Positive Cynicism – Star Trek 2: My stunning lack of enthusiasm

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

I’ve been reading a lot of online news lately about the upcoming sequel to JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, and despite the fact that the movie itself isn’t even supposed to appear until 2013, I’m already fatigued by it.

I know, I know. I’m doing that thing I’m always excoriating the Internet for and pre-judging an unfinished product. But what can I tell you? I’m a mass of contradictions, like every actor who thinks they’re fascinating says in every Playboy interview. Or I’m a lazy hypocrite, which is probably more accurate.

It’s not that I didn’t like the first movie (or eleventh movie, if you like), because I did. I’ve caught it on a cable a few times in the past couple of years, and I always enjoy the hell out of it. I know you can make the case that it’s a poorly-written movie, and I can’t really defend it on that level (Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci seem to make their livings writing poorly — I mean, they did write those awful Transformers flicks), but there’s such a fun spirit to the movie that I enjoy it despite its many flaws.

No, my ever-growing disinterest in the sequel is that it’s feeling awfully … re-hashy to me.

It’s this Khan business. Why the hell would you make the decision to do Khan over again?

Here’s what was so great about the reboot: it set the characters up to go in literally any direction the filmmakers could think to send them.

They spent the first movie giving Star Trek this sort of cool, thundering urgency that was, in some ways, an infusion of Star Wars (down to a number of plot elements), but in many other ways made the characters feel more immediate. By trying to combine science fiction elements with space opera grandiosity, they took a trope audiences have long taken for granted — space exploration — and gave it a dark edge, made it dangerous and thrilling again, re-imagined it for a world that was even more laden with faster technology than the world was in the 1960s. Sure, the bridge of the Enterprise may have looked like the inside of an Apple Store, but the filmmakers actually took the time to make the signature Trek technologies — phasers, hand communicators, transporters — seem not only plausible, but new and dangerous.

At the same time, they’d also spent the entire first movie justifying what they were doing to longtime Trek fans that couldn’t get past the first level of being offended that someone was remaking the adventures of Kirk, Spock and company with different actors. So they plugged Leonard Nimoy into the movie and created an explanation as to why things were happening differently: this was an alternate universe created by accident. So the original series, et al, aren’t being overwritten by new data, this is simply happening in, basically, another dimension or something. Since my sensible explanation that everything you ever saw in Star Trek still exists and can be enjoyed on DVD anytime you actually feel like it never seems to actually make sense to people who seem to think that remakes and reboots somehow erase from history all the joy Star Trek has ever given them in the past, it’s as good an explanation as any.

So, after making a cool, fun movie that bends over backwards to justify its existence by swearing up and down that this is an alternate reality and can go in literally any direction, I was really looking forward to a second movie where the filmmakers, no longer bound by creating the set-up, could do anything they wanted to do.

And apparently that’s to remake an episode of the original series.

I don’t know; am I judging them too harshly for this? Am I overreacting? Don’t tell me it’s not going to be Khan in the sequel, because it so obviously is. Back in 2009, when Star Trek was still playing in cinemas, Abrams was already talking about Khan as the villain, with some theoretical bullshit about “people who are always destined to meet.” They’re so hot on trying to cast a Hispanic actor as the villain; the original Khan, Ricardo Montalban, was from Mexico. (It would be nice to see the Indian Khan Noonien Singh played by an Indian actor this time, if they have to do it again. Jimi Mistry would be pretty awesome in the role, just sayin’.)

Hell, even Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have let it slip, after a fashion. IDW just started publishing its Star Trek series, based on their film, and have said it could serve as a prelude to the sequel.

(Actually, they said prequel, in yet another all-too-common misuse of the word; man, that’s become a pet peeve for me lately. Look, gentlemen, a “prequel” is something that comes after something else, but takes place before it. The only way the comic book series would be a prequel to Star Trek 2 is if it came out after the movie, but detailed events taking place before the events of the film. Seriously, guys, you’re writers!)

All that’s happening in the comic books right now is the rehashing of old episodes. The first two issues were the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” with the new versions of the crew plugged in. The second two issues have been “The Galileo Seven.” Literally all they’re doing is retelling episodes of the original series with a slightly harder edge to fit the new characterizations. It’s really disappointing, because, as I keep saying, you could go in literally any direction you wanted after creating a feature length explanation for why this Star Trek is different from that Star Trek … and instead you just want to rehash old episodes?

So I expect this attitude of “the exact same thing, but kind of different,” so thoroughly endorsed by the screenwriters, is the prevailing one when it comes to current Star Trek projects. And I just find that disappointing. They spent an entire movie partitioning this universe off from the old one just to justify doing whatever they wanted … and what they want to do is rehash “Space Seed,” an episode that was well-done the first time and led to the best Trek film ever made.

There’s that Hollywood originality we always expect.

(Oh, and incidentally, the major reason I think it’s obvious Khan is going to be the villain in the sequel? JJ Abrams says it’s not. That tends to be the extent of his ability to shroud his projects in mystery.)

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com

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