Star Trek Into Darkness
The most brilliant marketing move in J. J. Abrams's wildly popular 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise might have been skipping any attempts at continuity that might hamstring the ability to alternately reference and revise Federation history—whatever was most convenient in any particular scene. More impressively, it did it while managing to not alienate its fan base. Trekkies are famously so rabid, so steeped in the minutiae of each Star Trek franchise, that they were once mocked by William Shatner in a Saturday Night Live skit in which he told rabid conventioneers to "get a life."
The 2009 reboot's plot twist let Leonard Nimoy make a cameo, and it set up the new series' parameters: Spock and the audience retain all memory of past movies, but Federation history, as recorded in those films, is no longer unalterable. Things can now happen differently than they did before. It was like an Etch A Sketch got wiped clean.
This erasure seemed like a high price to pay just to give Abrams and company a bit more narrative freedom. The destruction of Vulcan aside, the first movie also didn't seem as troubled by the theological implications of changing history as was, say, the last season of Abrams's television series Felicity.
But the public wants what the public wants. And it wants old and new Spock in the same movie, and looks to J. J. Abrams to "make it so."
The greatest remaining continuity link between the previous films and the new ones is the inclusion of plenty of Easter eggs to make the initiated feel—in this order—smart ("lose the red shirts") and nostalgic ("the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"). Beyond that, these are "things go boom" movies for today's viewers. The new generation of watchers isn't really troubled when we tinker with culturally sacred artifacts, because it is more or less disengaged from them.
If they do hold any media experiences dear, the affection is much, much more proximate—quick, what's your favorite movie or television show from the 1990s?—than inherited. Consider that six of the ten highest rated films of all time on IMDB were made in the last twenty years. In today's Hollywood, all things must be made new or be consigned to some obscure folder at Hulu Plus for historians and eccentric, long-tail consumers.
Kvetching aside, is the movie any good? Marginally. Besides some surprisingly fuzzy 3D effects and Abrams's stubborn infatuation with lens flares, it's entertaining enough, as a summer popcorn movie.
But it's also surprisingly generic. Did we really need all that work in the first movie to make any plot development possible when the spine of the film was going to be a series of video-game ready action sequences that would fit just as easily into most any movie franchise?
We open with a scene of Indiana Jones—I mean Kirk—running away from some primitive aliens. There were several (I think I counted at least four) scenes where someone had a verbal or digital countdown. Want to know what the Star Trek franchise has become? Before the count gets to zero you must (push this button/pull this lever/climb this ladder/inject this serum) or (someone you love/everyone on this ship/millions of extras) are going to die. Of course, summer movies are basically delivery vehicles for spectacle. All of these chases, explosions, crashes, and fights are expertly crafted and sufficiently thrilling.