Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

If J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness is any indication, his Star Wars sequels will be brilliantly shallow, like crack hits to fanboys and vapor to everyone else. I’m not dissing him, exactly. The first fifteen minutes of his second Star Trek movie crackle with life and strike a balance between homage and parody; unfortunately, there are 117 minutes to go.

I love Star Trek – the earnest politics, the slow pacing, all of it. I wouldn’t call the 1960’s TV series or the 1980’s movies great dramatic art, but they work on their own terms. I’m not sure J.J. Abrams and his numerous writers get what Gene Roddenberry was going for. To paraphrase Mark Twain, they know the words, but they don’t know the tune.

To be sure, Abrams didn’t do himself any favors by playing coy when he denied that his villain was Khan, the same villain as Nicholas Meyer’s far superior movie from 1982. There is some pleasure in seeing the climax of that movie inverted (nevermind that it makes no sense, or that it follows a silly obstacle-course-of-the-damned that is practically incoherent in cinematic terms, or that it’s conveniently erased by a blood transfusion — nevermind.)

Abrams and his editors do great justice to the humor of the original Star Trek; their take is arguably wittier than the original. Still, it’s hard to picture this new movie working at all without the original to compare it to – although it’s not strictly a remake, all of its touchpoints are references to the Shatner/Nimoy-starring series. And Abrams loves a good firefight, or fistfight, or some kind of fight. Emotions must be expressed violently. And then, like vapor, they disappear. But those first fifteen minutes are pretty great.