Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness' Greatest Mistake

If you have yet to see Star Trek Into Darkness then please be aware spoilers will follow. This article is intended to discuss aspects introduced in the second and third acts.

There's no denying that fans of Trek tend to be fairly decisive when it comes to the rebooted Star Trek universe. Some claim that this re-interpretation is a betrayal of what came before. Lacking the depth of writing and many elements which made the franchise famous in the first place. Others make the point that more emphasis upon the action, fast pacing and spectacle have imbued it with new life and avoided many of the pitfalls the old one was falling into. Speaking personally i'm of the opinion that the the reboot is okay. It's not great, certainly a decent popcorn flick with some spectacular scenes and fantastic actors, but is average at best in the story department.

The new film continued in the same manner as its predecessor  with one key difference. While there are a vast number of flaws within Into Darkness one stands out above all. A single problem written into the most basic elements of the script which greatly undermines what should have been a vastly better story:


Or more specifically many elements of Wrath of Khan which have been incorporated into the plot itself. Now, on the surface this seems to be an intelligent decision. As a character he is one of the series' most recognisable and memorable villains, Benedict Cumberbatch is a fine actor to take up the role Ricardo Montalban made his own and it was taken in a new direction. Utilising him more in terms of the growing threat of the Klingons and the more militant aspects of the Federation, yet keeping many elements which kept him great. The problem arises in terms of the inevitable comparisons which will be drawn within the films.

Even taking it on its own, as an isolated production without any aspects of the franchise, Wrath of Khan is rightly remembered as one of the strongest written science fiction films of the 80s. Despite the apparent simplicity of the plot, its genius lies within its subtleties, and reincorporation and referencing of famous texts. King Lear, Moby Dick, many can be found referenced within the plot and events while keeping emphasis upon the tale the film is trying to tell. If you have a good hour to spare then see SFDebris' analysis of the film to see what I mean

The point of the matter is this was the film against which any an all future Star Trek films would be measured against in terms of plot, strength of character and memorability. JJ Abrams and his writers opted to take the sequel to a film, one criticised for having a weak plot, and incorporating so many elements that direct comparisons are inevitable. While the film might have avoided this had it gone out of its way to make sure there are no set-pieces or events which resembled Wrath, they instead did the opposite. The situation established closing act of Into Darkness is almost identical to that of Wrath of Khan and one particular scene (one of the most famous in the franchise's history) is copied almost word for word.
This replication makes the story seem weaker than ever. Along with appearing to the audience that the writers are not skilled enough to handle their own craft, instead needing to effectively plagarise from other films, it only makes their actual writing look all the weaker. The sheer difference in quality remaining evident throughout, especially in terms of one particular plot hole in why Khan needs to be kept alive.

However, this is not the only flaw it brings. One of the biggest sins which brought the later Star Trek television shows low was reliance upon the past. Having to mine older glories and lean on them to sustain themselves. Whether you enjoyed them or not, both Voyager and Enterprise suffered from this heavily, copying the premises and layouts to older episodes and requiring references to better known series over establishing their own memorable characters and scenes. This was something the reboot was supposed to have gotten away from, truly allowed fresh blood into an old idea and a new start without falling into this trap. As a result this seems less like a good idea and more like the writers repeating the mistakes of the past.

None of this is to say that paying tribute to the old series is wrong. Leonard Nimoy's return to the role in an extended cameo is a great example of this done right, but his involvement wasn't overbearing to the story. It was effectively fan-service and plot exposition, it wasn't copying and pasting or leading to certain details overshadowing the rest of the film. It wasn't, as noted before, completely replicating a famous death scene for the climax.

If you disagree with this then obviously feel free to say so. It would be very interesting to hear people's opinions on this, but as a new beginning this feels like a big mistake.


Star Trek and all related characters and media are owned by Paramount Pictures.


  1. I don't know. I liked the film, and honestly, I was hoping for Khan as the villain for the second film (even my fellow Trek friends thought Khan would be a great follow up to the first film).

    There were a lot of references to the old series, sure, but not in a way that made it confusing to new comers. My friends unfamiliar with Star Trek never found themselves lost due to some reference to the old show or movies, nor did I dislike the references to said media.

    Then again, I loved Nemesis, so I might be a bit of an odd ball.

    1. Oh I understand where you're coming from, and even agree with you on Khan's re-introduction, but the problem is it's a okay film which is bringing up direct contrasts with a much greater work.

      A good comparison might be I, Robot. A few people seemed to like the Will Smith film, and thought that on it's own it was a fine production. However, as its very name and aspects were drawing comparisons with a superior story, Asimov's novel, it seemed lesser as a result. Each to their own of course but it just felt like a big misstep.

  2. I definitely agree that the end scene was parroted a bit too much, especially as you say, one of the best sci-fi scenes of all time. However, I think that the positive aspects outweigh the negative.

    The recasting for Khan couldn't have been better. And they showed much more of the physicality of what a genetically enhanced being would be, which is something that just wasn't a part of actor trained skills in the earlier Trek movies (something that's obvious from and William Shatner fight scene ever).

    I have to disagree with the idea that the parallels show a lack of creativity in the writers. The alternate world connections are a huge part of the Trekverse, in every series, and in the canon books. And I think this is the feel they were trying to capture with the "alternate timeline".

    The original series started the Mirror Universe, an became such a classic it was visited many times in DS9, and in several novels by the Enterprise D crew. A whole "what if" universe brought back Tasha Yar in Next Generation, and spawned a brand new character, and blah blah blah..

    I personally feel they were keeping very close to a style of story that is very familiar and traditional for Trekkies. They pushed it a tad too far at times, but well within what most fans are used to.