One of the perks of living in Australia is that occasionally we get to see really great movies well before the theoretical release in the USA. Star Trek: Into Darkness is one such movie, and definitely one I could not pass up.
Overall I enjoyed the experience, so when somebody asked me last week if I thought it was any good, it might come surprising to learn that I was hesitant with my answer.
It all depends on what is meant by the term “good”. If we take the meaning to be “was the film entertaining” then the answer is easy – the film is a fun ride. There’s plenty of suspense, action, comedy, good acting, etc. However, if we take the meaning to be “good for the franchise” or “a good step forward for demonstrating a set of idealisms for a younger generation”, the answer is a sound “no”.
I have always considered Star Trek movies very separate to any Star Trek TV series. My reasoning can be understood particularly well when drawing comparisons between The Next Generation series and films. Many of the films seem to pay more attention to action sequences than an actual story. Further, characters have a tendency to act differently. Picard in the movies never seemed to act as rationally as he did in the series, and in at least one instance was even hell-bent on revenge (First Contact)! Perhaps due to this, I find myself never expecting to be able to take the movies too seriously.
One aspect of Star Trek that I love is the abolishment of capitalism – the economy is no longer based on greed. The replacement economic system is never very well explained (we are only really told what it is not), however I feel this is one of the core aspects that makes Star Trek a believable franchise. Instead of focusing on greed, we have turned our attention to bettering humanity. Problems such as poverty and disease have been completely wiped out, and we have achieved amazing medical advances that appear accessible to all.
Many science fiction films paint a bleak picture of our future when capitalism is allowed to continue its course (eg. Blade Runner), but when greed is removed from an economy we get Star Trek – where humanity’s worst problems instead have a tendency to involve the unknown, or diplomatic relations with other races.
Perhaps the most compelling argument I have seen is that the Star Trek universe is based on a participatory economy. Regardless, you don’t see everyone owning personal vehicles, spacecraft, or other significant assets.
Yet, the 2009 film opens with Kirk driving what appears as somebody’s personal car. It’s an antique so perhaps not as bold of a statement that there is a capitalist economy as it could have been. Fast forward to the 2013 movie however, and I vaguely recall seeing a number of small spacecraft around the time Scotty was heading towards the coordinates that lead towards the USS Vengeance. This is seemingly a very inefficient way of managing transportation, and implies personal transportation is available, and thus a strong sign of capitalism.
(Side note: It’s true that Picard’s family seems to own a vineyard and Sisko’s father seems to own a restaurant. However Picard might also refer to “my ship” without meaning that he owns it. These may be collectively owned by all.)
Into Darkness, like the movie before it, further removes itself from the television series – despite making even more references to it. While I was better prepared for the change this time around, it’s still disappointing to see Star Trek reduced to another action movie. Essentially, that’s what the Star Trek universe is slowly becoming. I half-jokingly mentioned to a colleague that the new Star Trek movie probably has more action sequences than some of the Star Wars films, but actually this might even be true!
Further, a recent Slashdot review of the film noted that it likely fails the Bechdel test, and I think they’re right. This is a guy’s film. Having a film in the Star Trek universe – a universe that is supposed to uphold values such as equality – suggests that J. J. Abrams still doesn’t get it, or at least doesn’t care.
Why does any of this matter? It’s just a film after all, right? Well, if all I wanted was an action film set in the future, I’d probably prefer a Star Wars movie – pure science fantasy. Instead, I prefer Science Fiction. I like the idea that science fiction can take life today as we know it, change one aspect of it, fast-forward to the future and present a view of what our life might be like. I like Star Trek because it presents a future anyone can aspire for – even if they aren’t interested in astronomy or even space travel.
I shudder to think that this is the new future of Star Trek. If any TV series are made going forward, will they too throw away those core values and base it on what this reboot presents? Into Darkness seriously misrepresents all that Star Trek is, to the point where I wished Abrams used a different or original property to base his action films on.