It probably wouldn’t be accurate to label me a Star Trek purist, or a Trekkie(Trekker to many)for that matter, but I guess I’m a pretty big fan of the original Roddenberry universe. I was born in 1965, and the original series premiered the following year and ran for 3 seasons. Those reruns were on television perpetually throughout the 1970’s, and I’m certain that I saw each and every episode multiple times. The first “Star Trek” film arrived in theaters when I was 14, and since then I’ve seen all twelve entries of the franchise—half of the time on the big screen. I’ve even read William Shatner’s 1990s books “Star Trek Memories” and “Star Trek Movie Memories”. Want another tidbit? One of my 1980’s acting teachers had previously portrayed the character of Lethe in the 1966 television episode “Dagger of the Mind”(she once informed me that rabid fans still pestered her over two decades later). So, again—not an expert or a convention attendee, but pretty ensconced all the same. Now, I think it’s pretty safe to say, that most “Star Trek” lovers consider 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” the high bar of the film series. William Shatner’s Kirk and Ricardo Montalban’s Khan(reprising the role he originated in the 1967 television episode “Space Seed”)battled wits for two hours and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock has an emotional “death” scene. It is a marvelous, iconic science fiction work. Fast forward just over three decades, and director J.J. Abrams brings us “Star Trek Into Darkness”. Be warned—if you want to avoid spoilers, you should stop reading now. Because even though I found Abrams 2009 “Star Trek” prequel/reboot to be very solid and quite entertaining, he proves with “Star Trek Into Darkness” that there is a fine line between homage and pilfery. And J.J. is guilty of the latter with his 2013 sequel to his 2009 prequel.
Yes, the rumors were true—Khan has returned to the Star Trek film series. But is this a reason to rejoice, or a call to recoil? Well, color me pretty perturbed that a marshmallow-complexioned Brit, monikered Benedict Cumberbatch, has been cast as the character of Khan Noonien Singh. I repeat…KHAN NOONIEN SINGH! The name sounds Indian, and of course Ricardo Montalban was Mexican—but one thing is certain…the role practically SCREAMS for a person of color. And Mr. Cumberbatch is anything but. It’s insulting and offensive. Now, I don’t blame the actor. A paycheck is a paycheck, and Benedict’s marketability has skyrocketed after appearing in this 465 million dollar grossing summer blockbuster. Good for him. But the filmmakers should be ashamed of themselves. I won’t continue to harp on it—I’m just pissed is all. Then there’s the action. The endless, constant, over-the-top, CGI-crazy action. It reduces the heart-driven, dialogue-rich “Star Trek” incarnations of yore, to just another exercise in generic, empty spectacle. Some of those sequences induce an initial wow!—and then vanish into cold space. The finale featuring some hand-to-hand Spock/Khan combat aboard some airborne, speeding vehicles is especially egregious. We’ve entered Indiana Jones territory for the umpteenth time. And then there’s the attempt at “homage”. Was the entire lifting of set-up, dialogue and pacing from “The Wrath of Khan” really considered inspired. And could the role-reversal decision implemented really be deemed clever? Was the bleeding of almost all emotional impact of said scene the intention too? I doubt it. The 1982 incarnation had resonance—we honestly thought that a major character might never return. In 2013, it seems like a cheap trick. They should’ve thought it through.
Listen, I’m an admirer of a good deal of J.J. Abrams work, and I looked forward to this latest adventure of the Enterprise. Abrams is a solid director, but his instincts were off this time around. It’s hardly a complete washout, however. Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Zoe Saldana as Lieutenant Uhura—still rock solid. There’s a pretty nifty(although nonsensical)prologue, and Leonard Nimoy returns as Spock Prime. Some other light nods to Star Trek past were perfectly acceptable and welcome, and the chemistry of most of the cast is obvious and commendable. Everyone on-screen gives it their all. But the end result this time was frenetic, forced and sometimes muddled. A sharper script and less cutesy bullshit(tribbles!?)may work wonders the next time. In fact, word has it that J.J. Abrams will not return for “Star Trek 13”. Well, hooray to that. We need a fresh vision. Of course, J.J.’s follow-up assignment is “Star Wars 7″. So, probability is high that I’ll be haranguing him again come 2015. Here’s hoping that my prediction is resoundingly wrong. Fingers crossed. Grade: C