Star Trek Into Darkness opens with a perfect original series scenario. The Enterprise crew has been monitoring a class m planet (Earth-like) and its pre warp (pre wheel) society. Captain James T. Kirk for some unknown reason has picked up a sacred relic and is being chased by the paper mache people through a red forest. Spock is stranded inside an active volcano, and though he has a device that can stop it from erupting, he will not survive its use. The only way to save his stranded first officer is for Kirk to order the Enterprise, which is concealed on the bottom of an ocean, to fly above the volcano and transport Spock to safety.
The only problem? Just a tiny thing called the prime directive, a policy of non- interference into the activities of indigenous species. Kirk does exactly what we expect him to do and saves Spock despite his protest of violating this sacred rule. These events are omitted from the captain’s log, but recounted with excruciating detail in Spock’s report. Though, if Spock was so opposed to interfering in the development of this society by allowing them to see the Enterprise why was he willing to alter the course of their existence by stopping a volcanic eruption?
This pre-credits scene, which has little to do with the plot of this film, sums up my feelings on the current direction of the Star Trek film series. After J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the long running franchise, all old things were new again. Courtesy of a time travel plot device the entire Star Trek continuity was nullified. Most of the same events take place just out of order and not in exactly the same way they happened in the prime universe. This allows Abrams to make slight changes and updates. (Don’t get me started on the uniform hats.)
Since the Star Trek saga began, time travel has been a staple of the series. Often the crews of the various starships are forced to go back in time to prevent an antagonist from altering the future. The only difference is this time no one put the universe back together again. The altered timeline is allowed to run and in a sense becomes the “prime”– at least for now.
Given the incredible license that the altered timeline provides, I fail to understand why a director of Abrams caliber would not want to break some new ground. Instead the film is littered with a-ha moments and retreads of tired characters. The villains in this film are redundant, we have seen them before and while we enjoy feeling as though we are in on the big reveal, the series cannot be sustained in this fashion.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film. Pine’s Kirk is a pleasure to watch. He is cocky but insightful. Just as likely as Shatner’s interpretation to simply shoot the brain slug as it crawls from Chechov’s ear than attempt to determine its origin. He’s just as willing to lay it all on the line to protect every member of his crew.
Quinto has Spock down to a frightening T. Urban’s Bones is perfect if tragically under-utilized. Uhura is finally a three dimensional character after existing for 50 or so years.
What makes it worth watching? Do we look for all the things we already know about, then pat ourselves on the back for noticing them? Perhaps we are meant to focus on the subtle differences. Star Trek: Into Darkness is a great thrill ride, a fine action film, and a send up to previous movies. It’s Trek, and it’s not all at the same time. It’s better than Star Trek: the Motion Picture or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but it’s no Wrath of Kahn–and that’s okay.