Is Into Darkness Really “Star Trek”?

There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of Star Trek: Into Darkness. There are issues with the plot, there’s a gratuitous underwear scene, a perplexing amount of punching, and their use of “cold fusion” is pretty funny. Those of us who liked the movie can argue its positives outweigh the negatives, but those negatives are undeniably true. But there’s a particular complaint about Into Darkness that seems to be more about a feeling of misplaced possessiveness rather than legitimate criticism: That Into Darkness isn’t really “Star Trek”.


Warning: Spoilers 

Some people seemed to expect Into Darkness to be everything they’ve ever known Star Trek to be all in one movie. Star Trek is the accumulation of decades of television and movies. A movie can’t be all things all at once. It would be like if people were angry at Wrath of Khan because it wasn’t “sci-fi” enough, and therefore not real Star Trek. Expecting the wrong things leads people to miss what a movie is really about.

Others have in their mind a very specific idea of what they want a Trek movie to be. They say it’s supposed to be cerebral, philosophical, or closer to “real” science fiction than other sci-fi franchises. These descriptions of Star Trek aren’t wrong, but in reality Star Trek is a lot of things. Let’s think about some of the recurring types of stories from the original series:

Revenge! (The Doomsday Machine, The Conscience of the King, Obsession)
The Showdown (The Wrath of Khan, Search For Spock, Balance of Terror, Arena)
Fish Out of Water (A Piece of the Action, Patterns of Force, every time they go to the past)
Political (The Undiscovered Country, Errand of Mercy, A Private Little War)
Comedy (The Voyage Home, The Trouble with Tribbles, William Shatner)
Philosophical (The Motion Picture, Where No Man Has Gone Before, The Enemy Within)
World Building (Journey to Babel, The Enterprise Incident, Amok Time)

The list could go on

But what about action? Some people have a problem with Into Darkness being so actioney. Action was a big part of the TV show also, right? That’s how we got all of these gems. The truth is most of the Star Trek themes we love are more effectively done in the TV show format, because there can be an episode focused on one aspect of these themes. If we look at the movies, and if I may bring in TNG movies to compare also, action is almost always a goal. The only exceptions are The Motion Picture, and maybe Star Trek IV. In First Contact (which I like), they shamelessly tried to turn Picard into some kind of a vengeful action hero, when that doesn’t really fit at all. In fact we’ve already seen how Picard copes with being turned into a Borg in the episode “Family”. By the way, “Family” is also a perfect example of a story that works great for a TV show, but wouldn’t work for a movie.
That isn’t to say we wouldn’t love to see a more deliberately paced, less action oriented Trek movie (Motion Picture is one of our favorites), just that the action focused nature of Into Darkness doesn’t somehow make it less like a Star Trek movie.

Into Darkness did in fact cover a lot of the common themes in Star Trek. It was about revenge, which is seen over and over again. It was about the bond between Kirk and Spock, which was done surprisingly well considering the short amount of time we’ve seen them together. It had it’s political themes, which to some extent was unfortunate, but it’s certainly like Trek to take an awkward stab at political issues. They even showcased a lot of specific things that were recurring in Star Trek, like a high ranking Starfleet person going rogue, the captain bluffing his way out of a situation, and Kirk taking some liberties with the prime directive. A lot can be said about Into Darkness, but “It’s not Star Trek!” isn’t one of them.


  • Matthew Weflen

    The thing about all of the episodes cited is that they were done well. STID was done very poorly.

    “Real Star Trek” can have sex, violence, revenge, comedy, and all of those good things. They were in the show’s DNA from Roddenberry’s first story bible. But what it can’t be is dumb. And this movie is relentlessly, flagrantly dumb.

    • Lets Watch Star Trek

      You said in your review of Into Darkness that the main difference between people who liked the movie and people like yourself is a difference of priorities. I don’t think this is totally accurate because I think I love the same things you do in Star Trek, and ideally would like to see them better presented in a movie, but I also love the positives about this movie. I noticed a lot of the dumb things you point out in your review, but I just kind of laugh about them and they didn’t distract me much. It’s interesting that we were talking about Voyager prior to this. You more than likely come across people who love to hate Voyager. They can give an endless list of problems it has, a lot of which can’t be denied. More than likely these things just don’t bother you enough to overlook the things you love about Voyager.

      What I liked in the movie was that they conveyed the friendship between Kirk and Spock surprisingly well, playing with role reversal and learning to understand one another. I liked more about it, which I can elaborate on if you want, but that was one of the main things.

      You make a lot of good points in your review. One thing I really like about your blog is that you’re clear and consistent, which makes it fun to read even when I disagree. I knew you wouldn’t like the movie, although I think you exaggerate its dumbness. A lot of the movies have a lot of really dumb things about them, but you just aren’t bothered as much by them. For example, I think Into Darkness looks favorably next to any of The Next Generation movies. In the comments of your blog Generations was mentioned, which I know you like, but pick any of TNG movies and let’s compare. (by the way, I like most of TNG movies, I’m just using them as examples)

  • Irate Manatee

    Into Darkness isn’t Star Trek, and I liked Abram’s 1st Star Trek film.
    Ricardo Montalban made you care about Khan, and whoever the new guy was made Khan a placeholder for a villian of the week.
    There was just enough plot to hold the CGI together.
    It’s a cardboard, fake, rip-off of “Wrath of Khan”. “Wrath” was well written, well-acted, with special effects that served the story.
    “Wrath of Khan” is still the best ST movie, so of course they would try milking it for more money. Bad, BAD move.

    • Lets Watch Star Trek

      Yeah, it’s no Wrath of Khan, but we still liked it. I think it compares favorably with a lot of the other Star Trek movies, which were also rehashing past themes, and shamelessly trying to fit things into the Hollywood standard. Why did you like the first Abram’s movie?

    • Wes

      Benedict Cumberpatch (Khan and also Sherlock) made the movie. Personally, I loved Into Darkness, even if I have some misgivings with the deviation from the Star Trek canon, especially Kirk’s promotion ptoential (cadet to commander to captain, whiskey tango foxtrot?!). It was more of a Star Trek movie than most of the TNG movies, which on the whole were abominations…OK well maybe I’m still bitter about killing off Data.

      • Lets Watch Star Trek

        you’re right to still be bitter