If modern nerd culture has a “patient zero,” it was Mr. Trekkie (or Miss Trekker, if you’re nasty). Their legendary attention to detail is exceeded only by their willingness to speak Klingon in the most intimate of settings. And they’re really, really going to hate Star Trek Into Darkness.
Director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot got a surprising free pass from the community despite a twisted-pretzel-logic attempt to simultaneously keep Billy Shatner’s Captain Kirk “in continuity” and completely start over. But the latest installment blatantly turns a blind eye to huge moments in the “Trekkie canon,” which is likely to get the filmmakers loaded into a Trekkie’s cannon. To the loyalists, the fact that the blockbuster is remarkably entertaining, exceedingly well-produced and magnificently cast is but a band aid on a photon torpedo wound.
Abrams is addicted to secrecy; he gets high on the frustrated whines of geeks who “wanna know right now!” At least officially, he managed to keep the villain’s name out of the trailers, so it’s off-limits here. Just know that Benedict Cumberbatch plays a bad dude intent on blowin’ up Starfleet officials, specifically Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller). Having been separated for “violating the prime directive” (which sounds like a sex thing but isn’t), Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) reunite to take down their super-strong, super-smart, super- British foe.
If Star Trek Into Darkness makes a mistake beyond urinating on their small-but-devoted fan base, it’s not allowing enough time for the delightful ensemble players to interact. Scotty (Simon Pegg), Bones (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), Checkov (Anton Yelchin) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are barely ever even in the same place, let alone the same plotline. And while they’re fun individually, they are far more pleasing in bunches. Actually, fun is pretty hard to come by in this installment, but putting “into darkness” in the title should have been a head’s up.
The Internet and critics have thrown ample shade upon Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof for their script for mostly no good reason. No rational human can argue that what happens at the end of this film is any less kooky or “magic” than Spock’s rebirth in Star Trek III or the globe-saving, timetraveling whale retrieval in Star Trek IV.
Would it have been nice to see Cumberbatch’s character developed better? Yep. Just like it would have been nice for us to see a myriad of tinier adventures to ground the Spock/Kirk relationship, which only works in this film because of our collective memory of their relationship elsewhere. But it looks good, with Abrams making a foot-chase seem as intense as a spaceship-to-spaceship battle. And it sets the stage for at least one more go with this cast; Abrams, on the other hand, is journeying to a place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
From the original series through modern incarnations, Star Trek has always been smart. But that intelligence has, in some cases, bred nerd hubris among some Trekkies. Star Trek Into Darkness is blockbuster-y goodness sure to be derided by purists but beloved by the masses.
Rating: Three out of four stars
— This review first appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Neb.