Monday, 13 May 2013



I have a very simple rule: if it isn't Jim Kirk, it isn't Star Trek. I don't care how many Romulans, Tribbles and dilithium crystals they put into Deep Space Nine and Voyager; they're Trek in name only. From Patrick Stewart onwards, they made the fatal error of taking Star Trek seriously and treating it as proper drama with depth and character development and honest emotions, and they drained all the fun out of what was supposed to be camp, colourful knockabout for kids. They made the same mistakes with Doctor Who, Spiderman, Batman and James Bond: mistaking absurd pantomime constructs for "real people". I couldn't stand the Next Generation show, although I managed better with the films, but only as dumb popcorn spectaculars (three of them with Jerry Goldsmith scores, which counts for a lot) rather than Serious Human Drama.

JJ Abrams' 2009 reboot, detailing young Kirk's first taste of space adventuring and boldly going, was a lot of fun: for all the exploding planets and genocidal destruction, it felt light, thanks to the tics and mannerisms of familiar characters re-enacted by younger actalikes (McCoy's grumpiness, Kirk's way of sitting in the chair, Chekov's inability to pronouce the letter V). As a sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness has less build up because most of the backstories are already established, so it's able to start at full throttle and hardly pause for more than ten seconds at a time. It begins with two furious action sequences: Spock attempting to defuse an apocalyptic volcano with a cold fusion gizmo while Kirk legs it through the forest chased by primitive tribesmen. Meanwhile, special Federation agent turned mega-terrorist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) blows up a data archive in London - but why? Admiral Peter Weller orders an assassination mission, armed with 72 mega-destructo photon torpedoes, to Harrison's hideout in Klingon territory: if they're discovered by the Klingons, it could start a war. But Harrison isn't who he says he is....

Skip this bit if you don't want the big spoilers. Where it all falls apart is its contradictory desire to nod towards the events of Star Trek, and specifically to the events of Shatner's second Trek film (Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan), when it's already been established that this takes place in an alternate timeline. If JJ Abrams' universe isn't Shatner's, then there's no reason for any correlation: the reveal that Harrison's real name is actually Khan makes no sense except as a reference to The Wrath Of Khan and its TV forerunner Space Seed. Events somehow contrive to mirror the earlier film: Kirk is terminally irradiated at the end rather than Spock, Spock gets to bellow Shatner's famous "Khaaaaan!!!!!" and the two of them even do the Vulcan salute through the glass as one lays dying.... but given that Star Trek: Into Darkness takes place before the five-year mission, it seems bizarre to have direct echoes of a film that's a sequel to a TV episode which in Abrams' timeline hasn't happened yet.

Still, if you can forget about Shatner's film, this new one is terrific summer blockbuster entertainment with tons of whizzy action and shiny special effects, loud music and pleasantly nerdy injokes for the Trekkie/Trekker fanboys (though one in particular turned out to be a crunching plot point that could scarcely have been more obvious if it was accompanied by a marching band, a line of cheerleaders and a huge red flashing arrow pointing at it). The cast are nailing their characters more, some closer than others; you can almost see Karl Urban's McCoy turning into De Forrest Kelley, though I'm not as sure about Sulu and Chekov yet. Certainly you could quibble about some of the plot points: if they can't beam people up from a moving vehicle on the planet surface, how can they beam someone down to that vehicle? And if a character can transport from Earth to the Klingon homeworld across the vastness of interstellar space, if there's no maximum range on these things, why are we still using spaceships? But hey, it's Star Trek, it's not something that demands to be thought about in depth. I enjoyed it a lot.


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