Star Trek Into Darkness

Who doesn't like a good hamburger?

Hamburgers are a pretty casual, always-tasty meal that can range from a bland and simple fast-food cheeseburger to a gourmet bacon burger.

Me, I'm a big ribs guy! They're my favorite. Lone Star Steakhouse always made the best ribs - ribs fit for a Caesar's Memorial Day barbeque - but it's hard for me to say "no" to just about any rack of ribs. Sadly, all the Lone Stars in town are closed, and I've yet to find a true successor.

Star Trek Into Darkness poster

How does this relate to Star Trek Into Darkness? The original Star Trek series and Star Trek: the Next Generation are like those Lone Star ribs to me. They're my favorite. A really good science fiction movie - like 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Terminator, or Moon, or maybe even the recently-released Oblivion - is like a visit to [say] Famous Dave's to have some ribs. It's good, but it's still not Lone Star good! These new Star Trek movies, however, aren't even like ribs to begin with. They're more like hamburgers. Yeah sure they're a satisfying meal, but sometimes, I don't want a hamburger; I want ribs!

Into Darkness isn't what I wanted in a "Star Trek" movie at all. Even worse, it's worth as a movie is mostly superficial.

Into Darkness reminded me a lot of two other Star Trek movies: Star Trek V: the Final Frontier and Star Trek Nemesis.

The Final Frontier is widely-regarded as the worst original-cast Star Trek movie (and rightfully so). It's premise is silly. The script is poorly-written (although still much more coherent than many of today's movie scripts - including Into Darkness). And the special-effects are atrocious! It was like one of those really bad episodes of the original series brought to life on the big screen with a slightly higher budget. But it did have one redeeming characteristic. The beginning and end of the movie consist of the camping scenes with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, and these scenes are actually really good. They're character-driven scenes in which we learn a little bit about the adventurous spirit of Kirk, his greatest fear, and the desire to explore that drove him to join Starfleet. It manages to further develop a character that had been around in movies and television for over 20 years, and whom one would have thought couldn't be further developed at all.

Kirk: I'm not trying to break any records. I'm doing this because I enjoy it. Not to mention the most important reason for climbing a mountain...
Spock: And that is ... ?
Kirk: Because it's there.
   -Star Trek V: the Final Frontier

As bad as that movie was, this simple exchange in this simple scene exemplifies what Kirk, Starfleet, and Star Trek are all about: the desire to go out there and experience the universe! Even if it's dangerous, the rewards of the experience, and the discovery that it brings is worth the risk. This is one of the prime ideologies behind Star Trek. Sure we could send probes out to collect data and send it back to us in the comfort and safety of our laboratories on earth. But why do that when we can go there and experience the universe for ourselves?

And that is a spirit that is sadly missing from Abrams' interpretation of Star Trek. Why does Kirk join Starfleet? Is it because he has a passion for adventure and discovery and expanding the horizons of human experience? Not according to these movies. In these movies, he does it because Captain Pike dared him to. Or maybe because he wants to pursue hot alien pussy, because both movies still treat Kirk like a cartoon horn dog whose eyes pop out of his head whenever a skirt walks by.

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According to several sources, insiders have confirmed that Benedict Cumberbatch's character in J.J. Abrams' next Star Trek movie will be who everyone expected (but hoped it wouldn't) be: Khan Noonien Singh.

So it looks like we'll be seeing a pretty by-the-numbers space action movie with a singular villain.

Star Trek 12 - Benedict Cumberbatch battling Spock
Yep, looks like he's Khan...

This is disappointing for several reasons.

There's two ways to reboot something:

  1. Retell same stories with modernized style, effects. i.e. Casino Royale.
  2. Completely throw everything prior out and start from scratch. i.e. Batman Begins.

Star Trek under Abrams is trying to walk a fine line between the two. They tried retaining the original history by setting the reboot in a time-travel-induced alternate timeline (which was actually alternate before the time travel happened anyway). But they also wanted to separate themselves from the original canon as much as possible, to the extent that they fundamentally altered the development of the primary characters. Kirk grew up as an angsty delinquent without a role model father, and Spock had his home planet blown up and his species put on the verge of extinction. So they're not really the same characters, but they are shoe-horned into becoming the same characters because apparently Abrams favors “nature” almost exclusively over “nurture”. Oh, and Spock Prime told them how things are supposed to happen. So much for the Temporal Prime Directive. Or is it the regular Prime Directive since it's a parallel universe that is already developing independently?

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The first set photos from J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot sequel have been released by Paramount. The photos show Trek newbie, Benedict Cumberbatch facing off against Spock and Uhura on what has been described as a "space barge".

Supposedly, Cumberbatch is playing an existing Trek villain, but Paramount and Abrams have not been forthcoming regarding exact plot details or the exact identity of this villain. The set photos don't really clear up the issues all that much. In fact, it blows speculation wide open, as the character is likely not the shoe-in villain, Khan.

Star Trek 12 - Benedict Cumberbatch battling Spock
Benedict Cumberbatch's unidentified character battles Spock in this set photo from the Star Trek reboot sequel.

A very close examination of the photo shows a Starfleet insignia on Cumberbatch's black undershirt, so it is possible that he is a Starfleet officer or someone involved with Starfleet. This doesn't rule out the idea that Khan is not going to be in the movie; Kirk could have supplied Khan's crew with clothing. It is also possible that Cumberbatch isn't Khan, but rather one of Khan's second-hand men. Peter Weller may be portraying Khan, even though that would seem to conflict with his identity as a "C.E.O." that was given by his agent. Alice Eve could also be playing Marla McGyvers, and a set on a "space barge" is still consistent with the Botany Bay. So we still can't rule out Khan as the villain, but I think there are much more likely possibilities.

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Wrath of Khan movie poster
If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

The rumor mills are ablaze with the idea that the next Star Trek movie (being directed by J.J. Abrams) will feature Khan as the primary villain. Benicio Del Toro was originally planned to portray the villain, but contract negotiations broke down, and Del Toro bailed from the project. Maybe Toro realized that reviving Khan is a creatively bankrupt concept and didn't want to be a part of such an uninspired and contrived movie. If so, good for him.

The idea of bringing back Khan for the next Star Trek sequel is offensive to me on many levels. First and foremost, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is an exceptional movie, and there is absolutely no need to revisit that film's premise or the Khan character. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. There are plenty of examples of broken Star Trek villains that could use a reboot: Sybok (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), Garth of Izar (TOS: Whom Gods Destroy), or even the Gorn (TOS: Arena) were all handled poorly in their original incarnations and would have been much better material for improvement and refinement.

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When Star Trek was rebooted by J.J. Abrams in 2009 and brought the franchise into mainstream popularity, it was a bitter-sweet moment for many long-time fans. On the one hand, Abrams had made Star Trek "cool" for the first time in the franchise's history and ensured that Star Trek would continue to live on since it's future following the cancelation of Star Trek: Enterprise and the bombing of Star Trek: Nemesis was uncertain. On the other hand, the movie was a reset that took place in a new Star Trek continuity that essentially erased the more than 40 years of Star Trek history. Long-time fans suddenly had to deal with the possibility that the timeline (as it originally existed) was over. There would likely never be any further development of the original Star Trek continuity, since all future projects would probably be based on Abrams' reboot.

Star Trek, as it originally existed, seemed dead.

This meant that the only likely outlets for extension of the original continuity would come from novels, comic books, and the craptacular Star Trek Online MMORPG computer game. And since Star Trek canon generally only includes official, on-screen material, none of those sources would be considered truly canonical.

This would mean that many Trek fans might have some very serious questions about the future of their beloved series go unanswered...

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