed. I hoped the same thing wouldn’t happen with J.J. Abrams’ version of Star Trek.
I saw Abrams’ movie and was extremely pleased by what he wrought on-screen. The characters had energy, passion, and played their roles without any kind of irony. The story was an “origin” narrative that was pleasing since we know very little of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the gang before they became the bridge crew of The Enterprise — well, at least from the TV show and the movies. Plus, the action was very intense and I wasn’t sure where the story was going. That made the movie refreshing for me.
Other novel flourishes included: Christopher Pike — the Enterprise’s captain before James Kirk — was alive and well and commanding the ship. Huh? Wait. These weren’t just flourishes, this was a whole new story — and as we later found out, a story that took place in an alternate reality. That’s right. We got Star Trek’s quantum twins — who sort of looked Kirk, et al, kind of acted like them, but were going through their lives quite differently than what we watched on TV all those years ago. You know what, though? The movie worked. It was a thrilling ride and Abrams was able to recreate beloved characters that the audience cared about. That’s no easy feat.
Well, when you have success with one film, it’s only a matter of time before Hollywood asks you to do a sequel. And so it goes with Star Trek Into Darkness — the second film from the newly rebooted series. The first major part of the story is fairly straightforward: London and San Francisco are attacked “from within” by an ally who went rogue. Many people die because of his actions, but why did he attack his fellow earthlings — and escape to Kronos, the Klingon home planet? That’s the set-up, and Kirk and the crew have to go on a man hunt to kill or capture this terrorist who, it seems, has bigger plans to wreak havoc upon epicenter of The United Federation of Planets.
Without giving away the details of Act II, suffice it to say that Abrams did what I hoped he wouldn’t do with these movies: he tread into story lines that audiences have seen before. What this did was take away from the originality of the rebooted film series and distracted me because I was making mental comparisons in my head to the well-known narrative and found the rest of the experience disappointing. The movie starts with an action-packed prologue and intriguing Act I — but Acts II and III were let downs. Not enough though that I can’t recommend the film, but given the way Abrams and his crew from LOST (so many familiar names show up in the credits to Star Trek Into Darkness) have done creative things with well-known genres, it was surprising that he would allow this film to go down a road we’ve been before. I can only hope that going forward, Abrams (or the screenwriters who pen the next film), will ditch the parallels and let the characters in this Star Trek universe have their own adventures and, as the captains of various starships have said throughout the series, to boldly go where no one has gone before.