… or, ‘How I Learned To Stop Hating JJ Abrams’. Spoilers abound.
“Doesn’t it have a colon yokey?” I asked as the screen about the film’s rating flashed up. Star Trek Into Darkness.
Ms IckleTayto explained that no, it was deliberate, there’d been a whole thing about it just being one title. To distinguish it from previous Trek films.
“That makes sense,” I said wearily. “That’s what this film is doing. Bringing Star Trek into darkness and despair.”
I am not a JJ Abrams fan. In fact, up until this latest film, I might have described him as my nemesis. (But not in a terrible tenth Star Trek film kind of way.) I despaired of his first Star Trek film, and with his taking over Star Wars – well, at a certain point you just have to say “Stop hogging all the franchises!” (My friend Eimear, who was also at the film, pointed out that it would be totally fine if it was someone else hogging all the franchises. Like, say, Joss Whedon. At which point I imagined a Whedony Trek and my head exploded a little.) I have issues with the end of Felicity, and everyone has issues with Lost, and I still haven’t watched Fringe which has Joshua ‘Pacey Witter’ Jackson in it because of its Abrams-ness. (I mean, I will, because, y’know, Joshua Jackson, but still.)
My expectations were very low for the new Star Trek film. I’d spent much time sighing wearily over the first one, and despairing that any Trek fan could actually enjoy it. And yet I was going to see it – for the same reason I stuck with Enterprise for two and a half seasons (and am nearly contemplating revisiting), for the same reason I have seen the ninth and tenth Trek films more than once even though they are truly awful. I am a Trekkie.
Sometimes I feel not-quite-nerdy enough to claim that title. I don’t speak Klingon (although it pleases me there is a Klingon edition of Hamlet available). Nor do I own a pair of Vulcan ears. But. I do love the shows, a lot, in a rewatching-obsessively kind of way. Deep Space Nine is my favourite, and then both TNG and Voyager have a special place in my heart. I like the original series too, a lot, but not quite as obsessively. And then there are the movies, which have always been a tad hit-or-miss. We know this, we know the rule – even numbers are the good ones – but this is defied in spectacular fashion by the tenth movie, Nemesis, and partly why it does is because it throws out TV continuity and amps up the ‘cool special effects’ at the expense of characterisation.
Which is basically what the first Abrams movie does, too. I don’t just mean the rebooted timeline – when I think about it, I actually adore parallel universes and time travel and ‘what if’ scenarios. I mean the fact that the rebooted timeline doesn’t quite make sense, that there’s still all this stuff that is just (Spock-face) illogical even if one accounts for those changes. Some of it is making-things-shiny for the big screen, of course (which happened in the pre-Abrams movies too), but not all of it is. (Second movie is also guilty of this, with the ship’s super-fanciness and also more crucially the ridiculous hats.)
So yes. I was fairly ‘meh’ about the whole thing. And then along Into Darkness I went.
There’s a moment where a secret branch of Starfleet is mentioned. A covert-ops unit known as Section 31. And I squeaked. Section 31 first comes up in Deep Space Nine. It is one of my absolute favouritest things about the series, because it’s part of its attempt at looking at the underbelly of the shiny-happy Federation, and it was about the last thing I expected to be mentioned in the film.
I think from that moment on, they had me. Because there were also Tribbles. And there was a reference to Nurse Chapel. And we had Carol Marcus, and then they went in exactly the way I hoped they would with playing with what Kirk and Spock had done in the second film, and Spock doing the “Khaaaaan!” line was quite frankly hilarious. (I’m not sure if it was intended to be, mind you.) And Uhura had actual stuff to do!
There’s this rather scathing review of the film over at io9, and it has this quote which I think sums up the reason why I liked the movie, why I left the cinema feeling bewildered at the bounce in my step:
“…the fanservice becomes the movie”
And that’s it. It’s not really Trek, re-energised and re-imagined in a clever way that brings nuance and depth with it (versus, say, the 2000s Battlestar Galactica). It’s fun and it’s a sandbox and it’s like fanfiction except with a big budget and some cool actors behind it. It’s playing about with the source material and it’s not doing something terribly exciting with it, but it’s fun. And of course you’re not going to take it too seriously.
JJ Abrams, you are no longer my nemesis. I won’t say all is forgiven, but I didn’t leave the cinema filled with rage, despair or bewilderment at what you were doing to the franchise. Nice job, dude.