Note: No spoilers in this review, but I can't guarantee the comments will remain spoiler-free.
I loved J.J. Abrams's 2009 Star Trek - it made me believe in the future of the franchise. Star Trek Into Darkness delivers on the promise of the first film by giving us more of what made the original Star Trek series great - a relevant story and iconic characters. But the blockbuster scale of this movie is what makes Into Darkness so cool, why everyone should see it, and what has (mistakenly) alienated so many Trekkies.
Post 9/11 Story
In the last film, the Federation experienced a 9/11 event. Into Darkness deals with the fallout of that attack. We see just how far the Federation goes to protect itself from the threat of terrorism.
The film deals with many of the issues America faced after 9/11 - tension between morality and national security, a rise in xenophobia, an attempt to understand terrorism, and resilience against trauma (see the psychology of Star Trek Into Darkness).
The story has mass appeal with just enough social commentary for fans of science fiction to chew on (at least as much as Star Trek IV, Star Trek VI, and Star Trek: Insurrection had).
Characters You Love
Star Trek (2009) was the origin story of this crew. In the new film, the crew has become a family. This leads to some wonderful moments of humor, tension, and sadness. The cast is very comfortable in their roles and I completely embraced their portrayal of these iconic characters.
Newcomers will enjoy the camaraderie of the Enterprise crew and the deliciously evil villain. Trekkies will love the Kirk/Spock arc. We see what Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) meant when he told the younger Spock that his relationship with Kirk would "define you both in ways you cannot yet realize." Because of their friendship, Kirk becomes the Captain he was destined to be and Spock learns to embrace his human side.
This is exactly what a summer blockbuster should be - it's big, fun, and exciting. But it's not just phasers and photon torpedoes - you really care about what's happening onscreen. Credits go to J. J. Abrams, his production team, the writers, and Michael Giacchino for creating a Star Trek universe that moves at a frenetic speed while remaining true to the ideals of Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek).
"The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few"
It wouldn't be a Star Trek film without enraging hardcore Trekkies. Some are upset about the story’s reinterpretation of canon, its "dumbing down" of Star Trek's intellectualism, and the throw away references to previous movies and episodes. But this film isn't made for the outliers, no genre film is.
Movies have to work for a global audience. As Spock said, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." To make Star Trek work as a blockbuster, it has to be easy for people to jump in without pre-existing knowledge of the franchise. Complex source material must be streamlined while elements of original stories need to be included for devoted fans. That's a hard thing to balance. Into Darkness has its issues, but it offers enough to satisfy the needs of the many.
A successful blockbuster brings new fans into a franchise. The J.J. Abrams films have already done this for Star Trek - people who have never watched Star Trek are flocking to see Into Darkness (like my friend Duaba). All this excitement is good for the franchise – Star Trek remains incredibly popular on Netflix, The Next Generation is being delicately remastered in HD, we've got a great ongoing comic book series, and we’ll probably get a new film in time for Star Trek’s 50th anniversary in 2016.
Sometime this decade we'll see Star Trek return to TV, the format in which it thrives. Like LOST, Battlestar Galactica, and The Walking Dead, this new Star Trek will be a complex science fiction masterpiece. When we see that version of Star Trek return, credits will go to J.J. Abrams for making it cool to be a Trekkie again.
Revised Star Trek movie rankings:
- Amazing - Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness.
- Watchable - Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek: Insurrection.
- Mediocre - Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: Nemesis.