Arts Desk

Five Reasons You Should Probably Avoid Star Trek Into Darkness

When it was announced that J.J. Abrams was to revive the storied but long-dead Star Trek franchise, the news was met with more skepticism than excitement. But the resulting 2009 film, Star Trek, not only managed to surpass expectations (which were, admittedly, pretty low), but it turned out to be one of the best blockbusters in recent years—a clever and altogether thrilling film that diehard Trekkies and casual moviegoers both could get behind.

So four years later, expectations are running high for the second Star Trek installment—and of Abrams, too, especially with the news that the director will settle into the director's chair for Star Wars: Episode VII.

Unfortunately, Abrams has officially set phasers to "disappointing" with Star Trek Into Darkness. The film that opened this week lacks the playful energy and excitement of the first one. It’s not a total failure, no—but unless you're a superfan, you'd be better off saving your dollars. Here's why.

1. The plot is really dumb

Things kick off with Captain Kirk disobeying a direct order ("prime directive") during a mission, accidentally revealing the Starship Enterprise to a primitive alien civilization, and he gets demoted. But after a sudden terrorist attack orchestrated by the film’s prime villain John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), Kirk is swiftly reinstalled as Captain—thus rendering pointless the film's first 20 or so minutes.

In fact, "pointless" is a key word for Star Trek Into Darkness. After Starfleet learns the identity of the suspected terrorist, the narrative turns into a dull, predictable revenge story. It occasionally introduces some interesting subplots (the threat of an all-out war with the Klingons), as well as some interesting subtexts (the potential militarization of Starfleet, which contradicts its core values), but all of that is stymied by the too-straightforward revenge narrative. To make matters worse, screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof are so busy hiding Easter eggs and sprinkling in references to original Star Trek films and television-show episodes (most apparent is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) that it becomes exhausting.

2. The action scenes are pretty weak

As evidenced by his first Star Trek film, J.J. Abrams clearly has a knack for style and sleek, exciting action sequences. But with this Star Trek, he checks all of that at the door. Apart from one or two thrilling scenes, Abrams’ action sequences are pretty... basic, especially compared to Abrams' 2009 film. In this one's climax, a war-damaged Starship Enterprise loses power and hurtles toward Earth, poised to crash-land in the San Francisco Bay area and take out half the city. Abrams makes the Enterprise look like a frisbee tumbling through space.

3. Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain actually is...

You know who. Everyone knows. It’s kind of insulting for Abrams to go to great lengths to conceal the obvious. It’s like creating a new Batman movie, keeping the villain a Great Big Secret, and then revealing that it's... The Joker!

4. J.J. Abrams’ lens flare is really, really annoying

Look, J.J. Abrams’ excessive use of lens flare is easy to mock. When news broke that he planned to captain Star Wars: Episode VII, everyone took to Twitter to crack their lens-flare jokes. But his overuse of the effect isn't just ha-ha-annoying, it's actually awful. And distracting! In some Star Trek Into Darkness scenes, actors' faces are swallowed up in a blinding flare, preventing us from making out their expressions.

5. It’s not the worst 9/11 allegory ever filmed, but it's up there

From the bombing of a key London building in the beginning of the film to the all-out manhunt for Cumberbatch’s John Harrison, echoes of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq come across as too literal. Star Trek has always been steeped in political allegory (iconic baddies the Klingons originally represented Soviet Russia), here it's just too glaring. When the plot veers into conspiracy-theory territory, with high-ranking members of Starfleet revealed as corrupt war criminals, I can hear the 9/11 truthers tittering with glee.

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  • Logan Kerlee

    Okay.. I'd like to say that I disagree with your five points.

    1. The plot is really dumb
    The opening 20 minutes to the film were unnecessary to the whole movie, yes. What those initial 20 minutes did though, is this, it reintroduced characters to the audience and showed that some things on the ship have changed, while other parts are similar. Kirk is still a captain who defy's his superiors while Spock is a stickler for Federation mandate. Beyond the opening 20 minutes, the movie is still solid. The only complaint that I have is that the Klingon scenes were brief and that we only saw on of their faces.

    2. The action scenes are pretty weak
    Nonsense! The actions scenes are just what you would expect from a Star Trek film. They didn't contain blood/gore or swearing, but with weapons/people from that era that isn't likely. Phasers don't tear flesh. As for the ship battles and how intense it feels.. I for one (and my roommate who I saw it with) were on the edge of our seats throughout them all. We of course knew the outcome of the film, but nonetheless it was entertaining throughout.

    3. Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain actually is...
    Are you really complaining that they brought back an old villain? You obviously aren't a Star Trek fan at all, and if you are, then you don't know your roots. I'm 24 years old and was super excited to find out who the villain was. If you were expecting some new villain, then you're watching the wrong series. The first film's villain was Nero, another Star Trek classic villain. As for it being kept under wraps, that's a great way to make a movie! It builds anticipation and draws viewers in. No idea why you're complaining.

