The Star Trek hype? It’s illogical, captain.

The second instalment of JJ Abrams’ franchise reboot is more pointless popcorn than pop philosophy.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

Topics Culture

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In the ranks of the sci-fi fandom, Trekkies stand somewhat apart – a mysterious acne-ridden world unto their own.

While other franchises may attract their fair share of obsessives, Star Trek has managed to spawn a veritable, exclusive cult – complete with its sacred texts – aka Starfleet regulations – and even its own language, Klingon.

Across the original three series, the countless movie outings, sequels and resurrections, Star Trek painted a world that was aspirational and familiar. Set a few hundred years in the future, it regaled us with the voyages of the Enterprise, an inter-stellar starship manned by a multicultural, multi-species crew of explorers . While danger could still be found lurking behind each alien moon, the crew would always call on their powers of reasoning before reaching for their phasers – each encounter offering a chance to chew-out a philosophical quandary that often gestured toward some of our own earthbound issues.

Last week, in a delightfully absurd news story, Norwich a sci-fi convention was the setting for a violent clash between Doctor Who and Star Wars fans. This would never happen with Trekkies. At the first sign of trouble, they’d split off into study groups and debate the morality of a pre-emptive strike, quoting Spock as they go.

When JJ Abrams got his hands on the franchise for a 2009 reboot, it was already high-time for a shake-up. Admitting he’d always been turned-off by the overly talkie show as a kid, he took to the mythos with a decided lack of ceremony, while still paying homage to its inimitable charm.

By virtue of a parallel timeline (summat to do with a black hole), he effectively reset the whole chronology and served up a bevy of thrills, effects and set-pieces the stretched budgets of the previous batch of Star Trek movies could only have dreamed of. Still, it was far from unfaithful, drawing on the more light-hearted, rough and tumble of the original series that had been long forgotten during the po-faced, Picard-led Next Generation years. Chris Pine’s libidinous new Kirk saw the Captain back to brawling and romancing green honeys, while Zachary Quinto’s suitably effete Spock served as the fiercely logical, calculating foil, whose half-Vulcan-half-human identity crisis brought a little nuance and drama to proceedings.

The sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, looked primed to dig deeper and truly re-establish the ailing franchise that in more recent incarnations only a geek could love. In typical, second-in-the-series style, it wades into much, er, darker territory. Returning to Earth from a spot of intergalactic japery, the crew of the Enterprise touch down on a world in turmoil – decimated and terror-stricken by a terrorist and seemingly super-human rogue Starfleet agent, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). When he flees to the Klingon homeworld after mounting an attack on Starfleet HQ, the Enterprise has away after him, charged by a shady admiral with blasting him off the face of the planet the second they get a clear shot. Harrison, the admiral reasons, is far too dangerous to stand trial.

Cue much soul-searching as Kirk wrestles with his conscience amid shuttle-craft slalom runs and choppy fight scenes that bring them to an audience with their booming voiced, and naturally British, nemesis. But these scant threads are left dangling, never resolved or explored as Into Darkness backslides into nothing more than a shallow – if stylish – romp.

The terrorism subtext is tired and uninspiring. Meanwhile, the action unfurls with banal predictability – a series of ‘ooh, will they make it?’ moments that are as laboured as Mr Chekov’s (Anton Yelchin) Russian accent.

A midway revelation about Harrison’s past will titillate the fans, but, borrowing heavily from an old Trek yarn, Abrams effectively spoils his own ending, while going right over the rest of the audience’s head and leaving them with just a cardboard black-clad bad guy.

As Abrams tries to steer the franchise away from all the trappings of fandom, he ends up with an anaemic popcorn flick with little between its pointy ears. Star Trek Into Darkness is likely to stir the ire of the Trekkie zealots while leaving newcomers wondering what all those dorks were making so much fuss about.

Tom Slater is spiked’s film reviewer. Visit his blog here.

See the trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness here:

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Topics Culture


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