Flickchart Preview: ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’
The year was 2009. After 17 years of consecutive production, there had been no Star Trek actively airing on television for four years, no feature film in theaters since Star Trek Nemesis died a painful box office death in 2002. One of the most dominant science fiction franchises in pop culture history was on life support.
Then J.J. Abrams unleashed his sequel/prequel/reboot, Star Trek, and everything changed. The film quickly became the highest-grossing in the history of the franchise, and was almost universally acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. It is the second highest-ranked film of 2009 on Flickchart. And now, four long years later, it’s finally time for a second helping.
The creators of the new Star Trek films have said they look to Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight as the right way to make a sequel, and it is apparent that they have really taken this attitude to heart. For their sequel, they are banking on heavy action, a diabolical and memorable villain, and have even thrown the “Dark” right into the title.
Such is the hype behind this sequel that it was voted the Most Anticipated Film of 2013 at our 2nd Annual Flickcharter’s Choice Awards. It’s already playing overseas, but North American audiences get their first look at special IMAX screenings tonight, with the film in wide release tomorrow.
It’s finally time for a Star Trek Into Darkness.
Star Trek Into Darkness vs. The Franchise
“Darkness is coming.”
It’s not the second movie. It’s number 12. Still, this might as well be a brand-new franchise.
Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek made the universe instantly accessible to new fans by jettisoning 43 years worth of excess baggage in the form of one of the longest-running sci-fi franchises in history. One of the biggest hurdles faced by the last Star Trek television series, Enterprise, was the fact that its creators had developed it as a prequel, taking place a hundred years before the original series that featured Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. As such, Trekkies with a too-close eye on the revered “canon” of Star Trek took umbrage with every little creative license taken by the show for the sake of telling a good story. (“You can’t do that! It completely contradicts a throwaway line in Episode 47 that aired 15 years ago!”)
Conversely, Enterprise wasn’t new enough or special enough to distinguish itself from the glut of sci-fi content available at the time, which the Trek franchise itself had brought to fruition. Star Trek‘s true zenith of popularity ran from a few seasons into the second series, Star Trek: The Next Generation (which began 20 years after the original), to the mid-’90s, when the TNG crew launched their second (and most successful) big-screen adventure, Star Trek: First Contact. In the meantime, two more spinoff Trek series – Deep Space Nine and Voyager – had arisen, airing concurrently, but so had a bunch of other sci-fi television.
When the fifth series, Star Trek: Enterprise, launched in 2001, it was facing competition from the likes of The X-Files, Stargate SG-1, Smallville, the new Battlestar Galactica, and more. Star Trek: The Next Generation had had virtually no competition 15 years earlier, and it had blazed the trail for its own competitors. Now, science fiction on television is more popular than ever.
Similarly, the Star Trek films featuring the Next Generation cast got lost in the shuffle after First Contact. When Star Trek Nemesis bowed in 2002, it was sandwiched between Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Add that to the fact that the movie itself wasn’t very good, and Nemesis was completely lost in the shuffle.
Death at the box office and dwindling Nielsen ratings had killed Star Trek. In science fiction, though, anything is possible, and much like its most beloved character in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the franchise had a resurrection coming… sooner than expected.
Star Trek vs. J.J. Abrams
What made the ’09 film from J.J. Abrams so different? Of course, there were several reasons.
The fact that Abrams is a self-confessed Star Wars fanatic gave his direction of Trek a much more high-octane kick than the franchise had previously seen. Everything, particularly the action, just felt a bit more “epic” under his lens. (Certainly, he’s obliterated any doubt that he might be the perfect choice to direct Disney’s Star Wars: Episode VII.)
Aside from that, Abrams had a pair of writers in Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman who were great Trek fans and really understood the characters. One of the ’09 film’s great achievements is the way it presents its characters. It certainly didn’t hurt that its talented young actors were all almost perfectly cast in their iconic roles.
Now, of course, that Abrams has brought his Trek crew together, it is time to give them a truly daunting obstacle to overcome. Eric Bana‘s Nero may have been underwritten in the ’09 film, but in a sequel, with the “origin story” out of the way, the focus shifts to the bad guy, and Abrams promises a bad guy indeed in the person of Benedict Cumberbatch.
Into Darkness vs. The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan saved the franchise after Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a letdown at the box office. As such, many Trek films have attempted to replicate its success, and Abrams’ movies are no exception. In fact, they both appear to pilfer mercilessly from Khan. (Read our more detailed look at Star Trek vs. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.)
Indeed, one of the biggest rumors floating around during the production of Star Trek Into Darkness was that Cumberbatch would actually be playing Khan Noonien Singh, who was immortalized by Ricardo Montalban in one episode of the original series and The Wrath of Khan. This was fueled by the fact that Abrams had reportedly been searching for a Hispanic actor for his villain role, until Cumberbatch had blown the competition away with an audition via iPhone.
While I don’t believe that Khan is the villain, Cumberbatch is supposed to be playing a character out of Trek‘s lengthy past. His alias, John Harrison, doesn’t give away anything, but we’ll know the truth soon enough.
Into Darkness vs. Captain Kirk
After Chris Pine‘s Kirk ascended to the position of captain of the Enterprise in almost ridiculously meteoric fashion in Star Trek, it is now time for him to prove himself in the role. Hence, the enigmatic Harrison becomes the first true test of Kirk’s mettle as a leader. “Kirk might have gotten the captain’s chair in the first one,” Pine has said, “but in the second one he has to earn the captain’s chair.”
This film will also see a strengthening of the relationship between Kirk and Zachary Quinto‘s Spock, the cornerstone of the Star Trek franchise. Much in this film will hinge on Pine and Quinto, but if they perform as admirably as they did the first time, there will be no problem.
Star Trek vs. the Sequel
It has been four long years since this new crew made a big splash at the box office. And that wait is longer than the entire run of the original television series. But it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that they did not just rush headlong into a sequel just to milk the cash cow. They wanted a story that would be worthy of their reinvigorated franchise. (Plus, J.J. had to get Super 8 out of his system…)
Abrams and company have promised this one will be worth the wait. Finally, it’s now time to find out if they’re right.
Star Trek Into Darkness opens tomorrow, May 16.