A major part of the publicity during the production and run-up to the release of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to 2009's Star Trek reboot, was the Romulan cloaking device over what character Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch was playing. Initial rumors were that he was going to be Khan, then original series figures Gary Mitchell or Robert April. When promo photos listing him as "John Harrison" were released, it sparked another round of speculation - "Who's John Harrison? Is that his real name or is he really Khan or Gary Mitchell or Robert April." Even though I'm normally adverse to spoiling things in reviews, it's not that big a deal and frankly I think you dear readers should be warned up front about what Star Trek Into Darkness is...
Cumberbatch is Khan and Star Trek Into Darkness is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - Rebooted Trek Universe Edition.†
STID kicks off with a rollicking pre-title sequence setting up how Kirk is still taking little things like the rules and the Prime Directive less-than-seriously. Then comes a nearly-silent sequence introducing Khan, er, "John Harrison" as a man offering to cure a dying little girl in exchange for her father becoming a suicide bomber of a Federation facility in London. This triggers a chain of events which naturally lead Kirk to instantly regain the Captain's chair of the Enterprise that he'd lost not 10 minutes earlier for being too impulsive and callow.
Apparently Starfleet doesn't have any other qualified personnel for critical positions which is why when Scotty resigns from the Enterprise later in the movie, Chekov is reassigned from his normal duties confusing the ship computer's voice recognition system to run Engineering since apparently no other crewmen in Engineering are qualified. (This is why Chekov, not someone whose full-time job is operating the transporters, had to rush from the bridge in the first movie to save Kirk and Sulu. Right.)
Assigned with hunting down and killing to death Khanisson, Kirk and company have to learn about balancing the desire for revenge with the needs of justice meted out by legal proceedings and if you think that sounds a little like an allegory for debates over the prosecution of the War on Terror, the script by Bad Robot house writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindeloff break out the Metaphors For Dummies flashcards to make clear that killing bad guys with drones is BAD! and there's a hidden agenda by shadowy forces to provoke war. (These guys are aware that Dubya isn't President anymore, right?)
While the political preening is somewhat annoying, what really kills Star Trek Into Darkness is a general sloppiness in writing and tone at a story level. Technology either works amazing levels like being able to teleport across the galaxy at one point to barely working from a few miles away at another. The opening sequence involves the Enterprise being hidden underwater (it's in the trailer, so it's not a spoiler) but why is it there other than to provide a cool visual? The whole reason Gene Roddenberry invented the transporter was because it wasn't possible to convincingly land the ship with 1960s VFX, so what purpose does this scene serve other than to do it because they can? Why wasn't a shuttle sent down if the transporters weren't an option.
The Klingons make their first appearance in the Abrams version of the Trek universe, but it doesn't amount to anything. There is a secret villain with a gigantic battleship that apparently he was able to have designed and built without anyone's knowledge. The "humor" is forced and limited, with Spock and Uhura bickering in the middle of missions like unprofessional schoolkids and vaguely racist jokes about Spock's lack of sense of humor offered as witty repartee. But it's when the story returns to regurgitating Wrath of Khan that it really bores and reveals its laziness. Not only will you be able to predict exactly how they'll get out of their predicament, but I defy you from not laughing at an iconic moment which doesn't work in its new context.
When the movie was meant to be the most thrilling was when I became the most bored because it was literally sound and fury signifying nothing. I tuned out and stopped paying attention to the Big Action Moments because there were no stakes at risk; all was going to end well in the end. It's too bad because the cast is uniformly excellent as they were last time out. Cumberbatch is the best Bond villain in ages, but he too is saddled with a script that's contradictory about his motivations. It's a testament to his thespian heft that you don't realize until the drive home how little sense his actions made.
Nerds don't like the Orci-Kurtzman-Lindeloff writing squad, calling them "hacks" for their work on the Transformers series but unlike Oscar-winning hack Akiva Goldsman (Batman & Robin, Lost In Space, A Beautiful Mind) it's not that they're terrible as much as so successful and insulated that no one has the ability to point out how lazy they've become. Their movies make tons of money, so who cares if plot canyons exist? [/raises hand to indicate that I care] It's too bad since they had an opportunity to make something unique from their rebooted universe and they chose to go with the path of least resistance.
