My wife and I recently watched Star Trek: Into Darkness, the second in the series of J.J. Abrams-directed”reboot” Star Trek movies that began in 2009. On the plus side, the film had some impressive action scenes and special effects. It also had more and somewhat better character development than its predecessor. Long-time fans of the series might like the many clever nods to the original series from the 1960s. At the very least, the movie was fun to watch, and I think we got our money’s worth.
Nonetheless, the negatives outweigh the positives. Unsurprisingly, Into Darkness has most of the same flaws as the previous Abrams Star Trek movie, which I criticized here. Both films essential turn Star Trek into an action movie that just happens to utilize Trek characters and settings. I am far from an uncritical admirer of Star Trek as envisioned by Gene Roddenberry and his successors. Nor was I ever the kind of fanatical Trekkie who goes to conventions wearing Vulcan ears or signs up for classes at the Klingon Language Institute. But, despite its many flaws, I admired the Star Trek franchise’s willingness to take on big questions about the kind of future we should want for humanity. Abrams’ “reboot” essentially ignores all serious issues, and just ramps up the action. I don’t deny that a “reboot” may have been needed, given the poor quality of the last several old-line Star Trek movies; but not a reboot that jettisons almost everything that made Star Trek interesting and unique.
In addition, Into Darkness has huge plot holes big enough to fly a whole fleet of Romulan warbirds through. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t go through them in detail. I will only note that, for the Federation to get into the predicament that is the main focus of the plot, Star Fleet’s leadership would have to be ridiculously stupid. To take just one of many examples, it seems that Star Fleet Headquarters and Earth generally have no fixed defenses of any kind against incoming warships and missiles, even though previous history clearly established that such defenses are both feasible given the level of their technology, and clearly necessary, given previous enemy attacks. Yet none of the characters even mention this and other comparably ridiculous mistakes, not even the supposedly hyper-logical Mr. Spock (who makes some whopping errors of his own in the movie, which are also ignored by the other characters).
Perhaps the real implicit message of the reboot movies is to endorse the message of social critics who worry that advancing technology has bred a “generation of nincompoops”. Maybe the producers expect the nincompoopery to get even worse in the future, infecting Vulcans and Klingons as well as humans. Indeed, if the Klingons, Romulans, and other rivals of the Federation were minimally competent, it’s hard to understand how the Star Fleet portrayed in the reboot movies could possibly have become a major power in the galaxy. Maybe the “darkness” into which the Federation has descended is a severe outbreak of extreme stupidity among Star Fleet’s best and brightest. Although I strongly disagree with this kind of technopessimism, a science fiction series that seriously explored the idea that high technology leads to a “dumbed down” society might be interesting. Unfortunately, Abrams’ movies seem to raise the issue only unintentionally.