Summer is over and Star Trek Into Darkness is already available for digital download, with the Blu-Ray/DVD version of the film hitting stores a next week. After years of anticipation, the sequel to the rebooted sexy and fun 2009 Star Trek was bound to be something of a disappointment. And while I’ve had lots of theories as to why this latest film ultimately failed (I don’t care about box office numbers, the movie was not good) the strangest thing I’ve discovered upon reflection is how much it borrows from the least popular Star Trek series; Enterprise. And Enterprise probably did all this stuff better!
Forget the identity of Cumberbatch’s villain, here is the greatest mystery of Into Darkness: how come nobody recognized Peter Weller had returned as the exact same kind of villain he played on Enterprise 100 years prior, or in our time, back in 2005?
Just before its correctly maligned series finale, “These Are the Voyages…” Enterprise offered an excellent two part-story line with the episodes “Demons,” and “Terra Prime.” Here’s what happens: a paranoid xenophobic fringe group called Terra Prime wants all the aliens out of the Sol system ASAP. They’re lead by a guy named Paxon who is played by Peter Weller. He’s cold, calculating, and in almost every single way, exactly like his character Admiral Marcus in Star Trek Into Darkness. But the similarities get weirder.
In Star Trek Into Darkness Admiral Marcus manufactures a conspiracy in order to provoke a war with Klingons, because he presumably hates aliens. In “Demons/Terra Prime,” Paxon creates a Vulcan human hybrid baby to prove to everyone how creepy aliens are. Both guys have spies everywhere, and are totally delusional, seemingly without any real reason. In “Terra Prime” Captain Archer and Trip Tucker get into a phaser/fight, fist-fight with Paxon on Mars where he’s trying to use a super-weapon to blow up Starfleet Command. Starfleet Command, gets targeted, too, in Into Darkness, by CumberKhan. Also, Kirk and Scotty fight with Admiral Marcus, which is weird because Archer is basically the Kirk of his show while Trip is kind of a Scotty analogue.
The clandestine Earth organization known as section 31 mostly pops up in Deep Space Nine, but it also exists in Enterprise, specifically in these episodes. Now in the Enterprise episodes Section 31 is helping the good guys defeat Peter Weller, whereas in Into Darkness, Section 31 IS Peter Weller. Either way, both Peter Wellers are okay with starting wars in order to secure some kind of faux-security they think will occur as a result of more militarization/killing of aliens. Admiral Marcus might not be as overtly xenophobic as Paxon, but the general inexplicable one-note insanity of the character is pretty much the identical.
The Enterprise rip-off problem in Into Darkness is compounded when you consider the whole manhunt/terrorism aspects of the film. In the wake of a terrorist attack on Earth, Kirk and the Enterprise head into almost-Klingon space to track down CumberKhan; but in the 3rd season of Enterprise, Archer and the Enterprise head into Xindi space to track down terrorists who attacked Earth. I’m sorry, but just typing out those two things is depressing. The Xindi-plotline on Enterprise is a mixed bag of clichés and weird violence on the part of nice Star Trek people. Most importantly though, it seemed fairly pandering and almost jingoist with its creepy 9/11imagery.
Into Darkness appropriates the 9/11 thing even further by having a spaceship normally flown by Star Trek people be hijacked by a terrorist and then flown into future-world skyscrapers. When Enterprise referenced 9/11 back in 2004 it was in fairly poor taste, and is handled even more clumsily in Into Darkness. Interestingly, because Enterprise tackled the idea of our heroes turning into amoral jerks as a direct result of trying to track down their own outer space Bin Ladens, it’s head a shoulders above Into Darkness, which simply depicts good guys and bad guys. There was a lot of talk about how CumberKhan was a complex villain and not really a bad guy, which is only true if you know about the mythology of the character from “Space Seed” and the original Wrath of Khan. Into Darkness didn’t really explore much of that, nor did it make the good guys really face up to the fact that they might become the thing they hate if they act violent and terrible.
There are a few exceptions to this is; places where Star Trek Into Darkness does some moral soul-searching correctly. One great example is Scotty refusing to take the terrible murder-torpedoes because he’s a really Star Trek person, and Kirk is acting like a military commander. Additionally, Spock reminding Kirk that they can’t just kill somebody without a trial is in true and correct Star Trek-humanism form. But, when you contrast all of this with the thematically VERY similar storylines on Enterprise, the crew of the Enterprise in Into Darkness doesn’t really go into darkness. However, when Archer, Trip, T’Pol and co. start hunting terrorists in Entreprise we see Archer being okay with torture, T’Pol getting hooked on space drugs and a whole bunch of other stuff. This is ACTUALLY dark, rather than paying some half-baked service to “darkness.”
Am I saying Enterprise, and specifically, the episodes “Demons” and “Terra Prime,” are not only darker, but inherently better than Star Trek Into Darkness? Yes. That’ exactly what I’m saying.
And in those Enterprise episodes, there’s even some tasteful lens flare.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com and really hopes that if Chris Pine, Zach Quinto and Simon Pegg go out and sing karaoke together, that they have a strong desire to sing the Enterprise theme song; “Faith of the Heart.”