Some may be concerned for what this portends for Abrams' next project, the hotly-anticipated-and-feared Star Wars: Episode VII - Title To Be Announced In 2014 Probably. I'm not panicking (yet) because the Bad Robot boys won't be involved in the scripting. I'm not sure what having the scribe from Toy Story 3 and Little Miss Sunshine will bring to the party, but Lawrence Kasdan is reportedly consulting and I don't think producer Kathleen Kennedy will allow the sloppy writing Abrams accepted from his pals. I'm just hoping he builds some sets instead of going with these giant factories, breweries and labs which don't look like they'd fit in a starship; it's the Enterprise, not the TARDIS!
Score: 5/10. Catch it at the dollar show.
† The whole "John Harrison" conceit was only constructed to hide that they were retelling Wrath of Kahn. Why the secrecy? Probably to preempt the inevitable year-plus of bitching about, "Why aren't they telling NEW stories? They're so lazy and unoriginal! Kahn isn't white! Lens flare rage!" It'd be like if Man of Steel's hype hid that it was General Zod, calling him "Bill Williams" so people didn't react, positively or negatively, to the Superman II recycling.
**** SPOILER-HEAVY RANTING BELOW!!! ONLY READ IF YOU'VE SEEN THE MOVIE OR DON'T CARE TO!!! ****
AICN's Capone liked it in his review burping up at one point with regard to Khan that "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" and I posted this as a comment (thus some repetition from above):
Not only is that one of the more insipid liberal tropes - which obviously tickled Capone's happy spots about the movie; "Drone strikes bad! Marcus = Dick Cheney!" - but it's totally inapplicable here because there's no freedom Khan is fighting for. His fellow prisoners freedom? When you blow people up without announcing why - "Free my fellow prisoners from 300 years ago!*" - you don't get to claim some morally superior mantle.
Khan was thawed out to help Marcus' agenda of militarization because he's super smart and savage. Fine, so if he wants to blow the whistle, why not go to the 23rd Century version of MSNBC to tell the story rather than do a convoluted scheme to save a terminally ill child with his Magic Blood in exchange for the father being impressed into service as a suicide bomber?
What was the purpose of that plot thread? Wouldn't it have been better to have Khan himself sneak into the secret Federation weapons base, blow it up to trigger the meeting at Starfleet HQ, and then have Marcus simultaneously sending Kirk off to catch Khan and hide his connection? The only reason for the kid is to establish Khan's Magic Blood, which is then reminded of when McCoy injects the tribble, so that when Kirk is making his Noble Sacrifice, the Get Out of Death card they play at the end is set up to not seem like a total deus ex machina, like say shooting his body down to a planet which makes life from lifelessness. *cough* (Not to mention that they have a hold filled with other superpeople from Khan's ship who probably have the same Magic Blood.)
The whole "John Harrison" conceit was only constructed to hide that they were retelling Wrath of Kahn. Why the secrecy? Probably to preempt the inevitable year-plus of bitching about, "Why aren't they telling NEW stories? They're so lazy and unoriginal! Khan isn't white! Lens flare rage!" It'd be like if Man of Steel's hype hid that it was General Zod, calling him "Bill Williams" so people didn't react, positively or negatively, to the Superman II recycling. I'm wondering if I would've liked it more if I'd know for sure that they were up to instead of being let down and rapidly bored by what they did?
* I'm surprised that no one is calling out the broken math of Kahn being frozen for "300 years" since the events of Star Trek Into Darkness occur in 2259 which means Kahn would have to have been made a genetically-engineered superman and shot into space in 1959 before we had any of those capabilities. Space Seed said that Kahn was a warlord in the 1990s, but Blade Runner also presumed a far different future 37 years away, too. Orci, Kurtzman and Lindeloff could have fixed everything by freezing their Khan for 200 years, but they were too occupied with typing Bickersons dialog for Spock and Uhura to squabble with during crucial missions.