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”.
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.