Beaming into cinemas 10 years ago today, Star Trek Into Darkness has yet to kill (or even stun) its reputation amongst Trekkers for being the Worst. Movie. Eveeeer.
It’s a tale full of twists, betrayal, and outright lies. And we’re not talking about the plot.
So, if you lived through the Darkness times, use your nearest replicator to pour yourself a stiff Earl Grey (to calm your nerves), and strap yourself in for the bumpiest possible ride on the bridge of the starship ‘Abrams’.
Read more: What went wrong with Star Trek: Nemesis?
We have a lot to get through.
Set phasers to 'hype'
It all started so well. 2009’s Star Trek wasn’t even in cinemas when the production crew were hired to craft a sequel, such was Paramount’s confidence in JJ Abrams, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci.
Read more: How Wrath of Khan changed Star Trek forever
This dream team got to work on a script in 2008, aiming to have a final draft ready by the time the fireworks hit the sky at the end of 2009. But by December 2010, there wasn’t even a first draft in Abrams' hands.
This troubled writing period was a possible factor in the first reason fans hated the movie — it’s essentially a remix of the greatest Star Trek movie of all time, 1982's Wrath of Khan. Trekkers don’t tend to agree on much, but it’s basically universally accepted that Star Trek 2 is the movie to beat when it comes to quality. And it’s really hard to copy something and make it better (just ask AI).
Anything original in Into Darkness came from ‘big moment’ concepts rather than story needs. So when Kurtzman decided that the Enterprise rising out of the ocean would look really cool, it was shoved into the script even though, in the context of the scene, it makes absolutely no sense (just how did they get that thing into the sea without anyone seeing it?).
No Khan do
The plot holes annoyed fans, but nowhere near as much as the Khan elements. In the film, the Enterprise is sent on a mission to kill Benedict Cumberbatch's insurgent Commander 'John Harrison' after he kills Admiral Christopher Pike. However, it's later revealed that Harrison is actually Khan Noonien Singh — the villain of Wrath of Khan, who had originated from the original Star Trek TV series. It's a twist that makes no sense as Khan has no precedence in Abrams' film timeline (the Kelvin timeline).
Perhaps Abrams knew the Khan concept was going to be controversial. Script delays pushed back the project, which was originally intended to go into cinemas in 2011. But Abrams’ indecision about whether he’d even direct the movie held production back even further. He still hadn’t made up his mind by the film’s original release date.
After he did eventually decide to do it, he made an even worse decision — he agreed to lie to the fans about Khan’s presence in the movie. The Star Trek Into Darkness press tour contained more misleading falsehoods than an entire season of Would I Lie To You. Abrams would later regret it.
“It was so important to the studio that we not angle this thing for existing fans. If we said it was Khan, it would feel like you've really got to know what Star Trek is about to see this movie," Abrams told MTV after the film’s release.
"That would have been limiting. I can understand their argument to try to keep that quiet, but I do wonder if it would have seemed a little bit less like an attempt at deception if we had just come out with it.”
"When we did Star Trek Into Darkness, we decided that we weren't going to tell people that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Khan," Lindelof told Variety in 2015.
"And that was a mistake, because the audience was like, 'We know he's playing Khan.' That was why it was a mistake.”
Yeah, fibbing to fans does tend to be a bit of a faux pas when it comes to winning over those same fans. Funny that.
JJ Abrams is a big proponent of the ‘mystery box’ approach to storytelling, which follows the logic that the excitement of an unopened box can sometimes be better than what’s inside. In Star Trek Into Darkness’ case, that’s definitely true, because what’s inside is a big steaming pile of Tribble turds.
The Khan plotline would probably have been fine if it had been handled correctly, but having it culminate with the peaceful Spock bellowing ‘KHAAAAN!’ before beaming down to punch him in the face (over and over again), probably wasn’t the best way to go to keep Trekkers content.
This is a fandom so persnickety that they took to Wikipedia to argue about Star Trek Into Darkness’ capitalisation (the absence of a colon means that ‘Into’ should be lowercase, you see).
It all culminated in Star Trek Into Darkness being voted the worst Star Trek movie of all time, falling at the bottom of a 2013 Vegas fan convention vote, several places below even Galaxy Quest (which isn’t actually a Star Trek movie). Wrath of Khan topped the list (because of course it did).
The good news is, Abrams learned his lesson. Never again would he make a follow up to a popular science-fiction reboot with ‘Star’ in the title, and ruin it by lazily remaking a popular installment in the franchise, by bringing back a fan favourite villain in the dumbest way possible, causing an outcry that would echo throughout the internet years later.
Oh, wait a minute…
Star Trek Into Darkness is streaming on Paramount+.