    4. J.J. Abrams’ lens flare is really, really annoying

    As I said before, I just got out of the movie not all that long ago. There was lens flare in the film, sure. With a movie of this sort, it's completely acceptable. Think about it. You can't imagine there being insanely bright things when you're off in space? Or for when it's on a planet/ship, it's just a way to direct the viewers attention to a certain part of the screen. If that didn't happen, then chances are there would be viewers complaining about missing or not seeing particular things in the film. I don't have a problem with the lens flares.

    5. It’s not the worst 9/11 allegory ever filmed, but it's up there

    This irritates me. Does that mean that every story from that point on that has terrorism is an allegory to 9/11? If so, then doesn't that mean that you're afraid? I see that bit as a scare tactic. But this is published media, so I suppose that it has to be somewhere in it. So why not the end?

    Long story short, that's why I disagree with your review. It was done in poor taste, without very much knowledge of the series as a whole. If you're reading this and would like to respond to what I've said, I've included my email.

    Thank you,
    Logan Kerlee

  • Drew

    5. It’s not the worst 9/11 allegory ever filmed, but it's up there.

    I'm sick and tired of pseudo intellectual film aficionado attempting to draw parallels with every movie that touches upon terrorism and war.

    It's so tiresome, dull, and quite frankly...stupid.

    You're really not very bright are you Mr Cohen? That's okay. It's not your fault. Just the way the genes fell. But flaunting your stupidity for all to see, is.

  • Dave

    I liked this one better than the 2009 Star Trek. Because it's better Star Trek, regardless of whether it's a better movie.

    It's not a simple revenge plot (spoilers ahead, of course). Sure, Khan is trying to take revenge on Adm. Marcus, and perhaps humanity, because he's a total dick. But Khan is just a tool of Section 31, a tool that's gotten out of control. The real story is over Starfleet's response to adversity, and whether it will keep its values intact.

    And ST:ID sets up a whole lot of interesting possibilities for future movies. Or television series. They return to the five-year mission. It sets up conflict with the Klingon's, along with Kirk and Dr. Marcus, which could lead to a Genesis-style event where Kirk and Dr. Marcus procreate and some Klingon comes and kills the baby (maybe that'd be just too close to TOS). Or it sets up more intrigue with Section 31; they're not the types to give up. Unlike the 2009 film, this one's more about the core values of the Federation, and more about Star Trek, than just a simple action movie.

  • DCKeene

    Cracks me up on reviews when people don't agree with the writer, they give their reason and then go into personal attacks. I think I'll leave the review to professional who is not making personal attacks.

  • Perry

    I'd like to add another complaint about Item 1: you say, "the potential militarization of Starfleet, which contradicts its core values." Duh. Starfleet is a military organization.

  • Graylor

    I have to say that while I don't entirely agree with the writer, this movie WAS disappointing. I have seen parts of this movie before and thats the problem for me. The ending was the same ending I saw many years ago, just in reverse??!!!

    I was hoping for a fresh take whether it was a villain of the old star trek or a new villain. I felt the writers got lazy at the end. And yes, the big reveal really didn't leave you going, WOW!. Instead it was a muted ...yeah i kew it...

    I was expecting more. It was ok. But the trailers had me excited and I left let down.

  • Maura

    Also, the gender stuff was terrible. I can't be the only female Star Trek fan that was irritated that none of the women in it act very professionally and are mostly introduced as weird, 1-dimensional emotional plot devices. I mean, I expect that to some degree of action movies, but the writing this time around was so bad it made me squirm through parts of it. I am depressed that tv episodes shot in the 60s had better representations of women and men working together.

    This just felt really dumbed down. It isn't just the plot feels dumb, it's the characters themselves. Kirk has the maturity of a college frat boy and he's supposed to be a captain? Really? The pointless insertion of the threesome shot, explosions, cheap pandering to what works in 3D, and corny references to 9/11 were just too much for me. It would be one thing if it were just any sci-fi movie, but it's Star Trek! There is supposed to be some message about humanity or something that is somewhat challenging. What is the message here? "Risk everything to disobey orders if you think it is right, only if it gets too complicated to like, bring people to trial or whatever, it's ok you can just freeze them cause like, you tried, you know? and oh yeah, if you blow up a city in the process of saving your ship, that's fine too. It's the intention that counts and everyone will be totally cool with it."

  • Lizard of Ahaz

    All this from a bunch of conservative Sheeple who haven't yet figured out that the real reason for this bad review is political....

  • Ted Rickles

    I suspect that a lot of Mr. Cohen's concerns are valid. Of particular concern are the 9-11 references which were also heavy handed in the 2009 film when Vulcan and Romulus, planets that have been in the Star Trek pantheon for over 30 years (as long or longer than the real-time existence of the towers) are suddenly destroyed in violent deaths. Again, this in 2009 came close enough to the real world as the nearly defy allegory. And in recent interviews, they actually did describe the 2009 film as their "9/11 momment" I would venture to suggest that the frequency and objectification of the 9-11 event in the writing of the Abrams films is almost to say, "terror's happened (happening) - Get over it!" U may be up to others to dissect and interpret whether this level of objectification of the 9-11 event is more apparent in Abrams' films, then it is in say, an X-men film or Bond film, but for me, this is the clearest objectification I've ever seen.