At a certain point in the recombinant world of modern blockbusters, our movie vocabulary breaks down. Is Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, 2 hrs., 11 mins., PG-13) a sequel to a reboot, a remake of a sequel, or both? Despite months of coy prevaricating from shameless plot-tease J.J. Abrams, the summer tentpole’s main villain was revealed as Khan Noonien Singh (Benedict Cumberbatch), the genetically enhanced supersoldier iconically played by Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, 1 hr., 56 mins., PG). Abrams’ version, now available on DVD and Blu-ray, faced some wrath of its own this month when Trekkie conventiongoers in Las Vegas ranked it dead last among the Star Trek features. (Khan was at the head of the list.) Now, there’s no way, by any definition of filmmaking, that Into Darkness is worse than, say, 1989’s bracingly awful Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. So why the animosity?
For one thing, Abrams & Co. get their muddy rebootprints all over the shoulders of giants. The new movie is far more referential than reverential, even having the audacity to lift its emotional climax wholesale from Khan. And it suffers in comparison. (SPOILER ALERT!) Where that film earned its moment — Spock’s demise feels genuine, even if it turned out to be only temporary — Into Darkness puts its big scene in quote marks, borrowing stale sentiment rather than inspiring its own. Replacing the delightfully magniloquent Montalban with Cumberbatch doesn’t reap much reward either: It’s not that the new iteration is bad, it’s just that the Xerox will always be less distinct and discernible than the original. For a story set so many years in the future, Into Darkness is surprisingly beholden to the past, meekly going where others have gone before. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: A-