Star Trek: Into Blandness

By | 2013/05/12

To blandly go

I make no bones about the fact that these days I prefer the Stargate franchise over Star Trek. I was late coming to Stargate, but if anything that gave me a concentrated experience – over the course of a little more than six months, Darren and I watched first eight seasons of Stargate SG-1.

But regardless of how much I prefer Stargate over Star Trek, the Trek franchise still holds a very firm place in my memories. I’m hopeless with names – I usually need to be introduced to someone a half dozen times before I remember their name, but show me 5 seconds of a Star Trek Voyager episode, and I’m likely to be able to tell you a fairly accurate summary of the entire episode. Same for The Next Generation, for that matter.

When the reboot of Star Trek was released in 2009, I cheered, and I thought the movie was, without a doubt, spectacular. Five out of five, four thumbs up (well, if I were some four thumbed alien) and 10 out of 10 wavy tentacles.

This one? I’d give it two and a half out of five, and it only gets over the line on the basis of special effects and acting.

At this point, be warned the rest of this review contains spoilers.

Spoilers ahead!

Given this was the second new Star Trek movie, as soon as the previews were released and the villain was human, it seemed entirely predictable that the villain would indeed be Khan Noonien Singh.

Depressingly, the plot of Star Trek: Into Darkness was as equally predictable as the villain. Indeed, it was pedestrian and mundane. As a friend commented at the time, replace Kirk with Bruce Willis and you would have effectively had Die Hard in Space. There were no surprises, no unexpected twists. A Starfleet Admiral ordering Kirk to park at the edge of Klingon space and fire missiles at their homeworld to ‘avoid’ a war? If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from Star Trek movies, it’s that unless an Admiral is 100% above the line, he’s a dirty low-down crook who’ll just as soon cut your throat as rescue your grandmother from a burning house. (With of course, the exception of Admiral James T. Kirk himself.) Oh, and surprise, Khan almost turned out to be good, but … no, wait, he’s still bad. Repeat, ad nauseam.

Even momentarily forgetting about the pedestrian plot, there was another poor writing choice within this movie. While applauded by many, the decision to re-use critical lines out of Wrath of Khan, and Search for Spock was, in my mind, not so much homage to what had passed, but laziness disguised as freshness via a little juxtaposition.

Kirk, dying in the irradiated engine room whilst speaking of his friendship, instead of Spock?

Kirk, telling Spock the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the one?

Spock, screaming “Khan!” instead of Kirk?

This was like a “greatest lines” compilation, with new effects and sets wrapped around it, rather than a promise of something new and exciting. And the pedestrian nature wasn’t just limited to Kirk and Spock. Bones has been reduced to nothing more than a Metaphor Machine; acknowledged even as such within the plot itself, when Kirk effectively shouts at him to stop speaking in analogies. It seems that the Bones script largely wrote itself: every insult or exclamation (“Are you out of your Vulcan mind?!”) was fed into one random phrase generator, and every metaphor known to man was fed into another random phrase generator. Every time they needed a line for Bones, the script writers just pressed the appropriate button.

The interaction between New Spock and Future Spock was entirely predictable, and, much as I love Leonard Nimoy, something I hope never happens again. Paraphrasing:

New Spock: Did you ever run into anyone called Khan?

Future Spock: I said I wouldn’t tell you anything. I really swore. Because that would make things terrible. BUT yes, I did run into him and he’s really, really bad. It was bad. Bad, bad, bad.

Had they been in the same room, Future Spock would have been dressed like a magic 8-ball, and New Spock would have shook him for answers.

If this is the best that JJ Abrams and his writing crew can do for Star Trek, it’s time it gets passed on. Otherwise, the next Star Trek movie will be about a mysterious probe that starts digitising everything in its path at the start of the Klingon borders while it heads to Earth … or another mysterious probe that wants to talk to some whales. (How exciting would it be to hear New Kirk exclaim, “Everybody remember where we parked!”?)

It’s reboot. Not regurgitate.