There are those who have argued online — and in print, as well, I’d imagine — that once you cross the invisible threshold from merely “liking” a recurring or serialized entertainment property/artistic venture (I’ll leave you, dear reader, to decide which of those categories the Star Trek franchise falls into) into becoming a full-fledged “fan” of it that you’re basically fucked, because while “liking” something means you appreciate it for what it does, being a “fan” of it means you like it for what it’s already done, and are quite happy to just have the folks behind it serve you up more of the same. Hell, you might even get pretty upset if they don’t!
I’m not sure I’m willing to go so far as to agree with that sentiment in its entirety — many fans of various works of genre entertainment actually appreciate being offered something new and unique on occasion, in my experience — it certainly applies to a very large segment of most of the various fandoms out there. You know the kind of folks I’m talking about — those who get worked into a mouth-foaming frenzy at the slightest changes or tonal shifts in a given installment of the film, TV, novel, or comic book series and feel the need to shout about what a “blasphemy” has taken place at the top of either their lungs or, as is more often the case these days with computer keyboards and such, fingertips. It gets pretty old pretty fast and I’ve learned to tune most of it out, but anyone who denies the existence of fans such as these is flat-out delusional — the more level-headed among us might like to ignore them, sure, but we can’t admit that they don’t exist. At least not with a straight face.
My point here being, you rightly ask? Uber-conservative fans such as this are bound to be happy with Star Trek Into Darkness (there’s no colon in the title, I checked), J.J. Abrams’ second foray into Gene Rodenberry’s venerable sci-fi universe, because, despite all its superficial “differences” to what has come before, this is really just more of the same.
Which isn’t my half-hearted and/or half-assed way of saying it’s a bad flick — all in all it’s reasonably well-executed and keeps the average audience member more or less interested throughout — it’s just that we’ve seen more or less all of this done before, and unlike with his first go-round, this time Abrams doesn’t even really expend any effort into tricking you into believing (at least on first viewing) that you’re witnessing some bold new take on things here.
And that should suit the stick-in-the-mud types just fine, I would think, since these are folks who go beyond simply being able to see the creaks and joins in a given structure and actually and actively like seeing them, pointing them out, and analyzing them ad nauseum. In short, I think these people are gonna absolutely love the fact that this film’s big, supposedly-emotionally-resonant “turning point” is just a mirror-image inversion of the same exact scene in Star Trek II : The Wrath Of Khan. They’ll probably also enjoy the fact that, for all their supposed “added depth,” characters like Simon Pegg’s Scotty and Zoe Saldana’s Uhura are still essentially one-dimensional ciphers who just have a few more lines now, and that Karl Urban’s Dr. “Bones” McCoy still speaks in nothing but utterly predictable one-liners rather than , you know, actual, honest-to-goodness dialogue. And I think they’ll also dig the fact that Abrams has quickly established recurrent patterns of his own here — gotta have a Leonard Nimoy cameo, gotta have at least one hot-chick-in-underwear scene, etc.
No doubt about it — if you’re one of these “don’t rock the boat too much or I’m really gonna bitch about it” types of fans, Star Trek Into Darkness is bound to be right up your alley. In fact, it’s probably likely to make you feel pretty clever, as well, since you’ll be utterly convinced that the poor schmuck in the seat next to you isn’t going to see this movie’s “big revelations” coming.
Guess what, though? He (or she) probably is, since it only takes the most minimal amount of working knowledge of Star Trek lore to have a pretty solid guess as to the real identity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s pseudonymous “John Harrison” villain, the way things are bound to play out once Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk leads leads his crew — uhmmmm — “into darkness” is essentially a foregone conclusion, and shit, your “this guy’s bound to die” radar is guaranteed to be ringing at top volume from the get-go in relation to one of the story’s semi-principal characters (the oldest Trek trick in the book).
Again, none of which is to say this is in any way an actively bad film — the main cast all acquit themselves pretty well, especially Zachary Quinto as Spock, the CGI effects are uniformly just fine (heck, they always are these days), and the principal narrative is by and large plenty entertaining enough. It’s just a thoroughly predictable one. If you’re in the mood to kick back, shut your brain off, and just sit through a fairly standard Star Trek romp, this’ll do the job just fine. Just don’t go in expecting anything more — or at the very least anything other — than that.
I have no idea where the Trek franchise is headed from here. Abrams has, as everyone knows, recently been handed the reigns over on Star Wars, as well, so whether or not he intends to do both I couldn’t say. It sounds to me like it would be an awful lot of work to juggle them both, and maybe now would be a good time to walk away from this one and pass the buck to somebody else. He’s clearly out of ideas here, anyway, so it wouldn’t be too big a loss.
One last time now, in unison — which is not me saying that this sucked ! It’s just an acknowledgement that it only took two films for the “new” Star Trek to become as safe and stagnant as the “old” version and that a genuinely fresh take on things might be for the best going forward.